Parks Canada CIO maps out the agency’s long-term data management strategy

By this time of year, going to one of Canada’s countless parks is an exercise in admiring the beauty leaves scattering everywhere, but behind the scenes at Parks Canada, the real beauty is in how data is being more effectively brought together to map out its diverse terrain.

A few weeks ago, Ersi Canada gave Parks Canada an Award of Excellence in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), following a project that involved its ArcGIS platform. The product has allowed Parks Canada to integrate various other systems and create several new applications for its staff. These include Parks Canada Atlas, which provide basemaps of the Agency’s parks, historic sites, waterways and marine conservation areas that range from a Canada-wide scale down to 1:36,000. A National Integrated Realty System (NIRS), meanwhile, is designed to let the Agency’s 50-member Realty team to link their documents (property ownership documents, leases and licences) to land parcels, and the Incident and Event Management System helps National Park Wardens document and manage law enforcement incidents and planned events.

The Incident and Event Management (IEM) System is a map-based system that runs on mobile tablets that are carried by National Park Wardens or mounted in their vehicles.
The Incident and Event Management (IEM) System is a map-based system that runs on mobile tablets that are carried by
National Park Wardens or mounted in their vehicles.

“If you think about the Parks Canada mandate, it’s very broad,” Parks Canada CIO Greg Thompson told CanadianCIO. “We have a number of different functions, from welcoming visitors to preserving cultural heritage, managing assets, realty . . .  underlying all that is our connection to the land base, and one of the ways to do that more effectively is to connect those.”

Mapping Like A Pro

Work on the enterprise GIS project started about four years ago, before Thompson had joined Parks Canada as CIO. Although Esri’s products have been used at all levels of the Canadian government for years, Esri Canada president Alex Miller said the agency’s  use of ArcGIS means staff will have ready-to-use content and templates to quickly build and deploy Web maps and applications accessible via multiple devices.

“Mapping at the professional level can be quite complicated,” he said. “By putting workflow and task management inside, they don’t miss steps.”

Thompson agreed, adding that while the initial applications mostly cover roads and campgrounds, more layers will added that connect to the integrated realty system and asset management tools. This should happen sooner rather than later, he said.

“Once we decided to integrate the GIS infrastructure, we’re talking weeks instead of months, years. Once you add your application into our GIS infrastructure, all of the hooks are there, and we’ve done this a few times now.”

Over time, Thompson is interested in seeing how its enterprise GIS approach can create new kinds of user experiences that reflect the unique working conditions of many people who work in various Parks Canada locations. These could include incident management tools for law enforcement wardens, for example.

“That’s an interesting one because they’re on the road, in the field, and they can take their ToughBooks and create that incident update, then add georeference points in real time on the go. When they come back to the office, they can sync up automatically with our system. We also have a particular challenge in that a lot of our locations are not connected – not just in terms of having mobile device but also just being offline. We’ll likely be using that GIS infrastructure in unique ways.”

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