Councils are employing spatial technologies to map infrastructure, track emergency response teams and tap into rain gauge data. They’re also using smart data for their bread and butter work keeping tabs on traffic, fly-tipping and graffiti. Patricia Moore reports on the rise and rise of geographic data.
Being location intelligent is increasingly important for local bodies. And spatial technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are helping make it happen. According to Jack Dangermond, founder and president of international GIS suppliers Esri, in an age when fast, easy access to information is taken for granted, users can expect a greater focus both on making data more accessible and on creating context to visualise this data.
In simple terms, GIS involves the use of computer-based tools to create geographic data, which can be managed, analysed and displayed in a layered set of maps. At the local government level, GIS is playing a key role in improving decision-making and service provision.
ALGIM GIS committee member Lucas Mostyn says uptake is increasing as the technology becomes more available and affordable, and offers a wider range of functions.
“The move towards cloud-based GIS computing is making it possible for more people to use the technology than ever before.”
He gives examples including the use, by operations departments, of organised location-based ‘to-do’ lists across areas ranging from rubbish collections to fixing fly-tipping and cleaning graffiti.
He also cites GIS management of a city’s water supply by spatially visualising infrastructure pipe networks. And he points to live feeds from across the country on rain gauge data and traffic flow information. “This is useful for planning for emergencies or for building up a picture of an area for planning purposes.”
Over in Charlotte, North Carolina, the smooth running of the city is credited to using GIS for “everything from predictive crime analysis to recycling pick-up”. Closer to home, Greg Price, local government sector lead at Eagle Technology, says GIS Story Maps, combining maps with text, images and multimedia content, were used to support emergency response to recent flood events.
“In the Far North the district council has launched an innovative Story Map to help residents understand and contribute to a 10-year review of its District Plan,” he says. “And in Tauranga the city council is using Story Maps to promote local facilities.”
The Waikato District Council is another making use of innovative spatial technologies across a number of areas. Anton Marais, Waikato District Council GIS team leader, is researching computer simulation of real environments, focusing on simulating the demand for new households based on projected population growth in Hamilton City, and the Waikato and Waipa districts.
“Another innovation is the infrastructure we’re setting up to publish our 3D data, starting with our fastest-growing township, Pokeno,” he says. “Data captured from a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] using LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] will generate a photo-realistic model viewable as a 3D townscape.”
And, in a trial currently underway, the council has partnered with Recon, to capture data from a UAV, surveying post-works road rehabilitation sites.
Spatial technologies are allowing for faster outcomes. Jeremy Neilson, GM at Recon, says field surveying areas of a few hundred hectares that may have taken days or weeks, are now better captured via UAV in a couple of hours and processed over a couple of days.
“Processing dense point clouds, a common output from UAV photogrammetry, used to cripple most desktops but is now generated and mapped from, with relative ease, through hardware and software improvements.”
Greg Price says the stunning array of new innovations and capabilities in GIS that could only be dreamed of a short time ago, makes this an exciting time for those involved in GIS in local government.
“Web GIS in particular is leading the way in providing a framework that can easily integrate many types of real-time data with advanced analytics, visualisation and mapping that promote sharing, collaboration, and being connected, both within the organisation and with the outside world.”
Among the growing range of products available, Greg cites LocalMaps, “a web mapping solution designed for the needs of New Zealand local government”.
He also mentions Insights – which unleashes the ‘secrets’ within data; the Operations Dashboard that allows users to monitor, track and report on daily operations in real-time; and Drone2Map which turns a drone into an Enterprise GIS productivity tool.
At Opus, geospatial specialist Andrew Standley reports a trend towards an increased focus on collaborative working using ArcGIS Online 2D web maps and 3D scenes. He also notes a greater flexibility and provision of tools for project teams to manage basic GIS tasks.
“Another trend is growth in the use of mobile data capture applications such as ArcGIS Collector and ArcGIS Survey123 to gain efficiencies and cost savings, compared to the traditional method of recording information in the field.”
As more cities put ‘smart’ strategies in place, Andrew says GIS is well positioned to be a key component. “A leading example is Los Angeles which has placed the ArcGIS platform at the centre of their GeoHub system.”
This location-enabled infrastructure has woven together more than 500 datasets from over 40 different departments to allow users to access, visualise and analyse real-time data.
As expectations of council staff and the public grow, and resources become even more constrained, the growing use of GIS can only be good. Greg highlights three important areas where operations run more smoothly and result in more positive experiences:
Delivery – eliminating data silos and managing data so that it’s timely, accurate and authoritative;
Collaboration – that creates ways for staff, departments and external organisations to work together to eliminate duplication, improve communication and advance projects; and
Analysis – that enables more informed decisions.
According to Anton Marais, the challenge for local authority spatial information departments is to change the way people use their services. He says people still ask his team for a map showing X or Y.
“We need people to start asking, ‘what’s the relationship between X and Y and can you show us this on a map?’.”
He says while keeping up with the technology curve is exceedingly hard, the spatial industry needs to work much more collaboratively across the public and private sectors to remain on the development curve. “Time and resources need to be invested.”
- Patricia Moore is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.