The Ontario city says it’s on track to get $250,000 in savings with a geographic information system that enables IT staffers to create their own GIS apps.

Co-ordinating and announcing upcoming municipal infrastructure work and other services is always been a challenge.

For instance, in repaving a stretch of a city road, cities need to gather information from various departments to determine the exact location of the construction area, find out from other departments if any infrastructure repairs or installations are being planned for the area, and inform nearby businesses and residents that might be affected by the work.

To speed things up, some municipalities have begun using geographic information systems (GIS) that bring together information such as mapping data, city zoning, bylaws, schedules and other data into a system that can be accessed by desk PC and mobile device.

The central Ontario city of Peterborough has a new interactive map called e-Maps which provides workers, contractors, businesses and the city’s 75,000 residents access to data including zoning, transit route, garbage schedules, recreational facilities and other services.

e-Maps is one of the 20 Web apps developed by the city since rolling out the ArcGIS platform from Esri Canada last year.

“Unlike our previous system, ArcGIS allows us to easily integrate data from numerous sources and publish them as maps and services in the cloud to be shared across many Web sites,” said Mike MacLean, geomatics/mapping manager of Peterborough. “It’s given us the ability to efficiently create mobile apps and support many of our staff who use tablets.”

One key benefit is it has sped up the dissemination of information about upcoming projects, making it easier for city staff to create Web and mobile app with easy-to-use templates.

For example, using the older system the city had difficulties merging GIS information with residents addresses so that work notification could be sent out to them.

Nicole Schleifer, spatial data analyst for the city said, Peterborough recruited outside IT talent to develop an app for the problem but after several months nothing was accomplished. She said it was very hard to develop the needed apps because of the complexity of the system.

“By contrast, ArcGIS is an out-of-the box system,” she said. “It comes with templates that can easily be configured to develop apps that fit our needs.”

This is great for the city, because while Peterborough has its own IT department it does not have developers with programming expertise needed to develop GIS apps from scratch.

“It simplifies building apps because no backend programming is needed,” said Schleifer.”

For instance, city developers were able to build a traffic sign app that allows their technicians to update information on the traffic signs using iPads. Prior to this, the city hired students in the summer to go around the city and manually document the number of signs. The data was then entered into the GIS back in the office.

“With the sign app, I can retrieve signs and support data in seconds,” said Todd Nancekivell, traffic engineering technologist for the city. “The ability to inspect, add and remove sign information directly from my iPad reduces the chance or error and improves accuracy.”

MacLean said Peterborough stands to save some money with the new system.

“By eliminating software maintenance, consulting and development cost, we estimate a savings of as much as $250,000 within five years,” he said.

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