Study Explores How Local Governments Use GIS

16 Oct, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Esri Australia and the Surveying and Spatial Science Institute back a research initiative to better understand users' attitudes and capabilities.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology finds application in a broad range of markets, but it holds particular value for local governments that need to manage city planning, emergency services, and other complex, location-specific undertakings. But is that value apparent to all the users who could benefit from it? How is the technology being applied? What kinds of information are being communicated to the public?

These are the types of questions that the Surveying and Spatial Science Institute (SSSI) and Esri Australia set out to answer with the 2013 GIS in Local Government Benchmark Study, released last month. The report provides insight into the use of GIS technology by local Australian governments — known as councils — which are the largest collective user of GIS technology in the country.

The study compiled feedback from 150 Australian councils and six international local government groups. Most survey respondents think that GIS technology has a role to play in policy development, and that crowdsourced information is important to emergency response activities. A whopping 99% believe GIS technology can improve communication with the public. Only a little more than two-thirds trust that the value of GIS technology is widely understood in their organization.

Josh Venman, GIS solutions architect at Esri Australia, provided further insight on the results of the study.

Cadalyst: How have these statistics changed in recent years? How do you expect them to change in the future?

Venman: As we've seen in the Benchmark Study, the ever-growing demand for GIS capabilities means there has been significant change across the spatial industry. With more than 150 councils surveyed, the Benchmark Study received more than double the number of participants [in] the last study, in 2011. I believe the increase in participants is the result of more councils realizing the value of GIS technology — particularly when it comes to facilitating communication with the public.

In 2011, 73% indicated they would like to start using crowdsourced data. Today the Study indicates 35% are already using it, with a further 83% indicating crowdsourced data is important to emergency response activities.

Likewise, in 2011, 58% indicated they would like to further use mobile devices. Today, 28% of councils now leverage smartphone apps.

Looking to the future, the Study outlines that 60% of respondents said they would consider making their spatial data freely available to citizens. This is a relatively new area for councils, but I think it's something we will see more often — and eventually will become expected by the public.

I also believe more councils will start to see the value of 3D GIS and the significant advantages it can offer when planning for the future of our cities. The Study found 30% are currently using the technology — [a number] which I think will dramatically increase as 3D GIS becomes more affordable and councils further understand its potential.

In the next five to ten years, I also believe we will see GIS technology continuing to grow in the area of planning and analysis, which currently stands at 16% of councils using it. Developing a vision for the future of a city, town, or any public space is a fundamentally geographic problem, and one that GIS is well suited to solving.

I also think cloud-based deployment patterns will increase as local government faces pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing technology landscape. Cloud deployment can be a cost-effective, simple option for rolling out new GIS capabilities.

Would you consider these survey results to be unique to Australia?

While the Benchmark Study only surveyed Australian councils, six international local government authorities' use of GIS technology were incorporated, including: King County in Washington, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Singapore, Honolulu, and Marlborough.

These councils revealed similar usage patterns to what we're seeing here in Australia. For instance, Honolulu is using GIS in the same way as Townsville City Council. Honolulu used advanced GIS visualization and 3D tools during the development of a new railway system to show residents exactly how the new infrastructure would benefit commuters and relieve traffic congestion. Similarly, Townsville City Council use 3D GIS to generate plans and models of potential developments. This enables residents to "fly through" the city's new planning scheme via an online map, giving them an idea of how the development would take shape.

Another example of the world moving in the same direction as Australia is the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and its implementation of an enterprise-wide GIS solution that now underpins all activities of the Borough's departments. Here in Australia, Brisbane City Council has established an enterprise-wide solution, which provides GIS capabilities to more than 4,000 staff from departments including customer service, environmental management, infrastructure, and physical asset management.

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