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Spring 2006
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Somerset County, New Jersey, Developing a County Enterprise GIS

Somerset County is a suburban county of nearly 300,000 residents located in central New Jersey.Esri Services The roots of its GIS lie within its health and planning divisions. These are common starting points for local government GIS. The county conducted a more expansive evaluation of GIS technology in its 1999 needs assessment, identifying how the technology could be used to support a wide range of county operations. The needs assessment report, prepared by the consulting, engineering, construction, and operations firm and Esri Business Partner Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), was intended to educate county decision makers about the costs and benefits of implementing GIS as well as serve as a springboard for integration of this technology into county business processes.

Using recommendations made by the report, the county began taking the necessary steps the following year to develop its GIS. "Somerset County has long been considered one of the leading counties in the state in technology," says Peter Palmer, county freeholder. "We decided that we wanted to start using GIS but take a different approach to implementation by supporting our various divisions rather than creating a large support staff in our Management Information Services Division."

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A pilot project providing Web access to county data allows emergency responders and residents to be better prepared for response.

Following a commitment to allocate $1.5 million over the next five years, in 2002 the county tapped into its existing staff to select its first full-time GIS coordinator. Jim Girvan, a principal planner with the Planning Division, had been working with ArcView for approximately three years using natural resource, land-use, utility, and census data to support planning activities. His familiarity with the technology and 15 years with the county made him a logical choice to guide the effort.

"My professional background and training taught me the importance of having a sound plan in place before moving forward with a major project such as this," says Girvan. "Therefore, one of the first things I did upon taking the position was to outline a five-element GIS master plan."

The five elements, or subplans, are the development, strategic, functional requirements analysis and database design, implementation, and organization and management plans.

The Design Process

Somerset County had a well-established information technology infrastructure and had been using the Esri suite of products to deliver and use geospatial data content for nearly 10 years. The system development would continue to be built around the existing infrastructure and look to take advantage of the new enterprise geodatabase architecture.

"We had migrated from a mainframe system to a wide area network of desktop PCs," states Bob Klingel, the county's director of Management Information Services. "We were confident that we could implement GIS without any significant change in our current IT planning."

The county did take advantage, however, of the New Jersey Mapping Assistance Program that provided startup hardware and software to counties wanting to implement GIS technology. Provided with servers as well as ArcInfo, ArcSDE, and ArcIMS, the county was immediately able to distribute geospatial data to its users as well as create a mapping service Web site.

Having completed the GIS Strategic Plan in 2004, the county determined that it was time to move on to the next plan element, which would identify the functional needs and database design. "The Strategic Plan is our compass," explains Girvan. "It tells us where we need to go and guides us in getting there. We would use it to define and build our system."

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The organizational analysis of the county's operations resulted in an enterprise geodatabase that could effectively support a multiplicity of business processes.

Following a thorough request for proposal process, the county contracted with Esri's Professional Services Division, as well as CDM, for the one-year project. Using a Web-based organization survey process recently developed by Esri combined with CDM's knowledge of the county, the project team began an in-depth investigation of county business processes and user and data needs. More than 500 individual tasks performed by county employees were identified in the surveys. The project team reviewed the tasks for software and geospatial data needs; then, using criteria established in the Strategic Plan, it grouped the tasks into 40 priority business processes. The project team then conducted four weeks of interviews of more than 75 employees of the county's 28 divisions and 10 affiliated agencies.

The next phase of the project was to model the priority business processes. Led by CDM's project manager Peter Godfrey, the project team utilized the use case approach (i.e., modeling the proposed functionality of a new system) to define each process, understand user needs, and determine functional requirements. Use cases, which are more often thought of in the context of software engineering, proved to be an invaluable tool to the project team. Users found the clear presentation provided by the use cases, which included Unified Modeling Language diagrams, was easy to follow and make comments about. With the use cases and process models in hand, the project team conducted the final two weeks of interviews to refine its work. The Esri geodatabase design team became involved in the next stage.

Being involved from the beginning of the project, the design team had an excellent understanding of how the county conducted its business, the geospatial data needs of its users, and the functionality that would look to the data for its performance. The result was an enterprise geodatabase consisting of seven feature datasets; 79 feature classes with subtypes; and a host of domains, tables, and relationship classes.

Focus on the Future

Girvan, who serves as the county government representative on the New Jersey Geospatial Forum, presented the enterprise geodatabase design and the Somerset County enterprise geodatabase data model at the September 2005 forum meeting. Having received the design with great interest, a number of public- and private-sector attendees in the state are now reviewing it and the process with which it was developed for possible implementation. Although New Jersey counties essentially perform the same business processes, Girvan noted in his presentation that individual counties may choose to do them differently or use different data. An example is the design's inclusion of the Land-Based Classification Standards (LBCS) developed by the American Planning Association. Having spent 15 years with the county Planning Division, Girvan realized that a very detailed classification system, such as LBCS, would be necessary to support one of the state's most active planning divisions. LBCS was easily adaptable to a GIS data structure and included a data model for GIS deployment. Its multidimensional classification system characterizing land and structures allows the Planning Division to go far beyond the land-use/land-cover data available from the state.

For more information on this project, contact Jim Girvan, GIS coordinator, Somerset County (e-mail:, or Eric Apple, Esri (e-mail: For more information on the Land-Based Classification Standards, visit

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