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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.

Upgrading to server GIS technology enables public agencies to centralize GIS and push GIS applications and services out to other departments and the public via the Internet, freeing employees from many of the mundane chores and requests that inundate their workdays.

Server technology also gives public works departments the ability to integrate with other enterprise systems such as customer-relationship management or enterprise-resource-planning systems using industry-standard software.

ArcGIS Server software, for example, provides the foundation for breathing new life into legacy databases and applications. Users can create custom applications using .NET or Java, set up browser-based access to GIS, and lower the cost of ownership through centrally managed, focused GIS applications that can scale to support many users.

On the Internet. Browser-based software integrates data from GIS with third-party applications through programmer interfaces.

With ArcWeb Services, for example, departments can integrate a variety of datasets from reputable sources such as street data from Tele Atlas and NAVTEQ, aerial imagery from i-cubed, or demographic data from ESRI to augment programs. Through an Internet connection, users can select from a wide range of data sources, from demographic data for long-range planning or budgeting to up-to-the-minute weather and traffic data to schedule workloads and imagery data to assess infrastructure.

Given the capabilities of all these technologies, a GIS solution can be tailored to meet just about any department's needs. Advances in scalability and data interoperability allow for a more complete system to be developed; one that connects the main office to field crews and then back out to residents.

With each generation of information technology and software, public works departments have an opportunity to rethink what computerized geographic information can do for them and embrace the opportunity to be more productive, efficient, and effective. — Thomas is a government industry manager with ESRI, Redlands, Calif.