The Map is the Context, the Documents are the Content

In honor of the ESRI USers’ Conference underway in San Diego…

Analyzing street intersections to recommend the best place for businesses to locate. This was the first opportunity my agency had to leverage GIS. We could tell a business where the T1 lines were, match that with available office space and highway access and develop a proposal that brought together those pieces for a sound location decision.

In that instance, and many others over my years in government agencies, using GIS boiled down to this: agencies had a lot of information, and they needed context around the information to make the disparate pieces make sense. GIS provided the context.

Since the GIS start in the mid-1990s, we have become increasingly more sophisticated in our use of GIS. I have seen housing policy, crime analysis, health policy and human services policy being advanced by the wonderful clarity that a GIS map brings.

If it is true that the map is the context, then your documents are the content. This is exactly what’s being talked about this week at the ESRI International User Conference.

Behind the scenes, GIS maps are a database and the database must be fed to produce maps. Consider:

– If your police or sheriff’s department has files of incident reports that document crimes committed or traffic accidents that have occurred, how powerful would it be to see those arrayed on a map, informing your decisions about where to deploy new stoplights or add extra public safety personnel?

– Could your building inspectors benefit from seeing building permit applications arrayed on a map so they could better plan their inspection rounds to complete them more quickly and efficiently? Could your code enforcement officers benefit from seeing the locations of complaints on a map?

– Could human services be better delivered if we could analyze where applicants lived and locate services to be more convenient?

– Could schools balance class size better if they could see the incoming students and where they lived on a single map for the district ?

With a GIS solution that integrates with these documents – photos, as-built plans, manuals, contracts, etc. – the synced-up GIS/enterprise content management (ECM) combo becomes the whole electronic picture bringing relevancy to roads, transportation systems, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and more.

Since my early experiences with GIS, the power of the technology has grown substantially for government with ECM integrations adding the content to the context. And, with new technologies like Silverlight and continued work in Javascript, GIS applications and their connections to ECM can be deployed rapidly. This means that the value of this integration between ECM and GIS can be realized quickly and affordably, important in today’s “new normal” for government.

So, as you consider the value of your GIS solution and its use in describing the investments you have already made, consider how to combine it with the documents you already have. With context and the content, government decision-making can be improved for the better!

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