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Hi, It’s Your GIS App and I’m Missing Something: How ECM can help GIS

I must confess that I love the potential of GIS (geospatial information system) applications. The power of GIS as a platform, combined with the tools provided by GIS maker Esri, presents an amazing way to record, document, assess and analyze the efforts and policy choices of government.

The recent Esri Users Conference (UC) was chock full of new features, meaningful projects and policy tools, not to mention thousands of dedicated GIS professionals who are helping organizations become more efficient and impactful by using GIS.

My early GIS work focused primarily on feeding the power of the platform. That is, where could you get the data sets? Then, we moved to the delicate process of sharing data sets. And now, we see open data initiatives to make location-based apps. Data sets are everywhere and that may make it seem like we have all the information we need for our GIS solutions.

So, if data is easy to get, what could be missing?
Consider the many documents that government agencies collect every day. Most transactions with your local government involve forms, mostly paper, sometimes electronic. At some point, data from these forms may make it into a data set that can be used by your GIS applications, but at what cost and by what deadline?

Further, transactions that will result in a rejection, like those for variances or benefits, often never get entered into any data system, although they represent a piece of the overall discussion of program delivery and effectiveness.

So, if documents are delayed or never entered into a data set, your GIS system may be missing critical information for the policymaker or field worker.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Your fire department is rushing to the scene of a large fire in a mixed-use neighborhood. How useful would it be for them to have a tablet that accesses neighborhood maps (your Esri GIS app) and accesses building plans, hazardous materials permits and even photosof the building?
  • Reports of food poisoning begin to flood into your public health department and constituents are asking questions about the effectiveness of your restaurant inspection program. How can you answer those questions and search for patterns in the poisoning occurrences to determine the cause?
  • Local residents are concerned that the location of human services offices for applications are located in difficult-to-reach places, making it hard for people in need to apply for assistance. How could you quickly evaluate the claim, knowing that your staff is overworked and not able to enter the addresses of everyone who has applied into a data set for your GIS maps?

In each of these cases, documents residing in an ECM solution that is connected to your GIS applications can help. Governments collect documents every day, but not all of the data from those documents becomes a data set.

And, in the case of building plans, hospital reports and documents that originate in other departments, they may not need to be a data set, but they do help field workers and other staff members to get their work done. Finally, documents may be the only record when you need to respond to events in the communities. (Food poisoning reports are a good example.)

So, what are the key points for GIS professionals?
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Vital government content resides in documentation.
  • Content – like plans – needs to be connected to map applications for field workers.
  • Data on documents may never become a data set that feeds GIS applications, but the right ECM solution can geocode documents and add them as a data layer to GIS applications.
  • An ECM solution that embeds your GIS applications into its client puts maps – and their positive impact – into the hands of more people in your organization.

Every year that I attend the Esri UC, I see more great functionality from Esri’s development team and from the dedication of GIS professionals all over the world. This power relies on data and, at times, data is not available.

That moment in government – when you need to make a decision or plan a response – might just rely on combining the power of GIS and the content in your ECM solution to ensure that your next action is fully informed. This is why your GIS platform needs an ECM platform and why smart communities are connecting the two.

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