Councils quizzed over map data

By Paul Hemsley

Local governments across Australia have banded together to participate in a ground breaking new research project that will finally plot out how they collectively use Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to create intelligent and interactive maps based on council land and property records.

Esri Australia and the spatial sector’s peak body, the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) will conduct the research which has been initiated because of the lack of “readily accessible” knowledge about how councils implement GIS technology.

Now a staple resource in government and industry, Australia’s GIS backbone was first developed in the early 1970s to enable the defence sector to visualise comprehensive information rather than just looking at dots on a map.

The same GIS technology has evolved into the National Spatial Information Management System (NSIMS) which is now used by Defence.

While the military applications of GIS have certainly not diminished, over time local government has become the largest user of GIS which now constitutes an industry worth more than $2.1 billion in Australia.

The public profile and availability of the GIS technology also has grown quickly because of the sharp increase in use of online maps and smartphones. But despite the rapid growth, lack of information on public sector operational use of GIS has persisted, triggering the need for a study about its use by local government.

Esri Australia managing director, Brett Bundock said Australian councils now use GIS technology on a daily basis for a wide range of tasks that span across asset management and maintenance, planning and development, economic management, service delivery and the coordination of education campaigns.

In addition to these daily tasks, councils have harnessed GIS technology in crises including the recent Queensland floods to create interactive visual maps so that people can quickly see which streets are flooding and understand what action is required.

Mr Bundock said one of the survey’s aims is to learn how any one local government’s GIS technology capacity sat compared to their peers.

“Each council that participates in the study will receive a detailed report that will enable them to benchmark their current practices against other councils,” Mr Bundock said.

This report would provide evidence to develop and expand GIS technology strategies in the future, Mr Bundock said.

SSSI President Gary Maguire said the skills of the geospatial professionals that local governments use are increasingly important in the area of natural disaster response, “as we have seen in recent times”.

“We’ve thrown our full support behind what is an incredibly valuable piece of research for local governments and the spatial industry as a whole,” Mr Maguire said.

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