How to Modernize GIS in the Cloud

An agency’s decision to move to the cloud can be complicated if it doesn’t quite understand the impacts on everyday operations or how the technology supports other capabilities, such as geographic information systems (GIS).

At a recent GovLoop online training, “Modernize Your GIS in the Cloud,” industry experts cleared up misconceptions around cloud, how to implement it and the benefits of adopting it.

Jason Harris, Chief Technology Officer at ROK Technologies, is no stranger to GIS in the cloud. “We were early adopters,” he said. “We have expertise in both cloud and GIS.”

Agencies have to consider scalability, resiliency and security in their move to the cloud. In terms of scalability, most people are familiar with planned scaling, when agencies want to increase capacity or add new services. This is, unfortunately, a lengthy process.

But how can your agency scale for an unpredicted event? By using cloud and then using GIS on top of that to solve mission-central issues. GIS is useful in providing mission-critical responses to unplanned events. However, GIS is not going to do any good if agency servers are unable to keep up with demands in the face of an unexpected event. A cloud-based infrastructure can help you immediately scale up to meet demand.

The second factor, resiliency, is determined by how quickly your organization can recover from an event. Deploying your GIS infrastructure in multiple zones is easy to implement in a cloud environment. Additionally, the time to recover from a catastrophic event would be far less when using a cloud structure, compared with an on-premise structure.

Security is also a major concern. Think about the complicated, time-consuming security suites that need to be installed and maintained on-premise. The tools readily available for the cloud are robust and require far less time to institute and maintain.

However, some organizations deploy stand-alone environments for specific purposes, which is not as efficient. “People still think that they have to maintain two separate systems: one in the cloud and one on-premise,” Harris said.

That thinking can be altered by using Amazon Web Services (AWS) in conjunction with ROK. AWS provides a turnkey, easy to deploy technology that runs quickly. The data and applications are on the same network, and you can run these applications on any device, from any location. The best part is, you’re only going to have to pay for what you use.

So how do you make this step to modernization via the cloud happen? The key, according to Harris, is preparation.

First, you have to ask what you want to accomplish; you have to understand your organization’s needs. Are you currently running a system? What are some things that you could improve? What types of growth do you want to see?

The next step is documentation. Make a diagram of your current system and document every detail. The key here is to be exhaustive so that the migration goes live smoothly.

Then you want to architect a solution by consulting an expert. While the principles of on-premise and cloud systems are similar, they are different when it comes to architecting and deploying. Many people either over or under provision their systems. Another issue is lax security; many people will roll out systems without a proper security strategy.

Lastly, you want to migrate. Should you design a new system? Or lift and shift what you already have?

Rogue Valley had to follow those steps when migrating to the cloud. Carole Balzer, Network Administrator at Rogue Valley Sewer Services, explained that before the move to the cloud, employees saved data in Microsoft Access, Excel, or in paper form in file drawers. Maps were viewed in the office using ArcGIS Desktop and in the field with ArcReader or on paper. Field crew laptops updated manually; this meant bringing laptops back into the office and running a script.

Map changes were also requested on paper. “At times I saw stacks of paper two reams high on inspectors’ desks, which was not fun for them,” Balzer said. “This is what our system looked like before the cloud.”

Since migrating to the cloud, the agency has moved inspections and map change requests to applications that have mapping enabled within them. GIS technologies are used to collect data in the field and saved to the cloud. Those maps can be viewed electronically through Esri collector anytime, anywhere. All map changes are reflected immediately after the source is updated.

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