In its simplest form, a Geographic Information System (GIS) is basic map data, software to make the data useful, and a person charged with coordinating its use. At the other end of the spectrum, is a system comprised of a complex array of data resources, applications integrations, and analytical spatial algorithms managed by a team of skilled professionals whose systems can provide the answers to nearly any complex spatial question. System cost and staff resources will vary accordingly: from next to nothing to millions of dollars annually. This plan establishes a framework to guide the alignment of Alexandria’s GIS program with long-term City priorities and ensure that the program is sufficiently funded to achieve the plan objectives.
Alexandria’s GIS is a mature and effective Division, delivering GIS services throughout the City and to the public. The function benefits everything from real property assessments to emergency management to land use and capital improvements. Over the years, Alexandria’s GIS has had many successes. In the last year, Alexandria’s GIS was a co-winner along with our Northern Virginia partners of Esri’s Special Achievement in GIS award. In addition, the program’s analytical approach to measuring and modeling walkability was presented at the 2011 American Planning Association Conference and an article based on Alexandria’s approach entitled Alexandria Takes the Next Steps Towards Walkability, was published in the May 25th, 2011 edition of Sustainable City Network.
However, despite the success, there is still much unmet potential in its overall impact on the success of Alexandria’s City Government. To adjust to changing circumstances including changing technology, organizational priorities, and economic circumstances, the Division has reinvented its service delivery approach several times over its 10 year existence. This Strategic Plan represents the first comprehensive look at all aspects of how GIS can provide the maximum benefit to the City. GIS and the City are now in a period where data-driven decision making and operational efficiency are more critical than ever in accomplishing the City’s mission. There is an expectation for GIS to have a significant role in this effort. To maximize its return for the City’s investment in GIS, the Division must do more than simply rearrange the overarching delivery model. A more strategic approach to long-term GIS success and sustainability is needed. This Plan addresses how the organization is structured and describes the system’s capabilities and lays out a path forward for improving both.
Two items are essential to the program’s success: (1) a clear mission, to ensure a common understanding of expectations and (2) a set of goals, to drive the direction.
Alexandria’s GIS Mission:
Leveraging the power of geographical data to:
- Expand the impact of shared information and critical thinking; and
- Improve business processes and systems and inform decisions
The GIS goals ensure that the program is accounting for all of its diverse obligations in achieving the mission. The goals are divided into two functional areas: (1) Infrastructure, the development of the system resources and analytical outputs; and (2) success factors, the activities related to ensuring that the infrastructure activities are properly targeted, understood, and well used.
To better align GIS resources and program objectives with the City’s most pressing needs, the Plan defines a new governance model. The new governance model employs a senior level Steering Committee to replace the largely technical committee that is currently in place. In addition, the Plan defines a second user-based committee that is charged with improving operational efficiency by undertaking small GIS-based improvements and recommending more significant improvement projects to the Steering Committee for consideration in the GIS Work Plan.
Another significant aspect of the Plan is the Strategic Opportunities Analysis. The Strategic Opportunities Analysis lays out a path forward to improve data-driven decision making through a more comprehensive approach to GIS analysis and overall service delivery. It seeks to create efficiencies by addressing needs through a common framework, instead of discrete projects. Because geospatial needs are often functionally similar, there are many opportunities to maximize benefits by looking beyond the current need and identifying much broader opportunities. Coordinating funding, resources and partners who might not otherwise recognize the relationships among their needs can yield much greater organizational results than looking at the individual need of each stakeholder or department. This analysis identifies multiple similar projects and combines them into high value strategic opportunities referred to as “Common Solutions” to create the most cost-effective, comprehensive and sustainable approach.
A key challenge facing Alexandria’s GIS in achieving its goals is attaining the right resource mix to sustain a large mature system which includes: extensive GIS data and applications, integration of new enterprise technology systems and an analytical program. The GIS Division does not have the resources to effectively address all of these obligations. Due to increasing needs and a reduction in resources, the Division has been scaling back support for all new initiatives during the last three to four years. The Division is still supporting all its obligations, but at a less effective level. The most significant resulting deficiency is the lack of a of a well-defined sustainable GIS analytical work program. Over the last several years, most GIS resources have first gone into maintaining and modifying the GIS infrastructure and supporting GIS integrations of enterprise technology systems, leaving few resources to advance the program’s analytical aspects, arguably the single most significant reason the City has invested in GIS resources.
To download or view the full Adobe PDF of the Strategic Plan, click here