This article was originally published by Applied Geographics Inc. (AppGeo), a company acquired by The Sanborn Map Company Inc in September 2022.
State-level GIS Strategic Planning
How to do it, what to expect
Montana State Library, Indiana Geographic Information Office, State of Utah Geospatial Resource Center, Georgia Geospatial Information Office
State GIS offices have a huge responsibility to provision spatial data, software, and technology, to meet the needs of a diverse community of GIS users across the state. Common challenges include: coordinating stakeholders, building better data pipelines from local sources, guiding legislation and policies governing the state’s investments in GIS, demonstrating the ROI of GIS investments, responding to federal initiatives and mandates, and keeping the operation funded.
AppGeo has developed a successful GIS strategic planning process for states that is flexible and adaptable to the circumstances of each state. The two-part process starts with a strategy that defines the vision, goals, and strategic objectives, followed by a series of business plans (one for each strategic objective) that lay out the activities, milestones, costs, and benefits. As shown for Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and Utah, state strategic plans provide recommendations tailored to state-specific concerns and priorities.
In this portfolio entry, we highlight four recent strategic planning projects completed by AppGeo for four different states: Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and Utah.
More than ever, every state needs a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) strategic plan to meet state needs as diverse as NG911, broadband, environmental planning, public health, economic development, and transportation. Probably most important, a state GIS strategic plan creates alignment among stakeholders – state agencies, county and municipal governments, federal agencies, as well as the private sector. A state GIS strategic plan addresses critical concerns such as sustainable funding, setting priorities, and providing a framework for action.
Since its founding in 1991, AppGeo has been pioneering GIS strategic planning at the municipal and state levels. So far, 30 states have chosen to work with AppGeo on their statewide strategic and business plans. Over the years, AppGeo has helped these states revisit and revise their plans to keep their strategy up to date or to go into more detail on strategic objectives, such as governance or Return on Investment studies for specific data layers. In recognition of its experience, the FGDC hired AppGeo to author state GIS Strategic and Business Planning Guidelines, which were put to use by more than 30 states during the USGS CAP program (Cooperative Agreement Program) from approximately 2005 to 2009.
Some of these strategic planning projects were spurred on by efforts to reinvigorate Geospatial Advisory Councils and leadership. Some strategic planning projects were efforts to remove barriers to progress. In all cases, the states recognized that an outside team with strategic planning expertise could help improve coordination among stakeholders, come up with new ideas for effective communications and strategies for data governance and exchange, establish the ROI of planned investments to justify funding, and most importantly, provide a new perspective and objective recommendations.
In all cases, AppGeo provided targeted strategic planning tailored to the state. In all cases, AppGeo used a variety of strategic planning methods, including: documentation of current conditions, practices, policies, and activity; workshops and facilitated sessions with small and large groups of stakeholders and GIS leaders; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis; review of legislation and policy; evaluation of data holdings and data programs; and review of GIS program organizational structure, goals and objectives, among other activities.
Georgia Geospatial Information Office
Georgia’s state strategic plan provided the GIO an opportunity to restart and look forward from the present, providing goals and recommendations to grow the GIO and Georgia towards a robust and mature state government geospatial program. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis determined that although the GIO’s previous efforts to coordinate were well respected and noticed, reliable funding for the GIO was lacking. As a response to this, it was recommended to engage the Geospatial Advisory Council in coordination and outreach efforts and to demonstrate the Office’s value to partners and stakeholders. AppGeo’s experts explained how funding for GIS work often comes in the form of funding for broader initiatives such as broadband and Next Generation 911. Georgia’s GIS strategic plan also focused on facilitated collaboration, a comprehensive living repository of foundational state geospatial data, and establishing a best-in-class geospatial hub application that is maintained and monitored through web analytics.
Indiana Geographic Information Office
Indiana had a mature GIS program before undertaking its GIS strategic plan with AppGeo in 2021. In the 2021 National States Geographic Information Council Maturity Assessment, the Indiana Geographic Information Office was given an “A” grade – the highest in the country. Like the other strategic plans on this portfolio, the process began with a survey, online workshop, and interviews, where stakeholders voiced priorities and outlined the current state of GIS.
The plan also encourages Indiana to find ways to articulate the business value and problem-solving capabilities of geospatial data, especially to decision makers and policy leaders. A recommendation was made to find stable funding for staff, infrastructure, licensing, and data resources such as statewide imagery, LiDAR, and addresses.
Montana State Library
Starting in 2005, Montana started creating a Spatial Data Infrastructure under the Montana Land Information Act. In this recent planning effort, a survey was conducted for both technical and non-technical users of GIS data. From there, a technical and non-technical workshop was held, followed by interviews with key stakeholders. AppGeo then performed a SWOT analysis, leading to the ultimate deliverable of goals and recommendations.
The GIS strategic plan empowers Montana to integrate geospatial policy, products, and information into business processes. Many state departments will directly and immediately benefit from the plan including: Public Health and Human Services (COVID-19 response and planning), Disaster and Emergency Services (Next Generation 9-1-1), Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (through high-resolution data like LiDAR), Bureau of Land Management, Labor and Industry (e.g. Building Standards Division), and Architecture & Engineering (through the Real Time Network of high-resolution survey stations).
Utah Geospatial Resource Center (UGRC)
The Utah Geospatial Resource Center (UGRC) re-engaged with AppGeo as a follow-up to its 2008 GIS Strategic Plan, which was also authored by AppGeo. This 2020 plan assessed UGRC and looked ahead to define manageable targets that could drive UGRC’s priorities for the next five years. The planning process was conducted as a series of in-depth conversations with key program leaders, detailed interviews with UGRC staff, meetings with prospective new UGRC “customers” to understand how UGRC could meet their needs, an online survey, and brainstorming sessions with UGRC managers. During the planning process, several state organizations (i.e., DEM, Health, DEQ) suggested that they would benefit from UGRC’s help with geospatial planning and implementation efforts, to help with technology adoption guidance, data management and best practices. Using intensive, client-focused, research allowed AppGeo to make recommendations for practical, actionable steps to guide UGRC to a fresh strategy for the next 5 years.
Utah AGRC State and Local GIS Strategic Planning Survey Results
Wherever your state is in the development and operation of its GIS program, it is our experience that a GIS strategic plan is an essential tool for growth, funding and enrichment of the program. These detailed key results from AppGeo strategic planning with four different states exemplify the different ways that a strategic plan can be responsive to the needs and circumstances of each state.
Georgia Geospatial Information Office
Georgia was able to move towards four key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their GIS statewide strategic plan:
Lead geospatial coordination and outreach by understanding the needs of constituents, identifying common needs, developing a communication plan, communicating the purpose and work of the GIO, sharing value through GIO success stories, establishing partnerships, serving as a liaison between federal government and other states on GIS matters, providing communication channels, making effective use of regional councils to provide a bridge between locals and state, and defining and activating workgroups to work on these recommendations.
Facilitate and promote the creation of high-quality framework data by actively pursuing the creation of high-quality framework data, while promoting successes and building credibility.
Re-establish the Georgia Geospatial Clearinghouse to improve data discovery and access by redefining the clearinghouse, establishing a geospatial clearinghouse committee, planning for and executing ongoing maintenance of the clearinghouse, arranging appropriate data-sharing agreements, considering partnerships, and constructing a pilot project that gains support from the geospatial community.
Lead the development of policies, standards, and best practices by leveraging lessons learned in the NG911 standards development process, leading the creation of formal data governance policies for geospatial data, forming working groups, and collaborating with the Georgia Technology Authority.
Indiana Geographic Information Office (IGIO)
IGIO was able to move towards four key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their strategic plan:
Lead Indiana’s state government geospatial data community by creating an advisory workgroup as a governance structure to address the complex policies and logistics inherent in the GIO’s mission, finding ways to articulate the business value and problem-solving capabilities of geospatial data and solutions to decision-makers and policy leaders, finding stable funding for the IGIO, leading data governance for enterprise geospatial data, and finding opportunities to assert national leadership on geospatial data issues.
Strengthen IGIO partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders by developing a sustainable communication and outreach strategy that conveys the GIO’s purpose, establishing an ecosystem of engaged and enthusiastic partners to extend the IGIO’s reach, preparing for the cost of emerging challenges, using partnerships to build federated data frameworks, establishing continuous funding programs for local governments to support their geospatial capabilities, and developing ideas for evolving Data Harvest over time.
Improve IGIO delivery by improving data discovery and access, making web services a primary mechanism for data access, developing and implementing business plans for framework layers and enterprise data themes, creating and publishing guidance on GIO services, and considering the varying needs of a given group of stakeholders with different technical capabilities.
Increase IGIO operational efficiency and sustainability by aligning areas of responsibility and roles to support recommendations made in the plan, adopting time management, project management, and project/initiative prioritization framework/processes, and reducing reliance on a “fee for a service” or “service bureau” project model.
Montana State Library
Montana was able to move towards five key goals and recommendations within the 5-year strategic planning project:
Improve GIS Coordination within the Montana State Library by clarifying roles and responsibilities for MSL Work Group Areas as they pertain to geospatial activities
Improve Communication with Geospatial Stakeholders by creating and executing a formal communications plan for GIS activities within the library, reorganizing the library GIS web content to make it easier to discover and use, and defining incoming communication pathways for support requests and public inquiries.
Develop policies and best practices for geospatial data by leading the creation of formal data governance policies for state geospatial data, coalescing policy and practice-specific working groups with partners and peers, publicizing GIS best practices while educating the geospatial community on them, and promoting policies that foster the use of authoritative datasets to ensure efficiency and cost savings.
Expand on the collection, maintenance, and dissemination of authoritative land information by defining and implementing a state agency archive for geospatial data, improving data collection by defining and/or documenting existing update processes, improving data maintenance by making it easy for users to report issues with services and data, and improving data dissemination as a whole.
Strengthen partnerships by creating a business plan defining how to assist other government entities to become GIS-enabled through enhanced coordination services, exploring models for regional collaboration, demonstrating leadership and expertise to national peers using national and statewide initiatives, and defining partnerships that are easy for the Library to maintain.
Utah Geospatial Resource Center (UGRC)
Utah is focusing on three key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their GIS statewide strategic plan:
Continue to serve Utah by providing representation for all constituents, introducing portfolio management techniques to manage inefficiencies and discontinue outdated offerings, developing geospatial planning and facilitation skills with UGRC, evolving and streamlining data workflow support, best practices, and guidance, and focusing on education/training to elevate the capabilities of the entire Utah GIS community.
Prepare for change by developing models that do not rely on project-based Fee-For-Service (FFS) funding, implementing a web services model for organizing UGRC data and service offerings, developing ongoing process feedback mechanisms that refine constituent needs, exploring and adopting new technology for applicability to UGRC offerings and goals, applying a continuous improvement approach for all UGRC processes, and encouraging all UGRC to continuously learn and explore new technologies.
Engage constituents by unifying the UGRC brand to further unite the organization and its offering, using the Council to assist and drive the outreach planning process, and building feedback analysis mechanisms into every UGRC constituent process.
of state stakeholders have participated in the GIS strategic planning process through workshops, surveys, and interviews. Their insights and opinions help shape the process and the recommendations.
AppGeo has worked with over 30 states and completed dozens of GIS strategic and business plans; in addition to over one hundred municipal or regional GIS planning projects.
Each statewide strategic plan or business plan creates a detailed roadmap that everyone can follow.