Taking GIS in the right direction

December 2010 » Columns » CE + GIS INTERSECT
Janet Jackson, GISP

GIS perspective
Jackson:
You’ve got the signed contract; you fully understand the project scope; now all you need is the data to start working on your new project. You may think getting the GIS data is the least of your project challenges, but it might be quite the opposite. To keep the sweating and swearing during your first GIS data search to a minimum, here are some helpful tips to get you started in the right direction.

Ask the right questions. Sit down with your firm’s GIS professionals and discuss your project with them. They will want to know the geographical area of the project, if data is readily available from your client, how you can physically obtain it, the cost involved in getting the data, et cetera. All these questions might seem burdensome or unnecessary, but GIS data can’t magically appear; someone has to make a determined effort to get what you need. Once you have the GIS data in hand, half of your battle is won. The other half is processing the received data into the format you need for your project.

Know how to use the data to your advantage. You definitely want to involve a GIS professional here. Not all data is created equal, and most often, data has to be filtered, sorted, and geoprocessed to have real value. This might take time, depending on how “raw” the data is and how “finished” you need it for your project. Take the GIS data-processing time into consideration when you address your project schedule.

Start your GIS data search by asking the right questions of the right people and allow plenty of time to process the data into a useable project format. If you do these two things, the sweating and swearing might quickly turn into high fives and happier clients.

Civil engineering perspective
Lowe
: The table is set. You have convinced your client that using GIS is the best way to get his or her project going, save time and money, and provide some pretty impressive information. Your client gives you the green light; the clock is ticking; and then it hits you — how am I going to get this information? As a confident engineer, your answer is: “No problem. I’ll pull up the web page for my local county or town and find the GIS link, click a few buttons here and there, start my search, do some printing, pull some downloads and overlays, save a file here and there, and it will all be right there for my use.”

Unfortunately, you may find the GIS road a little bumpier than expected. That’s when your hands start to sweat, your head begins to hurt, and the swearing begins — very quietly or loudly, under your breath.

You find you may need some specific software to download or to use the data, or you need a certain amount of hardware, memory requirements, et cetera. Even worse, you may already have all the latest and greatest software and hardware at your fingertips, but haven’t a clue how to use it. It happens more than we engineers would like to admit. Good GIS data is out there and available, but you or your firm need to have the right equipment and properly trained staff to access and use it.

While this concept may seem trivial to some, I have seen many instances where engineers do a great job selling the idea of GIS and its benefits, only to lose all that momentum when the information does not come out the way it was sold, thereby making themselves, their companies, and their clients look bad. Make GIS a success for you and your client; be prepared.

 

Janet Jackson, GISP, is certified as a GIS professional and is president of INTERSECT, a GIS consulting firm. She can be reached at janetjackson1021@gmail.com. Lester Lowe, P.E., is a senior project manager with McKim & Creed. He has led project teams on a variety of civil and municipal engineering assignments. His forte is helping clients develop sustainable structures that accommodate budgets and schedules. You can contact him at llowe@mckimcreed.com.


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