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Spring 2007
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Water and Power Department for the City and County of San Francisco, California

Public Utilities Commission Integrates GIS into New Employee Orientation

By Jim Chien, Public Relations Officer, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission


  • GIS plays important roles throughout the organization.
  • New employee orientation includes an introduction to GIS.
  • GIS team follows introduction with regular training and updates.

How does a large municipal water agency integrate GIS technology into its workforce training? The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) dives right in.

  Lily Dryden demonstrates
Lily Dryden demonstrates SFPUC's Basemap Viewer.

SFPUC recently began introducing a GIS module in its three-day mandatory new employee orientation. The training provides an overview of the enterprise GIS program with an introduction to the Web-based GIS Basemap Viewer application. "Our focus is to show new employees how they can use the GIS tools to do their daily jobs more efficiently," says SFPUC enterprise GIS coordinator Lily Dryden, whose division is conducting the training.

SFPUC is one of the largest city departments in the City and County of San Francisco. It has a workforce of more than 2,000, and many of them are engineers. This new GIS segment allows 300 employees annually to become familiar with the program.

A major West Coast utility, SFPUC provides drinking water and municipal power and treats wastewater for the city's population of 800,000. In addition, the agency provides drinking water to nearly 2.5 million customers in three of the largest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its water delivery system stretches 167 miles from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada to the San Francisco Bay Area.

SFPUC's Hetch Hetchy Water System and ongoing infrastructure rebuilding projects have a direct impact on the economy of the Bay Area, and technology is essential to help the agency.

  click to enlarge
Basemap training video depicting use of Pictometry aerial photos. Training guide with step-by-step instructions is displayed.

The agency's Human Resource Services coordinated with the enterprise GIS team to create the New Employee Orientation module. "As we recruit new employees, we need to address technology up front so that we don't lose the generation of employees who expect things to be faster and more juiced up," says Michele Modena, Human Resource Services director.

"Multigenerational workforces can really make use of the GIS that the Information Technology Services (ITS) team has turned out," adds Modena. "Through this new employee introduction, we want to let them know how these applications can make their work easier and more efficient."

Introducing a New Technology

After the enterprise GIS team launched its ArcGIS Desktop software-based GIS program in 2003, one of the biggest challenges was how to disseminate GIS information to new employees. "Early on, we connected with new employees by sheer luck or through word of mouth," says Dryden. In June 2006, ITS conducted the first GIS training at SFPUC's three-day mandatory class for new employees.

"Our vision was to provide employees with quick access to a wealth of information," says Jack Lum, principal engineer of the GIS team. "With the ArcIMS software-based Basemap Viewer, SFPUC employees can quickly find facilities: pipes, right-of-way properties, pump stations, or streetlights. The GIS data also links to other city divisions, making it an extremely useful resource."

An immediate benefit to employees is the right-of-way information hosted on the document management system and linked to GIS. Having this data online is essential given the agency's massive $4 billion Water System Improvement Program to repair and upgrade the 167-mile water system.

"One of the best features of the Basemap Viewer is that it allows employees throughout the organization to determine whether the agency owns property or if it is currently under lease," comments Dan Ficker, GIS specialist with the SFPUC Real Estate Services Division. "It also provides a central repository for information, which can be accessed by staff throughout SFPUC."

Amy Sinclair, who has been with the SFPUC Communications Division for more than three years, says she regularly uses the GIS Basemap Viewer. "GIS allows me to determine facilities and right-of-way information quickly and accurately. I am working with a group of neighbors associated with a pump station the agency is designing. I used the GIS Basemap Viewer to determine if the SFPUC owned the right-of-way land and was able to address neighbors' questions about additional landscape."

Sinclair can't imagine working on projects without GIS: "If I didn't have access to the system, I would be forced to contact various city departments to gather this information. It would be more time consuming and less accurate."

Water quality engineer Rashandrami Ramach, a recent hire who learned about the GIS program at the new employee orientation, uses ArcView to evaluate and document drinking water operations daily. "GIS maps and figures are included in all of our operational, consumer complaint, and regulatory reports, as well as hydraulic modeling reports," Ramach states.

Keeping Employees Updated

In addition to introducing the Basemap Viewer at new employee orientations, the enterprise GIS team provides regular training for new and existing users. Nadeem Shaukat, principal enterprise GIS business analyst, has developed a user guide, along with hands-on training and refresher courses as needed.

"I consider this application one of the major milestones of the GIS Strategic Plan at SFPUC and want to ensure that employees receive proper and updated training in its use," says Shaukat. Also available is a Basemap Viewer training video highlighting core GIS functionality for self-paced learning.

SFPUC's Human Resource Services recognizes GIS will bring greater efficiency to the organization and help overcome the information silos that often plague municipal departments. One improvement is now in place: SFPUC employees will be fully immersed in GIS as they start their careers.

About the Author

Jim Chien is a public relations officer with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's Communications team (tel.: 415-554-3244). Chien regularly contributes to SFPUC's intranet site and the National Geographic Society's Traveler magazine in China. He received his master's degree from Ohio State University in 1995 where he developed his interest in GIS.

More Information

For more information, contact SFPUC Communications or ITS (tel.: 415-554-3289, e-mail:

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