How GIS Transformed Cobb County Into a Smart Community

Our communities face constant challenges and a plethora of technological advancements to address them. Geospatial infrastructure presents a platform for sharing and collaboration for communities to solve problems. More importantly, it is a means of strategizing and addressing what is most important to a community.

GovLoop’s online training “Delivering a Whole New Level of Smart Communities through Geospatial Infrastructure” delved deeper into the applicability of GIS in smart communities. For example, the geospatial cloud allows for mapping and location, collaborations between developers and geo-enabled systems like Public Works and Inspections.

When the movement first started, state and local governments were trying to get smarter without an objective in mind. “One thing we’ve learned in our studies and conversations with government agencies is that one app doesn’t make smart,” said Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets at Esri. “It’s really about what you’re trying to solve. The biggest movement that had to happen was from the idea of a single application making a city smart to a series of interrelated technologies that would holistically address multiple issues.”

There are multiple concepts at the root of a smart community information system:

  1. Planning and engineering: This involves urban and community design.
  2. Operational efficiency: The process can be improved by anything from applications to field data collection.
  3. Data-driven performance: There has been a massive uptake in collecting information to make decisions in real-time.
  4. Civic inclusion: This could be everything from crowdsourcing to public information.
  5. Social equity: As organizations focus on digital innovation, they have to ensure that they’re addressing the needs of all areas and populations.

You have to have a foundation that allows you to connect the different applications between collaborators. To do so, you need a foundation, a strategy, a system and finally a process.

So how have communities already used GIS to obtain a new level of development?

Sharon Stanley, Director of the Information Services Department of Cobb County, Georgia, spoke to how her county underwent a digital transformation with GIS. The county’s goal was to use technology to improve the way it conducts business and serves citizens.

The strategy was to allow for a culture of data-driven decision-making throughout the organization and allow citizens to access services and information any place and on any device. The county has been undergoing an intentional digital transformation for three to five years now.

GIS was already in use in Cobb County’s government because officials found that location intelligence allowed them to provide more proactive services to their constituents.

“Never have you and I had access to the kind and amounts of data we have now,” Stanley said. “It’s not just about data. It’s what you and I can do with that data that counts.”

During the Super Bowl, some of Cobb County’s police officers were assigned to the Atlanta Police Department. The Esri tracker application provided a means to track those police officers. “What used to be an inefficient process involving a map on a wall and stickpins was now fully digitized,” Stanley explained.

Another example of how Cobb County is using GIS to digitize is rooted in a larger project undertaken by the community development team to develop a 3D model of the entire county. The team was able to create a model of an avenue bordering a popular mall with existing trees, and also model how the same area would look without trees.

Cobb County’s Transportation Department (DoT) was one of the most advanced users of GIS among county agencies. The team is putting the infrastructure in place to support self-driving vehicles that might be more ubiquitous on the road 10 or 20 years from now. They are using artificial intelligence (AI), GIS and other technologies to make roads better.

Esri’s GIS Insights has further enhanced the lives of the county’s citizens. The senior services staff used GIS Insights to explore what events were popular with seniors. They created pages and charts to support senior activity. The information that the staff has been able to access with Insights has allowed us to better serve underserved populations.

“Becoming a smart county has had a lot of impact,” Stanley said.

The feedback from the community has been very positive, according to Stanley. She points to the biggest endorsement of how the county uses technology: For the first time ever, citizens voted to allocate $30 million for technology.

“My IT team has not grown in ten years, but my user base has changed,” Stanley said. “These tools have become so much easier to use. But we have to be very targeted about what we select to solve business problems. We don’t do cool things for the sake of it. We have to make sure that it’s needed.”

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