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Credit: Photo: Iredell County, N.C.

A GIS staff member from Iredell County, N.C., collects data in the field with ESRI's ArcPad software and a Trimble handheld device.

Imagine having an asset management system that's fully integrated with your work order management system.

Or being able to link the customer-relationship-management and 311 call-center databases, adding geographic information with an Internet-based interface that provides a common operating picture across the entire department.

Or combining workflows, maps, and geographic analyses from third-party software and then sharing that information instantly with finance and accounting applications or project-management software.

Whether you're on the fence about upgrading your geographic information system (GIS) or rallying support for a first-time installation, there's a solution to meet each public agency's specific needs. GIS software can create robust data repositories that serve multiple departments, link map features to all those digital photographs and documents accumulating on that back-room server, and consolidate address information in one place for all your applications.

Depending on the technology, however, there are some key aspects to consider before moving forward. Because Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI provides most of the GIS tools in use by public agencies, its products are used here as examples.

In the field. With the release of next-generation mobile GIS technology, public works employees will have even stronger mobile GIS choices, supporting a wider selection of field devices ranging from integrated global positioning system units, pen-based computers, ruggedized laptops, and cellular devices. For example, during the past few years, ArcPad technology has extended GIS data and applications to field crews.

These mobile options allow for full connectivity to an organization's databases and GIS-based applications, meaning you're not limited to taking a snapshot of data into the field and instead can have full access to data.

Redlining in ArcGIS Mobile, for example, is supported so field notes can be easily integrated back into the main geo-database. As data are collected, they can be automatically updated, increasing the entire department's overall productivity and efficiency.

At your desk. The latest version of ArcGIS Desktop software provides stronger, more flexible data-creation tools and advanced cartographic editing tools, which include the ability to store and manage symbology with features and the capability to dynamically apply cartographic attributes, such as offsets, without affecting the source data.

On the server. In today's public works environment, employees throughout the department and in city hall need access to geographic information. Unfortunately, not all of them are going to be familiar with GIS.