GPS Telematics for Fleet and Mobile Workforce Management

Several of my posts over past 18 months have focused on a core set of applications which I have seen evolve over the past three decades that serve as the cornerstones for many New York State local and county government geospatial programs.  Increasingly and central to many of these geospatial program areas is the “mobile” component albeit much of the attention to date has been on “field/handheld” hardware and software components for both spatial data collection and updates.

Increasingly  it is becoming recognized  another mobile collection technology can add value to  an organization’s work force and business systems productivity.  Originally referred to as Automated Vehicle Locator (AVL) systems, this technology got its start decades ago focusing on the capture (mapping) of a vehicle’s location and display in a GIS or similar digital mapping system. These early systems were expensive and not widely used outside of business and industry.

Over the last five or more years,  fleet managers have increasingly adopted “AVL” technology to assist in the management of  fleet assets especially with availability of lower cost hardware components which connect  to vehicle On Board Diagnostic (OBD) ports.  This capability supports fleet managers with a wide range of metrics  providing  odometer/mileage readings, engine idling, vehicle usage and a variety of other vehicle related information.  Now recognized as “GPS Telematics”, this technology has become more affordable and accessible to a larger range of government agencies and organizations.  This modern use of the technology centers around the use of M2M (machine to machine) and telematics technologies.

Benefits of GPS Telematics

To date, much of the work focusing on capturing and analyzing data associated with field resources has been done the “old way”, i.e., capturing and recording the data by human fingers.  Historically, this method is fraught with inconsistencies. Machine-to-machine (M2M) data capture on average is far more accurate and consistent.

Fleet telematics monitor the location, movement, status and behavior of a vehicle and associated field resources.  This is achieved through a combination of the  GPS telematics device which is installed in each vehicle transmitting  location based data via wireless networks to web servers for near real time availability.  Users access location, movement and status information and metrics of vehicles via special web-based software applications or through existing in-house “vehicle tracking enabled”  business applications.  In essence, GPS telematics systems become platforms to collection and transport valuable mobile resource field information and activities.  In addition to locational data,  fleet telematics solutions provide the status of each vehicle and by extension the corresponding crew an inference of  ongoing work accomplishments and assignments to field resources.  Managers know how each vehicle is being used as well as mileage, idling status, location and speed.  Such systems can be extended to be connected to onboard systems and sensors which log activities such as street sweeping, plowing, spreading, and spraying – workflows which are particularly challenging to capture and document by hand during the normal course of business.  While Return-on-Investments (ROI) can and will vary greatly, calculating the benefits of investing in fleet telematics technology can now be  based on factual metrics such as improved routing and dispatching, reducing labor costs, improved fuel and vehicle usage, and newer more cost-effective system architecture (Cloud).

Westchester County GIS LiGO Fleet Management Implementation

Fall 2016, Westchester County GIS initiated a pilot vehicle tracking project with MarshallGIS (Boise, Idaho) using their patented LiGO® telematics technology.   LiGO is a GPS telematics tracking solution providing detailed information on the activities of each vehicle and enables users to see real-time locations on a map (Figure 1) as well as providing customized reports on key metrics such as total miles driven (individual vehicles and by department), all vehicle trips, mileage, days of vehicle use,  number and average length of time stopped at known and unknown locations, speed, vehicle idling times more than five minutes (or any user defined length of time) and more (Figure 2).   Westchester County program managers can now get a new and consistent flow of information and metrics to help manage their field operations and fleet assets.

Figure 1. Real Time Location of Westchester Vehicle Assets and Mobile Workforce

LiGO is typically offered as a hosted solution with all computing needs being handled through the MarshallGIS controlled and managed secure hosted cloud servers.  However, Westchester County opted to implement the LiGO solution on-premise with and on its own infrastructure which required a minor amount of additional implementation time and onsite professional services from MarshallGIS.

Figure 2. Sample Monthly Vehicle Usage Report

Each vehicle is outfitted with a telematics device.  Westchester County currently is using  CalAmp LMU-3000 series GPS tracking devices (Figure 3) which is easy to install in the ODB2 port – “plug-n-play” ready.  The device gathers data on location, speed, acceleration, and numerous other forms of information which is programmed and transmitted via cellular service back to Westchester County servers for storage in the LiGO® Server software (Figure 4).   From here, the LiGO application is published as a secure web application to Westchester County LiGO users and managers.

Figure 3. OBD2 Type GPS Telematics Device

While the broad use of hybrid vehicles has lessen the need for governments and organizations to implement specific programs to reduce road mileage and fuel costs, the advancements in telematics technology, such as integration with on-board systems/sensors/controllers, integration with existing enterprise office business systems, as well as more affordable and easier implementation options,  have contributed to the growing use of the systems.

Figure 4. Westchester County LiGO On Premise Conceptual Architecture

Results and Next Steps

The Westchester County pilot project involved an initial 50 vehicles (currently now at  62) across the following departments and program areas:  Consumer Protection, Public Works (Road Maintenance), Probation, Corrections, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Facilities, Health, and selected vehicles associated with the central fleet.  Vehicle types involved in the initial pilot vary across the user departments including hybrid and gasoline passenger models, dump, utility and pick-up trucks, and vans.  MarshallGIS provided free online/web training seminars for the initial user community with ongoing training being provided now by in-house GIS staff as additional departments are added to the program.

User acceptance and use has grown since initial deployment with program managers quickly realizing the benefits of where field resources are located relative to scheduled services and delivery.  They have also been very involved in helping design and define the monthly reports which highlight key metrics for vehicles and associated personnel and crews.  Given the recognized benefits, the County is now considering additional deployments of the LiGO product in program areas which contract for busing services as well as integration with the County’s enterprise ESRI environment (Figure 5) and Infor work order management systems.

Figure 5. Example of  Live Vehicle Locations in ArcGIS Online Operations Map

One of the biggest challenges Westchester County GIS experienced in implementing the pilot vehicle tracking technology was initiating and establishing working relationships with new departments and operational programs. Historically, government GIS programs and fleet management operations have had very little in common.  Over the last five years much of the advancement in this technology has been directed by Fleet Managers with limited input from IT/GIS or other department managers.    Often, these program managers are selecting systems which are focused primarily on Fleet/Fuel Management and may or may not be used/integrated with the organization’s geospatial applications and other business systems. It is increasingly important the IT/GIS professional communities recognize the benefits and evolution of the technology as an essential piece in supporting all components of mobile and field operations.  Since its initial deployment, Westchester County’s fleet management staff has become an integral component of helping support and advance the LiGO program.

This article serves just as an introduction to GPS Telematics technology and Westchester County’s initial use and implementation.  There are many more details regarding the value this technology can provide Empire State government agencies with regards to managing its mobile resources.  Customer service, dispatching, routing, sweeping, plowing, spreading, spraying, safety are just a few of many individual use cases where M2M GPS telematics can provide near real time information and metrics 24/7.

For more information on the LiGO product, contact Terry Bartlett, Senior Account Executive, at MarshallGIS.

Orbitist: Storytelling on the Western Front

It’s always refreshing discovering new startups and firms mixing geospatial concepts with other technology and media platforms.  Not necessarily true geospatial firms which we’ve come to label as such, but clearly operating on the fringe and providing selected products and services mainstream geospatial consultants market and provide.  One such relatively new firm is Orbitist based out of Fredonia, New York.

Orbitist is led by Nick Gunner who has been filming and directing video productions since 2007 when he began pursuing his Bachelor of Science Degree in TV/Digital Film, Audio/Radio production, and Earth Science at the State University of New York at Fredonia. During that time, Nick started building content management systems and digital mapping technology which he continued while serving four years as the university’s New Media Manager.   On the side, he continued to pursue freelance work as a public radio producer, freelance documentary filmmaker, and web developer. In the Summer of 2015, Nick launched Orbitist LLC as part of the Fredonia Technology Incubator with the idea of using digital storytelling and technology to make important information as accessible as possible.

Initial Work

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) of Natural History was Orbitist’s first client.   In the Summer of 2015 they commissioned a short documentary on the Chadakoin River in Jamestown, as well as map three tours about various natural history topics.  Representative examples of RTPI products can be viewed on YouTube and the bottom three links on this Orbitist web page.  During this same time period – and ongoing today – Orbitist also performed work for the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.

Other recent products and services include:

A Story Map documenting the Winter 1929 Tewksbury boat and bridge crash on the Buffalo River resulting in the flooding of a 18 neighborhood blocks in South Buffalo.

This Story Map uses a variety of multimedia which pinpoints cultural and historical features from different Spanish-speaking countries, including architectural feats, traditional dances, and tipping customs, among others. Each map utilizes Spanish phrases with English translations to bridge the gap between languages.

Software Suite

Relying on the experience he gained building systems for the last 10 years, software products used at Orbitist reflects Nick’s commitment to combining content management with interactive mapping – much of which is accomplished by integrating and combining leading Open Source components.   Currently the Orbitist mapping platform is a simple content management system which associates posts (internally called “points”) with latitude/longitude values.  The Orbitist team often uses Mapbox GL as a primary front-end mapping library but behind that everything in their system is API-driven, meaning story maps are created top of products such as Leaflet and Google Maps.  They also use Carto as a stand-alone product for building real-time analytics maps.  All combined, the Orbitist “system” also manages images and a variety of data (icon type, time of day, external links, etc.) and provides access to YouTube, Vimeo, and even Facebook for video hosting. GitHub is leveraged to host static web projects.

Orbitist helped Investigative Post map and present lead data from Buffalo city water. The reporting has since contributed to changing policy in the city.

In summarizing their “go-to” software suite, Nick notes:

“I’ve found that for telling stories with interactive data, Carto is amazing. For designing outstanding base maps and for the best mapping interface in my opinion, Mapbox all the way. And for telling stories on top of maps, Orbitist’s original mapping platform is un-rivaled!”

Current Work

Orbitist is currently working with the Chautauqua County Land Bank using all three of their core services (video production, data visualization, and web development) showcasing the important work they do. Orbitist staff is visualizing local datasets for Land Bank to help assess neighborhoods and properties to invest. These include serial code violations, tax foreclosures, property assessments, and County GIS data sets. This work rolling out a map-based crowdsourcing platform which will allow residents to survey their neighborhoods for abandoned and dilapidated properties as well as developing a model to identify slumlord properties in the community.

Orbitist continues to focus on conservation and environmental outreach with the intend of building tools and story mapping to bridge the gap between water, agriculture, ecology, urban green spaces, and the general public.  Making important information and map-based data more accessible.  In addition to these many projects itemized above, Orbitist is starting a series of projects with the Chautauqua Institution.   Their work in this space is reflected as finalists n the Erie Hack competition and will be competing in May for seed money to apply our products to water-related issues around Lake Erie.  A very recent online article via Fredonia.edu News tell more.    Orbitist is also using drone technology for video production and for capturing imagery for making high definition mapping tiles.  Having recently obtained a Part 107 Drone License the firm is intending to use drones for spatial data collection, too.

Summary

Find out more about Orbitist’s products and services by visiting their website.  One can even set up an account to start making and sharing web maps and stories with the online tools Orbitist provides as part of their online  Learn section.   “We are first and foremost storytellers interested in helping people understand and explore the world” comments Gunner, “and right now that understanding comes in the form of multimedia mapping, data visualization, and video production. But who knows what that will mean down the road. We’re going to use whatever tools best allow us to accomplish our mission and business needs.”

With all the talk about statewide incubators aligned with the SUNY campuses,  it is nice to see a start-up with geospatial ties emerging the program.  Orbitist is a relatively young company and only now beginning to define its space across the New York State technology landscape.     We wish them well.

Note:  Orbitist will be presenting at the 2017 Westchester GIS User Group Meeting, May 18th at Purchase College.

2017 NYS Spring GIS Conference Specials

The last couple weeks I’ve been engaged in the following cutting-edge enterprise geospatial issues:  (1) staring at the sky on a daily basis,  (2) monitoring the temperature, and (3)  hoping the remaining snow to melt and the leaves to hold off in budding – both at the same time.  After nearly 33 years in County government and its boiled down to this! Why?  So we can get our aerial photography flown over the next 10-days to support our 2017 countywide base map update.  The heavy snow March 14th really set us back and the window to capture the photography is closing quickly.

So at any rate, its been easy to lose track of upcoming Spring 2017 regional one-day GIS conferences and meetings over the next 4-6 weeks.  Most of the Spring 2017 shows are held in locations accessible via a maximum 2-4 hour drive from furthermost parts of the Empire State, offer a wide range of geospatial topics and presentations, provide excellent networking opportunities among colleagues and industry representatives, and are generally light on the wallet.    For those unable to make or justify the big lift of getting to the uber ESRI conference in San Diego later on in the summer and/or chasing GISP certification credits these venues are for you.

Sounds sweet, right? So consider the following and get your travel approvals in order:

GIS-SIG 26rd Annual Conference, April 11th, Burgundy Basin, Pittsford, NY.  Unfortunately I cannot make GIS-SIG this year as it is one of my most favorite statewide one-day shows.  GIS/SIG provides the premier geospatial professional forum in the Rochester/Genesee Finger Lakes/Western New York region for GIS practitioners focusing on trends and policies relating to new geospatial technologies and current projects.  With a loyal following, the size and content of the GIS/SIG conference is broad enough to often substitute as an annual state conference for many GIS practitioners in the western half of the state. This year’s conference again includes vendor displays and an agenda covering topics such as mobile data collection, drones, 3D GIS, and ESRI software updates, as well as a keynote address from Dr. John R. Schott, founder of the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  Corporate sponsorship keeps the price tag of an individual registration at under $100 for the day which also includes lunch. Online registration is still available and while you are at the GIS/SIG website you can also see the many resources and links GIS/SIG provides to its user community.  This is a great show and if you have the opportunity to attend. Highly recommended.

Long Island GIS (LIGIS)  2017 Spring User Conference, April 26th, SUNY Farmingdale, Farmingdale, NY.  LIGIS meetings and conferences have grown in structure and content over the last few years and this spring’s April 26th meeting will continue to illustrate the improvement among the Long Island GIS stakeholder user community.  Scheduled presentations from government, academia, and industry are on the agenda including topics covering mobile applications, MS4 data collection, 2020 Census Bureau update, and GIS & hydrofracking among others. Located in central Long Island on the SUNY Farmingdale campus, this is a not-to-miss conference on “the Island” for those with limited travel budgets.  Make plans to attend.  Those interested in attending can monitor conference specifics at the LIGIS homepage.

Northeast Arc User Group (NEARC) Meeting, May 15th, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.  Spring NEARC meetings are conveniently located in Amherst, MA which is easily accessible to the Albany Capital District and GIS professionals in eastern New York State.  Unlike GIS – SIG, which is software vendor independent, this show is very much ESRI centric and packed with high quality user presentations. Even though only one day, the show has grown to be so popular that it now competes with the larger multi-day GIS shows and conferences across New England.   Price tag for attending:  $65 which includes lunch.  If you can afford an overnight, activities the evening before downtown Amherst and a hotel room at the UMass conference center make it even more worth your while. (As of the day of this blog post 4/4 the May 15th agenda was still in development; I did submit an abstract!).  Registration will open mid-April.  If your organization is an ESRI shop – this is a Spring show not to miss.

Westchester GIS User Group Meeting, May 11th, Purchase College, Purchase New York. As one of the largest geospatial meetings in New York State, the Westchester GIS User Group Meeting is a free one-day conference held at Purchase College. Made possible by financial support from exhibiting vendors and conference facilities provided by the college, the draft 2017 agenda  features user presentations from County government,  Westchester County municipalities, nonprofits including the Goodlands Project, and ESRI. There is also free conference training: At lunch “Leveraging Suvey123 for Mobile Data Collection” with instructor Larry Spraker and post-conference “Getting Started with How to Build Great Web Apps” with ESRI’s Mark Scott.   Also, sponsors get to present 5-minute “Lightning” talks over the course of the day.  The Purchase College location provides easy one-day access across the metropolitan NYC area, as well as the broader lower Hudson River Valley and southeastern Connecticut. Agenda and other meeting  specifics – including registration – are available from the Westchester County GIS website.

Other Venues:  If you are in the Metro NYC area don’t forget to check the GeoNYC Meetup calendar for ongoing meetings across the city. Subject matter and participation is pretty amazing.  And/or the many other geospatial related Meetups in the region covering big data, data visualization, agriculture mapping, and everything inbetween including drones. A little further removed geographically from the Empire State is the Northeast Geographic Information Society (NEGIS) conference on April 27th in Ashland, MA. You can follow and learn more about NEGIS via their blog.

The entire Empire State GIS community is fortunate enough to be close enough to a range of regional geospatial meetings and conferences which are accessible from most areas of the state and provide many of the same benefits of larger shows and not nearly as expensive.

Safe travels!

GIS Common Core Part 3: Health and Human Services (HHS)

Through a sequence of articles posted in eSpatiallyNewYork, I have proposed a series of GIS applications which provide a framework for establishing and maintaining  GIS/geospatial programs in local  governments (villages, towns, cities, and counties) across  New York State.  These applications areas are referred to as the Geospatial Common Core, many of which are integrated with local government office and administrative business systems.  Others are utilized in the support of regulatory reporting programs.    Together, the Geospatial Common Core contribute towards building sustainable geospatial capacity for local governments.   This is the third installment of the series.

“GIS Common Core” application areas in New York State local governments

The first article entitled Part 1:  Infrastructure and Asset Management focused on the growing and critical role local government GIS geospatial programs continue to serve in rehabilitating and maintaining the decaying and outdated New York State – and national – public infrastructure.  The second article Part 2:  Work Orders, Permitting, and Inspections (WOPI) published in March 2016 focused on geocentric software packages which are ubiquitous in government programs supporting work flows in areas such public works, health, planning, clerk, assessment, buildings/code enforcement and inspections.  Organizations investing and integrating WOPI systems with GIS will continue to help build long-term sustainable geospatial programs in local governments.

Part 3:  Health and Human Services (HHS)

Health and human services can often be broadly defined from one location to another but for the purposes of this article it includes a wide-range of government programs including, but limited to, public health services, social services, public assistance, youth and veterans programs, disability programs, housing and homeless services, child protection services, as well as the important network of contracted service providers governments rely upon in providing counseling and related support services.  I have long been an advocate of building geospatial capacity in these local government program areas.

Why?

Statewide local government HHS budgets typically dwarf other local government operational program areas with regard to annual appropriations.  While I am not a budget analyst and admittedly it’s sometimes difficult to follow the money trail of appropriations vs. revenues vs. actual tax payer costs in county budgets, here are a few examples to illustrate the size and magnitude of HHS programs in a selected 2017 NYS county budgets (Data/information from County webpages as noted):

  1. Stuben County 2017 Budget. (Page 3).  Pie chart indicates nearly 47% of the appropriated budget dedicated to Health and  Economic Assistance/Opportunity (includes Social Service disciplines) program areas
  2. Ulster County 2017 Budget. (Pages 1 & 2). Table and pie chart indicate nearly 42% of the appropriated budget dedicated to Public Health and Economic Assistance/Opportunity program areas
  3. Erie County 2017 Budget. (Pages 93, 159, and 174). Appropriations (rounded in millions) in Health ($86M), Mental Health ($47M) and Social Services ($591M) account for almost 50% of the $1,455,000,000 recommended general fund budget.  (Note:  There are other references to the 2017 budget being closer to $1.7B). Either way, HHS budgets are a significant portion of the overall county budget
  4. Albany County 2017 Budget. (Page 34). Employee Count table lists 657 of 2,535 County employees (26%) are in the Child, Youth, and Family Services (170), Social Services (308), Mental Health (90), and Dept. of Health (89)
  5. Suffolk County 2017 Budget. (Pages 101 and 366).   Appropriations (rounded in millions) in Health Services ($249M) and Social Services ($628M) account for nearly 30% of a recommended $2.9B budget
  6. Monroe County 2017 Budget. (Pages 157 and 275).  Appropriations (rounded in millions) in Human Services ($536M) and Public Health ($62M) account for nearly 50% of an adopted $1.2B budget

Challenges

New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH)  was one of the major supporters in the initial development of the existing New York State “open data” portals providing increased transparency and accessibility to public health datasets.  Today there are at least two primary sites for users to access NYS health data:  www.data.ny.gov and www.health.data.ny.gov.  There is a plethora of public health data being published in these portals which can be used in local government geospatial applications albeit not always necessarily GIS friendly. New York State government agency data providers could go a long way in providing the data/indicators through the existing portals noted above as a web/map service AND making the information available at smaller units of geography (i.e., municipal, zip code, census track, or better census block group). It’s noted many “health-related” environmental datasets covering the Empire State are available from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On the other hand, County Social Service program databases are much more sensitive with regard to data confidentiality (patient) issues albeit some program areas such as SNAP are publicly available via the state open data portals though only available at the County level.       Working essentially as agents of the state in administering most social service programs, counties must conform to a wide range of state-mandated reporting requirements as well as using state-designed systems which provide a slew of technology challenges for use in local GIS/geospatial applications.  Particularly in context of preparing, and often generalizing datasets to larger units of geography (i.e., address-based data available as block group data) and/or  removing personal identifiers, for use in GIS software applications.

Where’s the Benefit?

While there are still many challenges, geospatial applications in the public health and human services arena provide tremendous opportunities for governments to improve the delivery of services more cost effectively.

"Service Delivery" nounthe act of providing a service to customers:

Source:  Cambridge Dictionary

As itemized above, government programs in HHS are often enormous with football field size floors of case workers and  managers in-charge of a broad range of assets including field staff, vehicles, real-time data collection applications, scheduling time-required appointments, coordination of contracted service providers, using government or publically owned facilities (schools, libraries, and community centers), and  often  requiring  the use of public and para-transit transportation systems.  To say the least of having to be prepared to answer to an already increasingly internet savvy tax-payer user base looking for government information and assistance 24 X 7 over the internet.

The visualization and analysis of all these geographically based features within the GIS environment can enable HHS administrators and managers to better manage service delivery systems more cost effectively in context of the following examples:

  1. Assigning appointments/cases/inspections based geographic areas; visualizing data on a map based on heat maps, inspection-type assignments, projects, or case loads is more intuitive and can improve a manager’s  ability to better allocate resources in areas of greatest need or priority.
  2. Developing “traveling salesman” schedules; optimally routing appointments so as to minimize road mileage and travel time from stop-to-stop.
  3. Using geography as a primary factor in establishing temporary/leased facilities required or needed to support program delivery. More cost effectively establishing temporary support facilities in the geographic areas(s) of greatest need.

Governments can do more to manage service provider contracts which are geographically and optimally located in the areas of greatest need so as to minimize the transportation burden on individuals required to meet with providers for program compliance. In urban areas, working with and establishing service provider contracts which are close to public transportation systems (bus stops, train stations) which can often be of assistance in connecting individuals with their providers.

5.  Newer and more cost effective vehicle tracking systems enable managers to make “location-based” decisions to dispatch or re-route field workers when schedules change or there is an immediate need to cover a geographic location.  Office managers often have limited or factual geographic information as to what field resources are spatially closest to respond to on-the-fly or emergency incidents;

 6.  Where data is available, GIS applications can be designed for HHS staff to help determine whether certain types of public assistance are legal or appropriate at a specific address based on local zoning designations. By  example, housing assistance subsidies should not be awarded to applicants providing addresses in zoning districts designated Industrial, Manufacturing, or Commercial/Business.

HHS program staff can utilitize GIS technology to help determine the validity of applicant data (re: local address housing use/conditions)  by cross-referencing  local zoning district maps and associated permitted uses.

7.  Mobilizing and automating field data collection work flows. Easy-to-use and affordable mobile apps can now be designed to collect most data electronically minimizing the number of errors associated with paper-based data collection efforts and reducing the need (and time) to key-stroke data into systems after returning to the office.

8.  Online resource directories and applications empower residents towards helping make their own decisions/data gathering lessening the need for “staff” assistance from public agencies – particularly during the traditional 8-5 work day.

Westchester County Office for People with Disabilities provides an online application which enables residents to identify service providers based on a selected radius search from a given address.  Public transportation system components are also included in the application.

9.  Location based mapping applications built with GIS software such as ArcGIS enable HHS professionals to conduct powerful spatial and visual analysis on data sets. Such comparable analysis is very difficult to duplicate when the same data is only being reviewed and analyzed in spreadsheets.    Location-based mapping software is increasingly being integrated with statistical software packages such as R and SPSS which are common in HHS community.   The integration with location based (GIS) and HHS statistical data provide broad and intuitive data visualization capabilities.

10.  As illustrated in the following images, local HHS program data can be mashed-up with a variety of state data sets which are increasingly being published via  Health Data NY and NY.GOV as well as map services from individual state agencies.

Child and Adult Care Food Program Participation locations in Westchester County as provided by NYS Office of Children and Family Services.

Child Care Regulated Programs in central Westchester County.   Data from NYS Office of Children and Family Services.

Local Mental Health Programs in Westchester County and the Bronx.  Data from NYS Council on Children and Families.

Summary:

While the actual cost-savings or increased efficiencies HHS agencies in local governments realize by investing in geospatial technology will clearly vary from government-to-government, many of the program areas itemized above provide specific examples of how GIS technology can be applied in New York State local government HHS programs.  These are big ticket budgets and just as important for the GIS community – mandated programs.  Tax-payer government programs which are not going away and will continue to be significant components of local government budgets.  Building geospatial capacity in these program areas, if only in a small context, will raise visibility of each local government GIS program and further institutionalize its long-term value.  Its time to get started.

Broad deployment of HHS geospatial applications in New York State, however,  will only be realized when there is a more dedicated participation and investment from NY state government agencies which are major stake-holders and data stewards in these systems. To say the least of the NYS GIS Program Office which clearly has other current projects and priorities.

Until this is realized, HHS GIS applications will evolve to some degree across the state at the local level, albeit scattered and not uniform.  What is needed are statewide HHS geospatial systems encompassing architecture, data, applications, and funding – and most importantly, local government input.

Let the discussions begin.

Finger Lakes Trail Conference: The Reach of Digital Mapping

As a hiker myself, I first visited the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) website in search of information about the trail system with little knowledge of the incredible structure the organization has in place for creating and publishing hardcopy and digital maps. Thus, the genesis of this article and an overview of how FLTC makes all of the digital content come together.

Background

Established in 1962, the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) mission is to “… to build, protect, enhance, and promote a continuous footpath across New York State. Forever!”  With administrative offices near the Mt. Morris Dam Visitor Center in Mt. Morris, New York, FLTC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which works in cooperation with its members and various organizations to develop and maintain the premier hiking trail system in New York.   The Finger Lakes Trail System includes the main Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. The main FLT is 580 miles long. There are six branch trails and 29 loop trails and spur trails that extend from the main FLT. These branch, loop and spur trails currently total 412 miles. Including the Main Trail and all branch, loop, and side trails, the Finger Lakes Trail System offers 1,000 miles of hiking.    Today, more than 1,400 individual and family memberships currently support the FLTC  of which approximately one fourth actively volunteer to operate the organization and its programs.  The sale of maps and GPS track data help  build and maintain the trail system.

FLTC also recognizes Sponsors which are individuals or organizations which formally accept responsibility for maintaining a length of trail in the FLT System and Affiliates which are hiking clubs and Scout troops that operate their own local hiking program and sponsor (maintain) their section of the trail system. The FLTC is a Partner of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) and cooperates with that organization and the National Park Service in maintaining and promoting that portion of the FLT that carries the North Country National Scenic Trail.  The FLTC is also a member of the Great Eastern Trail Association (GETA) and is constructing a branch trail of the FLT system (the Crystal Hills Trail) that will carry the New York portion of the Great Eastern Trail.

The Finger Lakes Trail System main trail from its eastern terminus in the Catskills to Allegany State Park in western New York State. From their interactive web application this image also show outlines of section maps which provide detail at larger scales.

Mapping and Cartography

Since the early 2000s with advancements in GPS technology and digital data collection, trail mapping responsibilities within the FLTC have been increasingly assigned to the Trail System Management program within the organization.   Within this structure, the mapping of new and/or changes to trails fall on the responsibilities of volunteers trained in use of  GPS devices – either their own Garmin device or an FLTC-owned Garmin Montana.  FLTC maintains  detailed specifications on what GPS devices are acceptable and how they are to be configured.  The GPX file from the walk is emailed to the mapping team which is currently under the direction of Greg Farnham and Jo Taylor).    Following a very detailed process document, the mapping team uses Garmin Basecamp to edit the official, unfiltered GPX track, which is referred to as the “trail centerline”.    There is adequate iteration with the person who walked the trail and the  Regional Trail Coordinator (RTC) overseeing that section of the trail where the data is being collected to ensure an accurate rendition of the (trail) data has been collected.  Regional Trail Coordinators and other FLTC administrative positions are highlighted on the organizational chart on their website. Continue reading

2017 GeoCon Wish List: Part 1

I first wanted to publish this article initially as a wish list to the GIS Santa Claus in early December, but the holidays came and went so I am now submitting it as a New Year’s wish list (Part 1) for the 2017 GeoCon  in Lake Placid.  There will  be other suggestions over the next several months and I’ll remain cognizant  what I wish for as I may be submitting an abstract to present myself.  Maybe.

So to start the discussion, here is an initial list of  ten geospatial mapping applications and program areas I’d like to send a speaker invite to for the 2017 GeoCon – and why.

NYS Office of the Attorney General:  New York Crime Gun Analysis https://targettrafficking.ag.ny.gov/tool/

While mapping continues to be one of the primary end products of GIS analysis, geospatial data is increasingly being used in a wide range of data visualization platforms such as Tableau.    I’d welcome the opportunity to attend a presentation by the Office of the Attorney on the Crime Gun Analysis report outlining data collection, data analysis, and the rendering of the data through maps, tables, and charts.  Not the normal GIS menu.

New York State Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) http://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/

In context of geospatial, this program reference isn’t so much about “what it is”, as opposed to more about “what it isn’t”.  Or at least I think.  From my level, the REDC framework has always been somewhat of a mystery since current state administration created the 10 Regional Councils in 2011.  And even more confusing that the geography of the REDCs do not coincide with the statewide Regional Planning Commission boundaries. That said, there is an incredible amount of geospatial information and analysis in the Council’s underlying mission.  Everything happens somewhere.  And there is a ton of money coming through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process which I believe the GIS community should be more engaged and recipients of to some degree. Uber opportunities for web mapping applications, Story Maps, and GIS-produced maps for publications though one would be hard pressed to see any real evidence of a professional GIS touch in any of the Council products and services.   I looked through four regional 2016 “progress” reports (Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Capital Region and Southern Tier and found very limited reference to GIS/geospatial technologies.   Some kind of presentation by one of the REDCs and/or regional GIS personnel involved in this program would be most informative for the statewide GIS community.  Otherwise I doubt we’re going to hear anything through the state GIS program office on this.

511NY
https://www.511ny.org/

This is more of a selfish request than anything because I really don’t fully understand the makings and how 511NY operates in context of GIS/geospatial data collection, sources, work flows, or even development of their applications including the online mapping stuff.  I do know it’s big, visible, seemingly growing in functionality, supported by a mess of New York State transportation agencies -even though it has its own .org web address.  It also creates a lot of data which would be useful to consume and use in local government web mapping applications.   I’d be the first one to sign up to hear how it all comes together, funding, sources of the data (including what is being taken from and/or generated at the local level), opportunities for collaboration with local GIS programs, and what’s next.  How long before we see an Uber icon on the 511NY homepage to help support trip planning?

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SAVI Builds a Metro NYC Presence

The last couple years I’ve been watching the growth of GeoNYC Meetup group and continue to be amazed at the far-reaching representation of individuals and companies now involved in the broad field we call “geospatial”.  One person shops, start-ups, open source/open data techies, apartment and loft based companies, strong business and private sector representation, community based mappers, and everything in-between.  A much different composition and representation than that of the other existing statewide geospatial/GIS communities and organizations that I and other colleagues of my GIS generation came through.   To date I have published three previous blog posts focusing on other contacts made through GeoNYC:  Mapzen, Mapillary and NiJel.

Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI)

Also establishing a niche in the expanding geospatial space are community facing programs associated with and supported in academia environments.  One such program, which I was also introduced to through GeoNYC, is the  Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI).  It was launched in 2013 and is at Pratt Institute.  SAVI is a GIS-based research lab and service center that focuses on mapping, data analysis, and visual storytelling, providing students, faculty, and community groups with the resources they need to communicate information in compelling ways. The first and only New York City college-based GIS lab open to community organizations and civic groups, SAVI offers computer access, technical assistance, professional training, workshops, and research that empower local organizations to create their own visions to improve the quality of life for their clients and constituents. At Pratt, SAVI supports students and faculty whose work reaches beyond the Institute’s campus to engage and benefit New York City.

Leading the SAVI program is Jessie Braden, who was appointed Director in the Fall of 2013.  Prior to SAVI, Braden spent three years at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a non-profit affiliated with Pratt Institute that provides technical services to community organizations.  She has also been an adjunct professor of GIS in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Program since 2010.  Braden initially started SAVI with Pratt Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development (PSPD) Professor Juan Camilo Osorio as a volunteer side project in 2011 with the guidance of then Department Chair John Shapiro.  In addition to PSPD, Pratt Center and the Graduate Communications Design Department offered their official support, allowing the lab to come to fruition and solidifying SAVI’s focus on communities AND design.  Pratt Center also secured a $670,000 grant from NYC City Council to renovate a physical space on Pratt’s campus so SAVI can serve community organizations and students.  During the time the program was being institutionalized at Pratt, Osorio took a full-time position as Director of Research at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Though not involved in day to day operations, Osorio remains a trusted advisor to SAVI.

SAVI consolidates the Institute’s GIS resources with an eye to social benefit. This means putting data analysis in the hands of community activists, students, and faculty. It also means making the products of GIS expertise visually legible and compelling so that the stories they tell will have as much impact as possible.

“At the end of the day, visual representation is as important as the quality of data analysis,” Braden observes. “Our vision for SAVI is to produce outstanding multidisciplinary projects  with the highest-caliber visual display— making the invisible visible, both inside and outside Pratt’s gates.”  Its Jessie’s belief, which I share,  that a well designed map should be able to stand on its own.  Such a product enables the reader to conduct the “spatial analysis” based on the distribution and rendering of the map data itself – with only minimal accompanying narrative to explain or describe the map.

Braden points to specific mapping projects which exemplify the SAVI cause:
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NYS 2016 Geospatial Legislation: The Beat Goes On

Have been a little remiss in the blog content space of late and now trying to play catch up with a couple articles and stories in the works albeit nothing finalized.  With August typically being one of the slower months across the board, it’s always a good time to take a step back and see how the geospatial/GIS profession is growing across the state in context of making its presence known  or at least recognized and referenced in the legislative arena.   This year’s summary provides a little more fodder for discussion and content than in the past couple years – even to the point of dulling the urge to write in that very special way about one of my other favorite New York summertime geospatial topics:  The Geospatial Advisory Committee. The GAC.

State of the State

Always appropriate to start at the beginning of the year with the Governor’s State of the State “Built to Lead” themed speech (January 13th) which did offer some optimism – albeit indirectly – for investment and growth opportunities in geospatial technologies across the state.  Most notably with references in the areas of infrastructure development.  Even though many of the investments itemized in the speech are for major public facilities such as LaGuardia, the Jacob Javitz Center, and Penn Station – btw to the tune of $100 billion –  there is still room for enthusiasm in the GIS community hoping that even small portions of the $100 billion investment can trickle down to local government geospatial  programs to  support bridge and road management initiatives, public water/storm/sanitary systems rehabilitation projects, evolving resiliency projects, and many other infrastructure related efforts.  And best of all, providing funding opportunities for the many deserving GIS and civil engineering businesses which continue to support and help build statewide geospatial capacity. While it’s almost certain that the $100B funding is spread out over many appropriation bills, one can see the magnitude of the statewide infrastructure focus and priority by performing a keyword search on “infrastructure” in the New York State Bill Search form. Results? Fifty-seven bills match the search criteria.  Granted, not every bill is specific to geospatial & infrastructure – but it’s a damn good starting point for the statewide geospatial community.  And you can be well assured our brethren in the engineering, surveying, public works and aligned disciplines are already well engaged in tracking down the funding.  And btw, if you’re really interested and by comparison, do a similar search on keywords such as geospatial, mapping, geography, or GIS – and make note of the search results.  I’m by no means an expert in using the form, but by using it only casually, one can get a sense of the potential funding sources.

As in past State of State speech agendas, the governor makes reference to other should be GIS staple disciplines such as economic development (REDCs: Regional Economic Development Councils) and tourism – two very high level and visible government programs which the statewide GIS community has yet to make broad and sustaining inroads with.  Granted the current state administration’s REDC organizational chart is problematic in that these boundaries do not coincide with the existing NYS Association of Regional Councils boundaries, GIS-based economic development and tourism websites should continue to be a top priority for every county and/or regional planning commission across the state.

 2016 Bill Search

Certainly not an exhaustive list, but the following does provide a general flavor of the types of  geospatial/GIS-related bills which were either newly introduced or carried over from previous years.  Search results included:
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Queensbury Geospatial: A Model for NYS Town Government GIS

Northbound New York State Northway Exit 20 leads to the Town of Queensbury which is the seat of Warren County.  With a 2010 population of 27,901 the town covers nearly 65-square miles including shoreline along Lake George and lands within the Adirondack Park.  Further into town, several of the usual NYS town government program offices are located at 742 Bay Road including staff and resources which support the town’s geographic information system (GIS).

GIS Background

Prior to 2002, Queensbury officials had worked with consultants to establish initial GIS capacity including the creation of ArcIMS applications and investing in multiple ESRI desktop licenses.  In 2002, the town’s GIS initiative changed significantly with the hiring of George Hilton.  Hired as a GIS Specialist and planner, George was brought onboard to build and advance the town’s  GIS program.

Prior to arriving in Queensbury, George had honed his GIS skills while a student at Central Connecticut State University and later in government positions  in the Denver and Kansas City areas as well as three years with Westchester County.  Now, 15-years after his arrival, George oversees a program which can be considered an exemplary NYS municipal government GIS program.

Current Queensbury Geospatial Products and Infrastructure        

George designs, codes and maintains the Town’s Interactive Mapper (Firefox and IE only) and a host of other ArcGIS.com map viewers including Fire and EMS, Planning and Zoning, and Phase II Stormwater Infrastructure.    He also supports emerging mobile mapping and data collection efforts which includes Trimble GPS units with Trimble Positions to collect data and update feature services and Geodatabases in the field.  The town also collects data (hydrant inspections, site inspections) with ArcGIS Collector using feature services and make maps available through ArcGIS Online.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

Other software components – much of which has been self-taught – George uses inlcludes Sybase (RPS) and SQL Server with ArcSDE as well as ArcGIS Server, ArcSDE, ArcGIS (Advanced), and Spatial Analyst.  The town is currently at ArcGIS Server 10.22 and are testing 10.4 with plans to upgrade very soon.  He also works with QGIS and Global Mapper from time to time.  Global Mapper has been particularly helpful in importing updated USGS topo quads (DRGs) in GeoPDF format into our GIS.

The Queensbury GIS program has grown from primarily providing support to the Planning Department to becoming a very important resource for many departments across town government.  Both the Town Board and Town Supervisor are very supportive of GIS and recognize how much of an important tool GIS has become to the Town.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

George maintains an excellent working relationship with Warren County GIS which is under the direction of Sara Frankenfeld where he obtains  parcel data.  The town creates town-wide datasets (zoning, subdivisions, hydrants, infrastructure, environmental, street centerlines, address points, etc) which are then shared back with the County. Referencing her ongoing GIS work with Queensbury, Sara explains:

“George is great to work with and especially in a rural environment where we don’t have any other full-time GIS staff within our respective local governments, it’s so helpful to have a colleague to bounce things off.  He’s a very good sounding board and when I’m considering starting a new project, I often call to get his thoughts.

 We’ve worked closely together on a number of projects.  We recently worked together to streamline the way e-911 addresses are assigned, and this has been a huge improvement to workflows in both of our offices, as well as in the Real Property office, the zoning/building inspectors departments, and the assessors’ offices

 Our current cooperative project is a NYS Archives LGRMIF grant funded project to make the SAM data, along with information about truss roofed structures (as required by a NYS law that went into effect 1/1/2015), and other relevant data such as hydrant locations, available to first responders via an Android/iOS app”.

George also works closely with several state agencies including the Adirondack Park Agency, NYS Parks and Historic Preservation, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and NYS Information Technology Services (ITS).  Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough adds:

“Like today’s computers, I do not know how we lived without him. His GIS services have helped us map the town’s infrastructure structures, trail systems, historic places and many other location details that we absolutely need to comply with the needs of today’s municipal world. I am in his office requesting his services almost as often as am in my budget officer’s office, that’s how important GIS services have become to the town.

Broad User Base

The town enjoys a wide user base including ESRI desktop clients in Planning, Water and Sewer, Assessor, and Parks departments though George is commonly called upon to assist in more detailed data creation, analysis, and cartographic products throughout town government.  He also provides training for users in many local, regional and statewide agencies including the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition of New York, and the NY State Conservation District Association at their statewide conference in Auburn and Syracuse.

Additionally, George provides maps and data analysis for many community groups, nonprofits, schools, as well as for other municipalities and quasi-governmental agencies in the area.   Queensbury if one of the few municipalities in the area with a GIS program and is often asked to provide support throughout the area.

Creating More Queensbury GIS Programs

While George brought years of GIS experience to the town when accepting  the job, his ability to advance the town’s GIS program has certainly been augmented by ongoing political and administrative support.  Such combination of experience, competitive salary, technical skills and political support is often hard to replicate –   or even find for that matter –  in small town governments across the Empire State.

The Town of Queensbury GIS program speaks to the importance of educating elected officials in the benefits and  importance of investing – both financially and institutionally –  in the role of geospatial technologies in small town governance.  While the Queensbury GIS solution might be considered a typical for similar-sized communities across the state, it nonetheless can be a model for the GIS community to aspire to and replicate.

Visit the Town of Queensbury website at http://www.queensbury.net or George Hilton directly at GeorgeH@queensbury.net.

 

NYS Local Government GIS Common Core: Part 2

At the Fall 2015 NYGeoCon in Albany, I presented a paper focusing on specific GIS applications which provide a framework for establishing  and maintaining  GIS/geospatial programs in local  governments (villages, towns, cities, and counties) across  New York State.  I refer  to these applications areas as the Geospatial Common Core, many of which are integrated with local government office and administrative business systems.  Others are utilized in the support of regulatory reporting programs.    Together, the Geospatial Common Core contributes in helping build sustainable geospatial capacity for local governments.

GIS Common Core application areas in local government

GIS Common Core application areas in local government

Since NYGeoCon, I have used this initial presentation as a starting point to examine and discuss each of the Geospatial Common Core areas in further detail as part of individual blog posts.  In early December 2015   I submitted Part 1:  Infrastructure and Asset Management which focused on the growing and critical role local government GIS geospatial programs continue to serve in rehabilitating and maintaining the decaying statewide public infrastructure.  And it comes as no surprise that this December blog post was submitted and made available ahead of the numerous statewide signature infrastructure related projects  itemized in Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2016 budget. Alignment of statewide local government geospatial programs with the public works, surveying, and engineering communities is strategic and should not be underestimated.

Geospatial Common Core Part 2:  Work Orders, Permitting, and Inspections (WOPI)

With 1,607 general purpose local governments across New York State, the WOPI Geospatial Common Core component is ubiquitous as part of daily work flows at all levels of government.   Rarely a minute goes by across the state without some kind of government permit or work order being issued, an inspection taking place, licenses or violations being issued, or geographic data being collected in  related asset management systems.  These systems are uniquely integrated with the Geospatial Common Core components (infrastructure and assets) reviewed in the December post.  Nearly all WOPI programs are institutionalized and mandatory at the local level, funded through annual operating budgets,  and often aligned with local, county and state regulatory programs.   As such, WOPI systems provide an excellent area in helping justify and build GIS capacity.  (Just to get a sense of the magnitude of these programs, particularly in larger New York State municipalities, visit these links:   Buffalo including one 12-month period that included nearly 19,000 citizen-requested inspections;  Rochester, and Albany (Albany data from www.data.ny.gov)
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