Opening up GIS borders

The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a contract to Environmental

Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) last month to develop and deploy

a geographic information system that consolidates the agency's GIS data

and makes it available via the Internet to state and local governments to

aid in their community development work.

As part of the $10 million, five-year contract, ESRI will customize

existing applications, integrate them into a consolidated GIS and design

a software tool to give local governments data and mapping capabilities

for sophisticated information analysis and data sharing. The contract is

part of HUD's Community 2020 project, designed to improve the ability of

communities to make local planning decisions.

The new Empowerment Information System will integrate HUD's business

intelligence support software, its enterprise data warehouse and its existing

GIS software to run on one enterprise hardware platform, said David Nystrom,

senior information technology adviser at HUD.

"There's a real move toward consolidating, integrating and eliminating — there are way too many systems at HUD," Nystrom said. "What the GIS platform

will do is actually allow people to do analysis on HUD data so communities

can get into federal assets and do queries."

For example, Wayne County, Mich., has already taken its high-resolution

GIS data — which the county has spent millions to gather and develop — and

merged it with HUD's data. "When somebody dials in to HUD and zooms down

to Wayne County, the high- resolution data is county data, not HUD data,"

Nystrom said. "A lot of the federal assets are really not high enough resolution

for the counties. It's a rich source of data that the communities really

want."

In addition to consolidating HUD's systems on a single GIS platform,

ESRI will design a community planning software tool for local governments

to use to access GIS data from disparate servers via the World Wide Web.

Although state and local governments maintain geospatial data on their systems

that is particular to their region, they currently have to build base maps

or foundations to add geospatial data generated from other sources, such

as federal agencies, to generate comprehensive maps.

The new tool will allow local governments to access geospatial data

from other agencies via the Internet. A local government could, for example,

add HUD real estate data to its own maps and narrow those maps to show the

exact locations of HUD homes, in contrast to a map that now shows the block

where a HUD home is located.

ESRI will also be rolling out Internet applications to allow citizens

to access HUD geospatial data via the Internet. "If you need census data,

you could actually go out to that node [on the Internet] and actually bring

in the latest census tracking information for your part of the county,"

said Todd Rogers, federal business development manager for civilian agencies

at ESRI.

"The intent is that the government is going to provide this type of

information at little or no cost to the consumer," he said. "We've already

paid for it as taxpayers."

Rogers added, "Generally, data should be available at a very low cost

to the users. We're trying to create a situation where people share information

freely."

ESRI will use two of its highly scalable software programs for HUD's

Empowerment Information System. ArcIMS 3, the company's new Internet mapping

system and GIS, and ArcSDE, its spatial database engine, will address HUD's

requirements for database management, analysis and dissemination.

ArcSDE is client/server software for storing, managing and quickly retrieving

spatial data from a database management system. ArcIMS is an end-user software

program capable of establishing a common platform for the exchange of Web-enabled

GIS data and services. It is a framework for distributing GIS capabilities

via the Internet.

—Harreld is a freelance writer based in Cary, N.C.

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