After retiring from the Navy in 1993, my first GIS-related position was with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). I was tasked with building the agency’s GIS and promoting GIS within the 10 member counties.
Some of our counties were excited about building their own GIS capability. But some were timid if not hostile toward the new technology because of horror stories heard from a few early adopters in other parts of the country. I soon understood why.
Horror stories for county GIS efforts
Some of those counties were victims of ambitious sales representatives. The sales reps talked them into a GIS “dive into the deep end.” They recommended flying and collecting ortho imagery of the entire county, contracting for creation of data layers such as streets and parcels, buying ArcInfo running on Unix stations and hiring a GIS manager who was most likely the only one in the county who could run the GIS.
Then the fun began. There was a shortage of Unix/ArcInfo programmers, so head hunters had a field day tempting GIS managers to jump ship for higher salaries. This played havoc with some counties that had only one person able to run the GIS. Those counties found themselves in the position of not even being able to print out simple maps despite an investment of several hundred thousand dollars.
Hearing those horror stories, we acted quickly at ARC to make sure our counties understood the issues. We helped them by publishing some Atlanta regional data such as streets, hydrography, land-use and imagery on DVDs that could help our counties get started cheaply.
We also set up an ArcView Learning Center and trained more than 1,200 individuals in the entry-level GIS. This helped counties avoid some of the early and costly pitfalls by starting small and simple using readily available free GIS data.
It took years to shake the bad image that some had formed about GIS being too complicated. With that early experience I was happy to see that GIS had finally settled into playing a key role in county operations.
Today, with revenue being so important, GIS is well established in most county tax assessor operations and online access is available. However, other potential county users are still somewhat hesitant to adopt the technology. A significant portion of the conference and exhibitors were focused on new applications and users of GIS.
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