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Implementation of a Geographic Information System (GIS)- The nuts and bolts


Ashis B. Pal

President Advanced Technology Solutions Inc. Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, USA
apal@atsincorp.com


In this age of competitiveness, achieving increased efficiency through new technology is becoming crucial. Organizations are looking for ways to improve productivity and increase profit through automation. With the advent of affordable computer technologies, organizations have started to automate business functions through the use of desktop word processing, electronic spread sheets, relational data base (RDBMS) technology, and computer aided design and drafting (CADD) systems. To meet the challenges of the future, the Corporate mantra is now "increase efficiency and control cost". In order to achieve goals, organizations are to reduce duplication of effort, prevent redundancy, increase efficiency and provide better services to their clients and community through interdepartmental sharing and analysis of common data bases and resources.

If what you do involves managing information that can be linked to geographic locations- then Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can help you. GIS helps to organize information in new ways, helps you to make new discoveries and get more out of the information you have. A GIS is an immensely powerful information management and computer mapping system. It links geographic locations with information about them so you can create maps and analyze information in new ways. Maps are graphic representations of the real world. Because most federal, state and local government policies, plans and daily operations depend on accurate, location-based information, a GIS can play a vital role in making governments more efficient and more productive, and often result in better service delivery. A GIS has become an essential technology for government organizations in making better decisions, improvements in services because most decisions they make are related to geography.

The implementation of a GIS based information management system is often the first major opportunity to completely revamp and upgrade the record keeping, record management and reporting systems of organization. However, in order to ensure a successful transition to a new system, it demands a critical look at three crucial issues, regardless of whether the existing system is manual, automated or a combination of both:
  1. How do you do business now?
  2. What do you need to do business in the future?
  3. How can you do business better in the future?
The development of a GIS based information management system that will meet the requirements of an entire organization, and be flexible enough to meet future growth, requires a structured approach to answer these questions. The technical considerations in the development of such a system are complex.

A successful GIS implementation requires strict adherence to a time proven chronological task steps. The results/outputs of one task is the input to the next task. Though some of the tasks can be treated as independent tasks, 90% of the tasks are interdependent. The sequence of events should be:
  1. Conduct a Requirements Analysis
  2. Develop a Pilot Project as proof of concept
  3. Design logical and physical data bases for the land base
  4. Develop the mapping specification
  5. Acquire a quality base map
  6. Set up GIS organization
  7. Acquire Hardware and Software, and train personnel
  8. Develop the data base design to support the identified applications
  9. Develop applications from the prioritized list identified in the Requirements Analysis document
  10. Develop procedures and standards for data conversion
  11. Convert data to support applications being developed
  12. Develop data maintenance policies and procedures
  13. Develop applications for other users and increase the user base over time
  14. Implement a fully integrated system comprising all departments within the organization/institution, incorporating the programs developed in the previous phases.
Just as you would not build a house without a blueprint and working drawings, you should not build an information system without a requirements analysis. The most important and the first step in the implementation of a GIS is to conduct a through "Requirements Analysis". The Requirements Analysis document is the working blueprint for your business information management system.

The Requirements Analysis serves as the overall project framework by defining who the users will be, what applications are suitable for immediate implementation by the GIS, and what GIS data and base mapping requirements are needed to support those applications. The Requirements Analysis provides an initial understanding of the level of effort and realistic schedule required to implement the GIS environment envisioned by users. The document forms the initial framework for a common understanding between the client and the consultant in terms of breadth and scope of the envisioned GIS system.

Following the Requirements Analysis, it is possible to acquire the appropriate base map, select and purchase GIS software and hardware, develop detailed system architecture designs for user applications and data bases, write the applications, and convert the data. None of the tasks can be accomplished nor can the level of effort associated with the tasks be determined until the Requirements Analysis has been completed and some of the initial design and data structure has been investigated. From the analysis of the GIS related functions within an organization, it is then possible to define the GIS applications categories. Clear definition of these categories will allow an identification of the requirements of the system for the data, hardware and software, and network configuration and specification. In other words, the applications drive the system. Many organizations under pressure from the hardware and software vendors invest immensely on the technology without even knowing their needs and requirements. They are oversold regarding the capabilities of the technology. When reality sets in, organizations find that they have spent a lot, but have nothing to show for those expenses except for hardware and boxes of software sitting on the shelves.

In this presentation I will address the following topics that cover from the definition of a GIS to its final successful implementation. I will try to portray a true picture, the good, the bad and the evil, based on my 20 years of hands on experience in the GIS field. The attendees will get a clear understanding of GIS technology, will get a taste of reality and will learn about doing it the correct way. My presentation will cover the "Ways to success" and will also point out the traps and miss-conceptions about the technology.

A Proven Approach to a Successful GIS Implementation:
  • What is a GIS?
  • Why A GIS?
  • Components Of A GIS
  • Is There A GIS In Your Future?
  • Planning The Next Step
  • Requirements Analysis: What should be in a Requirements Analysis?
  • Organizations' goals and objectives
  • Analysis of current practices, problems encountered and redundancies
  • Organizational issues - management structure, resources, staff training
  • Applications
  • Base map requirements
  • Conceptual data base design
  • Hardware and Software requirements
  • System integration
  • Cost of GIS implementation- applications development, data conversion, hardware, software, resources, training, update and maintenance
  • The Strategic Implementation Plan over a period of 3-5 years
  • Implementation
  • Base map development
  • Geodetic monumentation
  • Map scales, accuracy, projections
  • Operational standards and procedures
  • Hardware and software acquisition
  • Organizational setup, staffing
  • Management and staff training
  • System Design and Database design
  • Applications development
  • Data conversion
  • Data, map, hardware and software maintenance
  • Metadata standards
  • Key issues need to be addressed before implementation
  • New Technologies- Looking into the future
Just as Delhi was not built in one day, neither was the "Accounting System" that prepares your paycheck regularly once a month, with proper deductions, taxes, etc. (almost flawlessly). Similarly, a GIS system can not be built in one day. The design, development and implementation of a multi-user, enterprise-wide GIS in an organization are complex undertakings. Full implementation of a GIS will take a long period of time. Depending on the size of the organization it may require 3 to 6 years. In order to keep the enthusiasm alive, you need to plan a "Phased Approach" to ensure successful GIS implementation. In each of these phases you must achieve "incremental victories". Instead of waiting for three to four years for a complete system implementation, applying the phased approach, you should be able to develop GIS applications early on so that the program is rapidly able to demonstrate results - even before full conversion of all data is complete.
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