Engaging in a SoE was vital to keep GIS expanding and growing at FDOT, it was vital for us to find new ways to improve safety, inspire and attract good talent internally.
Florida Department of Transportation Keeps GIS at the Forefront
The mission of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is to provide a safe transportation system that ensures the mobility of people and goods, enhances economic prosperity, and preserves the quality of its environment and communities.
To make that possible across Florida's seven transportation districts and Turnpike Enterprise, FDOT has leveraged geographic information system (GIS) technology to not only inspire innovation but also to enable the department to better achieve its mission goals. And while the GIS Office at FDOT has seen many changes over the years, staff have recently updated their strategy to ensure that everyone at FDOT is able to take advantage of the geographic approach.
The Modernization of FDOT's Geographic Approach
There has been a long history of GIS at FDOT, starting in the early 1990s, where it was used to support a number of business areas both at the district level and at headquarters. But at the time, it was not managed at an enterprise level. After the development of the first GIS strategic plan in 2008, GIS eventually grew to become part of what FDOT called its transportation technology section, in support of Civil Integrated Management and to be considered an essential technology as part of its IT infrastructure, including maintaining its big data. But to better align with FDOT's overall mission and goals, the time was ripe to take GIS to the next level, according to Jared Causseaux, GIS manager at FDOT's headquarters.
"[GIS] has been no stranger to us here at FDOT," said Causseaux. "However, with a goal of inspiration for innovation, we wanted to bring clarity about the use of GIS within the full organization rather than the traditional use of GIS, which is to keep it in pockets."
To assist the GIS team in reaching these larger goals, FDOT contracted with Esri to design a system of engagement (SoE), bringing GIS to all the business areas at FDOT. A system of engagement is designed to deliver the benefits of geography—of data, maps, and apps—to everyone in the organization, enabling them to do their daily jobs more productively and efficiently. Built on ArcGIS, a system of engagement brings ready-to-use apps, content, capabilities, and GIS infrastructure so everyone can visualize, analyze, and collaborate using maps and apps—anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
"Engaging in an SoE was vital to keep GIS expanding and growing at FDOT, said Causseaux. "It was vital for us to find new ways to improve safety, inspire and attract good talent internally. As we implemented the SoE, we were able to spatially enable a large number of existing workflows, such as mobile applications for road and bridge inspections, mobile field applications for damage inspections in the aftermath of hurricanes and other climatic events, and even dashboards to monitor safety measures and ever-changing traffic conditions."
Maintaining Inspiration for Innovation
As the implementation of the SoE was moving forward, there was greater recognition of what GIS could do and a growing interest in GIS at FDOT. Building on this momentum, Causseaux felt it was time to develop a new strategic plan for GIS at FDOT. The strategic plan was meant to achieve two main goals for GIS: first, to bring the role of GIS into better alignment with the goals of the agency—what FDOT calls the vital few (https://www.fdot.gov/info/moredot/mvv.shtm): to improve safety, enhance mobility, and inspire innovation, with the latter to help attract the best talent. As Causseaux put it, "We wanted to make sure that when the department thinks of the vital few, they think that one of the major tools they can use to reach those goals is GIS."
The second goal was to ensure that, as GIS became more ubiquitous across FDOT as a result of the SoE, everyone in GIS, at all levels, was on the same page—meaning, literally, on the same page. Causseaux came up with the idea that instead of a lengthy strategic plan that would sit on a shelf, a boiled down version would be presented on a single page and that adopting the adage Less Is More would be far more useful. The idea was that on a short elevator ride, anyone would be able to discern and communicate to others the mission of GIS at FDOT.
"Before this, we didn't have a good strategy to publicize what we were doing and what we wanted to accomplish with GIS," explained Causseaux, "and we wanted to find a way to get all of the GIS folks on the same page." This launched a process that brought together a small group of GIS managers and power users, along with Esri Professional Services to help facilitate the strategic plan. They met virtually over a span of five weeks to work through the details of the plan and how to achieve organizational goals with GIS.
"It was a difficult but fun process," said Causseaux, "and it proved to be a valuable team building exercise as well. The team building part was key."
The plan is divided into three different sections, with the top section focused on the clear mission of the GIS staff at FDOT and the business value that GIS can bring to the department. The middle section focused on three key elements that the GIS Office wants to marshal in the service of its goals: people, process, and technology. The final section defines the key measurable performance metrics that the GIS staff want to be judged by and are currently working to develop. These metrics will help define the success of GIS at FDOT. They can then be used to show and enable management and the different business units that GIS is a tool that is central to achieving the agency's goals, especially those relating to the vital few.
It was an iterative process of starting with a larger number of bullets describing what GIS should do for the department, ranking each for importance, and then reducing them to the core essentials. Since this was done during the COVID‑19 pandemic, the team took advantage of collaboration tools to individually rank items in real time and then used the process to help drive consensus among the team members. "You have to have a strategic plan to help drive coherence and a common mission, and that is what this plan accomplished," said Causseaux.
This strategic plan will help the GIS team communicate to executive leadership at FDOT that the tools GIS provides to enable the department drive success. "We want them to know the GIS platform has the ability to meet data and technology governance standards, since location is tied to our data," said Causseaux. "But we also wanted to emphasize that GIS should be a part of everything we do at FDOT and that GIS should be a component that is considered for all workflows at FDOT."
Autonomy and Governance
A common characteristic of large state DOTs is the multitude of districts and offices, all of which are accustomed to operating with a great deal of autonomy. "Certainly, ours—FDOT—is no different, especially when it came to the early implementation of GIS. When I first started managing GIS at FDOT, one of the first things I noticed was that we had 14 or more different Esri customer numbers," recalled Causseaux. "Bringing greater coordination to the GIS efforts, throughout all of FDOT, was a large part of the maturation of GIS at FDOT."
In 2018, FDOT consolidated licensing into a single Enterprise Agreement, helping to make the transition to a centrally licensed corporate GIS easier, but districts and some offices still have a great deal of autonomy. The difference is that both the districts and the headquarters now work much more cooperatively, meeting monthly with the GIS Coordinating Committee.
Causseaux agrees that a great deal of GIS products and solutions must be located at the district level: "With the districts and the number of projects they have, GIS in support of public engagement is key, since that has been driving a lot of the need for GIS at the district level."
"It is not one or the other (centralized or autonomous) with respect to GIS. . . . You can have well-governed GIS taking advantage of economies of scale through coordination while still having a high degree of autonomy at the district level," said Causseaux. "You can have autonomy as long as you have good governance and good policies, because the great solutions and applications come from the ground up. But you have to have a strategic plan to help drive consensus and a common mission."
Enhancing the Geospatial Value
The strategic plan is one element in FDOT's continuing maturation in GIS, which together with the system of engagement, has brought GIS to almost all business units at FDOT. A hallmark of agencies that have been highly successful with GIS is the ability to effectively communicate and market their capabilities throughout their organizations. The GIS staff at FDOT are now using the strategic plan to not only create greater transparency with FDOT's leadership but also to provide an opportunity for the GIS team to empower and educate others on the value that a geographic approach holds.
As Causseaux looked back across his time at FDOT, he reflected, "We are in awe of how GIS has modernized FDOT. It has gone from being a traditional pocketed technology to now being a mission-critical technology and a core tool we use across almost all our workflows. Driving consensus around these goals for the GIS has allowed us to take GIS to a whole new level."