Multi-Government GIS

Over the past 25 years the success of the Westchester County GIS program can be attributed to several key factors that include ongoing administrative and political support, a common technology vision over many years of management leaders, as well as continuous years of superior GIS staff and technical support.  However, one of the most important and enduring elements has been the collaborative work between multiple governments – specifically between Westchester County and its 43 municipalities.

Early on and even before web technology and services had matured to what is available today, local governments, not-for-profits, and community groups realized cost efficiencies in utilizing Westchester County GIS products and services in helping build geospatial capacity within their organizations. While expansion of the County’s GIS infrastructure was slow and at times limited due to early desktop GIS client software, expansion and deployment has changed dramatically in the last 18-36 months with the increased availability of easy-to-use web viewers, access to data-rich map services, and local GIS datasets.

Westchester County is not the only current multi-agency or regional government GIS effort in the state.  One of the best and more visible examples of cost effective geospatial shared services is the Erie County GIS program which continues to provide a framework for providing and developing GIS capabilities for both Erie and Niagara Counties as well as selected neighboring towns.

Other illustrative and successful multi-agency/regional GIS programs include the Southern Tier Western Regional Planning & Development Board “Community GIS” serving Chautauqua, Cattaraugus & Allegheny Counties and the Seneca Nation of Indians. In northern New York State, encouraging efforts are being made by the Development Authority of the North Country towards building and expanding geospatial capacity for the villages of Heuvelton and Clayton, the Town of Clayton and Jefferson County.  Other illustrative statewide multi-government GIS programs include both the Dutchess County GIS program and the Tompkins County – City of Ithaca Interactive Maps collaboration.  These and other selected initiatives across the state have built multi-government GIS business plans with support from the New York State Local Government Efficiency Program (LGe) which provides funding for the development of projects that will achieve savings and improve municipal efficiency through shared services and cooperative agreements.

As government downsizing continues, opportunities to expand and build GIS capacity in local governments across New York State will often be most feasible and practical in a multi-government or regional framework where financial, technical and administrative support can be consolidated. Such initiatives will support similar business needs as well as common organizational and business requirements.

“Cloud” concepts now resonate and are understood, if not embraced, among elected officials and managers across governments.   The GIS infrastructure is now in place so that multiple governments can have data housed in one location, accessing web services from other government agencies, combining local content – all at the same time while using one of several free viewing clients such as ArcGIS Explorer, Gaia 3.0, and Google Earth 7).  Such “mash-up” configurations dramatically decrease the time building GIS data access and viewing capabilities.  While such viewers come with limited spatial analysis capabilities, there is nonetheless a significant reduction in hardware and software investments – which is often a major GIS implementation obstacle for small to mid-range sized governments and organizations across the state.

Geospatial technology has evolved such that there is a very limited or viable business case for every governmental organization to fund and support it’s own GIS program.  Shared Services is no longer a “nice to have” but rather the new government reality.  The New York State geospatial community will do well to embrace and promote this new paradigm towards building multi-government and cost-effective GIS programs.

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