Outdoor agencies blend their databases for better service

While preparing for another busy summer season at the nation’s nearly 400 national parks, the National Park Service is also revising and reevaluating how it manages its scientific data and how it uses media to communicate with visitors.

As a flagship initiative for customer service, the park service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are integrating six separate scientific data systems from the two agencies into a single system with a Service Oriented Architecture, according to the Interior Department’s Customer Service Plan recently published on the department’s website.

The new Web-based system is called the Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) data system. It will allow internal and external users to have much improved access to scientific data, documents and maps.

In the current fiscal year, the new system is integrating several more legacy databases and adding a link to allow searches of the new system.

The plan also describes several other initiatives in the works this year by the park service and U.S. Geological Survey.

For example, the park service also plans to create “dashboards” for national park websites to provide real-time performance metrics such as visitation statistics, as well as to highlight related economic benefits to local communities, the plan said.

While the park service already prints up materials and sponsors websites, starting this fiscal year it also is evaluating whether social media can be used more often and more effectively as one of the primary tools for communication.

Another question to be getting attention from the park service is how to evaluate whether visits to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or other national park were marred by noise from traffic, water pollution or other distractions. Those evaluations will start in October.

The park service already collects customer feedback from visitors to the parks and historic sites, but it wants to do better, the report said. The agency said it will evaluate survey methodologies, implement techniques to improve response rates and do a meta-analysis to identify trends in how customers are experiencing various parks, among other measures.

In related steps, the U.S. Geological Survey also is trying to work harder to reach its customers, according to the plan.

One of the goals is to employ a single provider of Web statistics across the bureau to improve consistency of data and analytics about visitor analytics and engagement. That is scheduled to go into effect this year.

The bureau also plans to improve its “Frequently Asked Questions” database and to respond to 90 percent of inquiries within 24 hours. Currently it responds to 86 percent within that time frame.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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