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Building an Enterprise GIS in a Limited Fiscal Environment
By Scott Bowman, City of Fresno, California

Many local governments face the challenge of delivering results to users while implementing an enterprise GIS. Other agencies, lacking funds for a complete enterprise GIS implementation, must develop a system from existing resources. These agencies face greater pressure to show early enterprise GIS benefits.

Even without complex hardware, database, and software systems, governments can demonstrate the immediate benefits of enterprise collaboration through expanding the existing departmental GIS while keeping investments in new technology and data to a minimum. Because both the approaches described here and the software are scalable, as the enterprise GIS grows it can be smoothly integrated into a complete, high-performance enterprise GIS.

This article describes how a typical local government or public agency can realize enterprise GIS results through processes that minimize costs while demonstrating realistic results. These suggestions assume that a decentralized departmental GIS is in place and that commonly shared central coordination or administration of GIS data, databases, and standards do not exist.

Decentralized and Distributed Departmental GIS

In many local governments (i.e., regional, county, and city), the initial investment in GIS was made at the division or departmental level. GIS was an application purchased to meet a specific goal, and data was limited to what was needed to accomplish this task. Implementations with separate goals were established in one or more departments with minimal coordination. The result has been decentralized GIS with limited central coordination with administration distributed across various departments. This environment works against the enterprise nature of GIS.

Decentralized departmental GIS was developed without any thought to providing organizationwide applications or interoperability. Often this system evolved from computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) systems. Typically these GIS systems grew from a few workstations and dedicated staff members in several departments. Often the impetus to build an enterprise GIS has come from the need to share common GIS datasets, eliminate redundancies, increase spatial and informational accuracies, and build supporting applications to increase the dissemination of data throughout the organization. Sharing information based upon a commonly shared set of GIS layers is a requirement for implementing enterprise GIS along with the development of an enterprise GIS framework.

Limited Fiscal Environment

In the past, budget shortfalls and reductions because of drops in revenue and shared funding have made limited budgets the norm. Public budgets are affected by the fiscal period, capital and cash flow because of the constraints on government funding, recovery of costs requirements, limitations on fees, the public bidding process, and the open management of financial records.

program planning diagram
Program planning should yield a list compiled from the needs analysis and identify prioritized, focused, and phased projects that use existing GIS and IT resources.

Competing implementation needs and the replacement of other systems and assets also impact the adoption of enterprise GIS. This limited fiscal environment is a key constraint in the management and planning of any enterprise GIS. Traditionally, GIS has been a high-impact program for most public budgets and has suffered from limited funding for technology and database development, although decision makers and stakeholders continue maintaining high expectations for the delivery of results.

The cost of developing enterprise GIS in a moderately sized organization may be enormous when compared to the return on investment (ROI) for other enterprise system implementations of existing systems. Traditional, high-level enterprise GIS software is costly. It requires a server, high-profile databases, and specialized software applications. The advantages gained from implementing enterprise GIS are typically increased data sharing, efficiency gained from the elimination of redundant data maintenance, and a single point for administering the GIS. ROI from enterprise GIS is not necessarily monetary and is often difficult for decision makers to grasp.

Some strategies considered for implementing an enterprise GIS can include alternative funding sources such as grants, public-private partnerships, intergovernmental agreements, data sharing, and fees (e.g., impact, usage, license). However, cost recovery based on fees is rarely enough to offset GIS implementation and its ongoing costs. GIS is not a static entity. Data is constantly being edited even as users have high expectations for data accuracy and precision. Consequently, costs are not fixed. Maintenance costs can be high and should be a priority. These factors limit public agencies with decentralized GIS resources.

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