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Successful GIS




1 author:
Qiming Zhou
Hong Kong Baptist University

Available from: Qiming Zhou

Retrieved on: 12 September 2016

Successful GIS
Dr Qiming Zhou
Senior Lecturer
School of Geography, The University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia
Telephone: +61-2-3855570, Fax: +61-2-3137878, E-mail:

Procedures for a Successful GIS Implementation

The modern approach to the establishment of GIS starts with a phase of system analysis.
There are many system analysis methods which outline systematic procedures to ensure the
GIS will meet the needs of the user. This process can be time consuming and expensive as the
demand on GIS technology from different users are often various. For a successful GIS
project, it is essential to address potential implementation and management issues in the early
stage of the project.
Although the approach towards a successful GIS implementation may be variable, there are
some fundamental tasks that are required to ensure a successful implementation. These tasks
include system planning, functional requirements study, system evaluation, benchmarking,
pilot study and costs and benefits analysis.


In most cases, the design, purchase and implementation of a GIS is a significant commitment
in terms of personnel time and money. It is extremely important to understand the issues
involved in the development of GIS.
Problem recognition and technological awareness
In order for an organisation to become interested in acquiring a GIS, someone or some group
within the organisation:

must perceive that the methods by which they are currently storing, retrieving and
using information are creating problems; and

must be aware of the capabilities of GIS technology.

Problem recognition

Spatial information is out of date or of poor quality.

Spatial data is not stored in standard formats

Several departments collect and manage similar spatial data.

in Proceedings of GIS AM/FM ASIA95 Workshop, 18 August 1995, Bangkok, pp 1-39.




Data is not shared due to confidentiality and legal concerns.

Analysis and output capabilities are inadequate.

New demands are made on the organisation that cannot be met within the data and
technological systems currently available.

Technological awareness

Sometimes the problem is simply an awareness of newer technologies that offer a

better way.

There is distinguish between supply-push and demand-pull factors in leading to

awareness and the eventual acquisition of computing technology.

Supply-push factors

Changes in technological infrastructure. These include:

a) improvements in technological capability such as improved hardware, software,
peripherals; and better access to existing digital data sets;
b) declining price-performance ratios; and
c) improved packaging of technical components to perform useful tasks such as
better (more friendly, more versatile) user interfaces and better applications

Concerted marketing efforts of suppliers.

a) Advertising creates an aura of necessity.
b) Direct contact of salespeople buyers.

Long-term strategies of technology suppliers.

a) selective phase-outs: vendor drops support of existing system to encourage new
b) price reductions or outright donations to universities to raise students familiarity
with product
c) low-cost or cost-free pilot studies offered by vendors at potential customers site
d) At present, interchange between one GIS vendors system to anothers attracts
high costs: customers are locked in.

Demand-pull factors

Demand for accomplishing routine tasks.




a) need for faster and more accurate data handling in report generation, queries, map
production, analysis, etc.
b) Societys appetite for information is unlimited.
c) In GIS, there is no upper limit to need for spatial data for decision-making. There
is no totally satisfactory minimum level of accuracy for data since more accurate
data always means better decisions.

Institutionalised demand.
a) keeping current with technology.
b) maintaining systems on which the organisation has become dependent.

Affective demand.
a) perceived need among organisational actors to exploit the political, entertainment
and other potential of the technology.
b) GIS technology is impressive in itself, (e.g. high quality, colour map output, 3dimensional displays and scene generation). GIS output may be perceived to have
greater credibility than hand-drawn products.

Collecting information on GIS

Once the need for GIS is recognised, an individual or group may begin gathering information
on GIS in order to develop a management proposal. Information will need to be collected on:

the status of existing GIS projects,

the direction the GIS industry is moving, and

the potential applications of GIS in the organisation.

Sources of information include personnel within the company. Industry consultants, system
vendors, conversion service companies will be very willing to provide information. Industry
organisations such as AM/FM International, American Congress on Surveying and Mapping
(ACSM), American Society on Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and
Australian Urban and Regional Information System Association (AURISA) are excellent
A growing number of newsletters and magazines are being marketed within the GIS industry
such as GIS World, Geo Information, GIS Users, etc.
Project plan
After consulting with industry experts, visiting other sites, considering corporate objectives,
the first level of project definition and planning can occur. Project plan should be dynamic,
adaptable, refined as better information becomes available. At this stage, the plans will be




very general, broad-brush including a general description of the desire to investigate systems
further and a plan for proceeding.
For those who is in charge of developing a project plan, it is important to discover who or
what is the force behind the interest in GIS. The individual involved and the significance of
the problem are important in determining how to proceed with selling the idea to the
Developing Management Support
Once the need has been identified it is critical to gain support of the decision-makers who will
be required to commit support in the way of funding and staff. For this purpose, the decisionmakers need to be assured that the project will be developed and managed in a sound manner.
The management will need to know:

what GIS is and what it can do for the organisation, and

what the costs and benefits of the system will be.

A carefully managed development project is critical. For example, a AM/FM projects tend to
be very large (up to $100 million is not unusual), thus the process of system planning and
implementation must be rigorous in AM/FM because of the size of investment involved. This
planning process is called project life cycle (Figure 1).








& Plan












Financial Analysis




Figure 1. AM/FM project life cycle (from Application Issues in GIS, NCGIA Core Curriculum).




The AM/FM project life cycle is a multi-step approach with well-defined decision points. The
series of stages provides a generic, structured approach to planning. After reviewing
numerous alternative methodologies, this recommended sequence has been devised.
Decision points provide for financial analysis:

Each decision point allows the project team to analyse progress and future risks before
proceeding to the next level of commitment.

At each decision point one needs to minimise risks while maximising benefits.

Administration of the project

With initial support assured, the project requires strong leadership to implement the system.
Quite often, the agency realises that their own people do not possess the expertise nor have
the time to fully explore and evaluate the alternatives. In this case, an outside consultant may
be brought in to assist in a needs assessment. The GIS consulting industry is growing
rapidly, and now involves several of the major international management consultancies.


Once management support has been obtained, the next step is a functional evaluation of the
current manual process. Existing functionality and any new requirements will be used to
define the project scope and basic structure of the implemented GIS. The result of this phase
is the Functional Requirements Study (FRS).
The FRS is the primary planning document for a GIS installation. It lays out what data is
needed, how it must be processed in order to make the necessary reports and products. It
forms the basis for a Request for Proposals (RFP) and during the installation and system
start-up, it provides the basic reference guide.
Developing a FRS
The best way to create a FRS is by working in the opposite direction to the GIS processing.
1. Identify decisions. The process begins by identifying the decisions which people in
the organisation are required to make. For example:
a) What is each persons area of management responsibility?
b) What decisions must be made in carrying out that responsibility?
2. Determine information products needed to support decisions.
3. Determine frequencies.
4. Identify data sets required.
5. Determine GIS operations required.
Scope of the FRS within the organisation:




A full FRS gives an organisation a significant opportunity to examine its own


The investigators should clearly identify the appropriate level at which to interact with
each department of the organisation. The interacting personnel need to be decisionmakers and managers, not technical support since the study should focus on the
decisions that are made, not on the data and procedures used.

An effective FRS requires a large commitment of time. The organisation as a whole

must be willing to commit the necessary amount of time on the part of its staff. Less
than full commitment will destroy the purpose of the FRS.

Methods for Conducting a FRS

Many alternative methods can be used to elicit the necessary information for the FRS.
Methods can be ordered by the level of commitment of the organisation time and the
associated cost of the FRS. The choice made will depend on the amount of time/money the
organisation is willing to commit to the FRS which depends in turn on the size of the
eventual project.
1. Fully internalised
a) Organisation appoints a FRS team from its own staff.
b) FRS team coordinates the definition of information products by organisations
staff, act as facilitators.
c) FRS team compiles information and identifies input data sets, functions required
to make products under guidance of consultant.
d) Consultant prepares final FRS.
Advantages: FRS team combine familiarity of organisations operations with limited
knowledge about GIS and FRS procedure acquired from consultant.
Disadvantages: High level of cost of organisational commitment.
2. Focus group
Procedure: Consultant acts as leader at a series of group meetings of organisations
staff. Meetings are used to discuss procedures, prepare and edit descriptions of
products and define input data sets and system functions.
Advantage: Focus group allows consultant to facilitate but leaves work mostly to
organisations personnel.
Disadvantage: By isolating FRS-related activity to focus group meetings, level of
commitment of organisations staff is lower.




3. Interviews
Procedure: Consultant gathers information at interviews, prepares FRS.
Advantage: Minimal commitment of organisations personnel.
Disadvantage: Organisation has little or no group involvement in FRS.
4. Questionnaire
Procedure: Consultant prepares a questionnaire with advice from the organisation,
circulates it to all appropriate staff.
Advantage: Low cost, appropriate for obtaining limited information from a large
number of users.
Disadvantage: Poor quality of information gathered, no opportunity for discussion.

Once the FRS is complete and management gives the go-ahead, the next step is to develop
the document which will solicit proposals from interested GIS vendors. This document is the
Request for Proposals (RFP).
Results from the RFP will produce a number of different GIS options for the organisation,
each of which will have strong points and weakness. At this point, difficult decisions will
need to be made in an attempt to match needs with products available in the current
marketplace. Management will need assurance that the system chosen is the best option
available. Responses to the RFP will indicate the feasibility of achieving the projects goals.
In system evaluation, an open attitude to the relationship with suppliers and the conduct of
tests is essential. Evaluation must be open to outside scrutiny and decisions may be
challenged by vendors and must stand up in court.
Strategic Plan
A strategic plan is essential in defining the limits of the project. It is important in providing
guidance for many later decisions and provides a level of planning above that of the FRS.
Decisions are made regarding the scale of the desired project. Questions that may be
considered are:

Will it be a small departmental activity or will it be integrated into operations of the

whole organisation?

Will it be centralised or distributed?

How many people will be using the system at full implementation?

Automated or manual activities?

How fast should acquisition of the system proceed?



What are the priorities of data input, software development and output?

Should the project development be directed by a consultant or by in-house


How will the project be funded?


Request for Proposals (RFP)

Contents of the RFP
The RFP describes in detail the nature of the proposed data base, sources of data base
contents, required functions to create and manipulate the data base and specification of
required products, including frequency.
The RFP specifies the functional requirements for the project, not the specific technical
processes underlying the functions.
The details of the required proposal are made very clear including defining all the
requirements, outlining the form of response expected and format requirements, and setting
Distribution of the RFP
The RFP starts the formal relationship between organisation and suppliers and should be sent
to all interested suppliers.
Potential suppliers might be invited to a preliminary meeting to ask questions, reach
agreement that it is worth proceeding further.
Vendor proposals
Vendor proposal should respond in detail to the customers requirements including details of
proposed system configuration such as software, hardware, network and communications,
workstations and digitisers, maintenance and training; and costs.
Hardware and Software Issues

There is no single best software for any particular application or organisation.

Software choices that will need to be considered by an organisation include:

sophisticated applications-specific modifications of standard packages,
systems with built-in customisation options, and
immature systems with great potential for innovation.

Different capabilities with regard to data model, functionality, output, data base
management system, etc. will each affect the overall operation of the GIS significantly
and will need to be individually evaluated and compared.





Decisions made with respect to hardware issues determine:

number of people that can work at one time,
size of projects that can be handled,
cost of purchasing and maintaining the equipment,
need for a computer systems manager,
start-up effort,
update potential, and
vendor support and stability.

Many of these issues will be addressed by the technical requirements laid out in the
FRS and RFP. However, there will be several trade-offs required in the final decision.

Benchmarking is a key element in minimising the risk in system selection. Often the customer
does not have precise plans and needs. These will be determined to some extent by what the
GIS industry currently has to offer. Customer needs reassurance, in means of real, live
demonstration, that the system can deliver the vendors claims under real conditions.
A benchmark allows the vendors proposed system to be evaluated in a controlled
environment, in which the customer supplies data sets and a series of tests to be carried out by
the vendor and observed by the customer. Usually an evaluation team is assembled and visits
each vendor, performing the same series of tests on each system. These tests examine specific
capabilities, as well as general responsiveness and user-friendliness.
In a benchmark, equipment is provided by the vendor, data and processes must be defined by
the customer. Therefore, a benchmark can be a major cost to a vendor (up to $50,000 for an
elaborate benchmark). In some cases part of these costs may be met by the customer through
a direct cash payment.

Pilot project provides the first physical results from a GIS project. It is usually the last major
milestone prior to corporate and technical commitment. The purpose of a pilot project is to
recognise the difference between reading about the system and actually experiencing how it
A pilot project is part of the effort to sell the system within the organisation. The results of
pilot projects can be shown to decision-makers as evidence of the systems immediate value.
Pilot projects are useful for verifying estimates of costs and benefits and evaluating hardware,
software, system and data base design, procedures and alternatives.


Cost and benefit analysis is:




assessment of benefits of a GIS installation (what is the value of its products?)

assessment of costs (initial and recurring)

comparison of benefits and costs.

Project should go ahead only if benefits exceed the costs.

Why do it?
A major GIS implementation is a large monetary investment and upper management wants to
know the expected benefits of the system before they agree to the purchase.
The uses of cost and benefits analysis of computer systems include:
1. planning tool for choosing among alternatives to select the system which meets
minimal benefit requirements and offers the highest benefit/cost ratio.
2. quantitative support to politically influenced decision.
3. An audit tool for existing projects for the future planning for the system.
Benefit/cost analysis is a standard procedure in many areas, including the information
processing industry. An organisation will want to know the costs and benefits that accrue to
the organisation (i.e. must be borne by and benefit the organisation respectively).
The major tasks of the benefit/cost analysis include:

defining costs. This should includes all costs, not just the acquisition of the hardware
and GIS software. The costs often include hardware and software, staff, hardware and
software maintenance, telecommunications, travel and others.

identifying benefits. This is much more difficult to quantify than costs since costs
can be expressed in dollars but benefits are often intangible, difficult or impossible to

comparing costs and benefits. Benefits easily quantified can be compared directly to
costs. However, it may be wrong to look at the problem as a matter of predicting costs
and benefits as static, simple quantities. Realistically, a system is likely to change
substantially over any extended planning horizon, therefore the ability to expand the
system easily without major structural change may be a hidden benefit.

GIS is not only a new technology by which an organisation can benefit from its capabilities
for handling spatial data, it also involves a substantial involvement of the organisation itself.
The implementation of a GIS may completely change the way of the organisations decisionmaking processes.
A careful plan for implementing a GIS into an organisation is crucial and mistakes can occur
causing significant lost if the initial planning has gone in a wrong way. It is therefore essential




for all GIS investigators to understand the organisational issues to avoid early mistakes that
may affect the entire GIS project.

Factors Impeding a Successful GIS Implementation

There are many reasons why GIS projects fail. Often the acquisition of a GIS has been
focused on the technical issues of computer system hardware and software, functional
requirements and performance. While these factors are vital to the success of a GIS, they are
often not the issues which determine whether a GIS implementation will succeed or fail.
Experience has shown that the issues responsible for GIS project failures are almost always
people problems rather than technology problems.
GIS is a complicated system involving hardware, software and organisational aspects, none of
which may standalone.

Aronoff (19891) identifies a number of reasons why GIS technology can impede successful
GIS implementation:

software does not perform as expected;

system installation and start up is late;

customer support is too slow or inadequate;

data entry is more costly and slower than expected;

price of the hardware or software or maintenance increase;

system is not user-friendly and training is in adequate; and

software cannot be modified to provide additional functions or handle unexpected


The determination of computer hardware is often a major and hot issue when implementing
a GIS in an organisation. Rapid development of computer hardware technology and
unpredictable drop in price make it difficult to decide on the hardware. It has been
experienced in the last decade that each year the price of computer hardware drops while its
performance doubles. The selection of GIS hardware therefore can never be an independent
issue in implementing a GIS and it is always a secondary issue compared with the selection
of GIS software.
An example of software failure is reported by Tomlinson (19872) that in respect to forestry
applications in North America, the true advantages of GIS are only realised when it is used to

Aronoff, S. (1989). Geographical Information Systems: A Management Perspective. Ottawa: WDL





manipulate, analyse and model spatial data. In practice GIS are reported to be limited to a
digitised forest inventory because of limitations in the functionality of software or resistance
to the GIS approach by forest managers. Many systems do not support a complete range of
forms of spatial analysis on points, lines, grid cells and rasters and irregular polygons.
Many of these technical problems with GIS software, however, have been solved with
software becoming increasingly powerful and more reliable. In reality, many failures of
GIS, which are often the results of the acquisition of wrong type of technology, are often
related to poor or inadequate technical assistance.

Personnel Issues
The implementation of GIS is where technology and people meet, and the politics inherent in
any organisation sometimes also play an important role. It is the people in an organisation that
adopt and learn to use a new technology. By implementing GIS technology, the flow of
information within an organisation and organisation itself may change. While the
organisation is moving along, different people may be take over the control of information
resulting the shift of power within the organisation. This type of stress within an
organisation can result in the development of incollaborative attitude between departments
and eventually poor cooperation.
Management issues were reported as the factor limiting the implementation of GIS in
Forestry in Australia. It was noted that staff have a natural resistance to change and that
managers are reluctant to switch to a flatter management system. It is argued that GIS
technology makes middle management redundant, and changes the authority within the
organisation and relationships between staff. Naturally, the middle management staff, fearing
the loss of their power or jobs, are resistant to the implementation of GIS.
To be successful a GIS requires a strong and consistent motivation on all users, the majority
of whom will be expected having no technical understanding of the technology. Such
motivation will not occur naturally regardless how user-friendly a system is.
Data Issues
Data quality
When discussing the issue of GIS data quality, it should be pointed out that computer
generated data may contain a significant power to influence, either correctly or incorrectly.
People generally consider numbers and information output by a computer be more credible,
accurate and objective simply because they were computer generated! This is even worse in
the case of computer generated maps which many people automatically think having a high
quality of information. Surely computerised data and analysis techniques are subject to the
same type of inaccuracies and political biases as other types of data, as bias may be in the

Tomlinson, R.F. (1987). Current and potential uses of GIS: The North American Experience. International
Journal of Geographical Information Systems, Vol. 1, No. 3. pp 203-218.




selection of information to be included, the data processing methods used and presentation of
There are a number of approaches that can be taken to control data quality. Theoretically only
data that is considered to be accurate may be included in the data base or all data may be
input with statements about its accuracy. This is often the assumption that designers of GIS
typically take, but to date no significant progress has been made in designing systems to
process and analyse uncertain data. Usually in terms of measuring data quality it is assumed
that quality corresponds to the lowest quality of all input data.
Data sharing
The concept of data sharing is logical considering that a significant investment is usually
involved to build and maintain a GIS data base, and the some information is often requested
by a number of organisations. However, in practice there are a number of problems associated
with data sharing. Technically there are problems in transferring data such as data standard,
format and media. Politically the ownership and control of data are often the critical
problems. Data sharing requires a considerable effort to promote cooperation and
There is a significant new trend in data sharing by introducing commercial practice into GIS
data distribution. Spatial and attribute data are acquired and digitised as a commercial
practice and distributed at the users costs. Establishing a spatial data base often involves a
significant investment and it is often regarded as a long-term investment rather than a shortterm one.

Case Studies
Department of State Forests, New South Wales, Australia
In 1988 the Forestry Commission of New South Wales (renamed later as the Department of
State Forests) automated their photogrammetric section to capture data in digital format using
MICRO MAP 3DD software. In 1991 the Commonwealth Government grated a grant for
upgrading the Forestry Commission data. The data was digitised using the same package as
the photogrammetry.
In was realised that MICRO MAP 3DD had limitations as a GIS package. A project team was
accordingly created to examine software packages that would be appropriate for forest data.
Tenders were then called and received from vendors including CAD packages, Geovision,
Eagle, ARC/INFO and Genamap.
The shortlisted vendors were then given three sets of forest data to conduct bench marking
test and were required to produce basic answers according to the forest management



requirements. They were asked to attend at the Forestry Commission office and produce
output maps and reports on-the-fly.
At this time the government of New South Wales strongly suggested that all New South
Wales government departments should use Genamap as their spatial information system
From the bench marking project it was apparent that ARC/INFO, which was also used in
many forest departments overseas, was the better packages available at that time to suit the
requirements. Thus the Forestry Commission had to prove that Genamap was not appropriate
for the forestry information system in order to get the approval from the State Government.
The GIS branch of the Department has 16 staff with about 13 years in average the experience
in cartography. The concept of data layers of GIS was not foreign to cartographers as the old
drafting methods of cartography were effected by compiling map layers such as property
boundaries, streams and state forest boundaries. There has been a high standard of data
captured in corporate data sets.
Information and operation
The Department obtains its digital cadastral data base from Land Information Centre (LIC) at
a cost which is still negotiating. The government forces other government departments to use
the prime agency (i.e. LIC) for digital cadastral data base information. However, the contours,
drainage network and other requested information has also been purchased (approx. $300 per
1:25,000 map sheet). Maps were also scanned and vectorised for the area not covered by the
LIC data.
The information is mainly used to produce Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). Greatly
enhanced by GIS, the GIS branch now has the capacity to undertake ten regional EIS tasks as
well as other departmental jobs.
A typical EIS may require about one gigabytes of data and may consist of about 30 map
themes such as:
- current traffic volumes and haulage routes
- geology types
- recreation and scenic locations
- fauna plot location
- distribution of past harvesting operations
- broad forest types
- local and Road and Traffic Authorities (RTA) maintained roads
- wilderness nominated area
The layers of information are superimposed to create Conservation Resource Maps which
- areas excluded from harvesting
- area subject to further investigation




- area subject to modified harvesting plan

- logable area
- softwood plantation
The National Parks and Wildlife and Environment Protection Agency are requested to
collaborate to check the plots of the plans before the maps were released.
The composite maps are printed externally for better quality, speed and cost/benefit. There
was a significant problem in printing the maps because of the vast data volumes and
limitation in computer hardware and software. With the hardware upgrading and software
updating, the problem has been resolved and high quality output may be produced in a pace
of 40 minutes to 1 hour per map sheet.
With the assistance of EIS, the cost and time to produce EIS have been greatly reduced so as
to achieve a much improved job efficiency.
The GIS branch has a so-called typical equipment configuration for a government
department. The overall system structure is presented in Annexure A.
In brief, the major equipment of the branch consists of:
4 Sun SPARC 2 workstations
1 Sun SPARC 10 workstation
10 X-terminals
10 PC with X-terminal emulation
1 Calcomp 68436 electrostatic plotter
1 Cannon CL postscript colour printer/photocopier
black and white laser printers
digitising tablets
It has been proposed to increase the branchs GIS capacity by purchasing new equipment
Additional NOVAJET A0 Colour Inkjet Plotter
Additional black and white laser printers
Additional Sun SPARC Server 1000 and peripherals
State Forests wide area network
The head office has been linked via 64K ISDN lines with six divisions around the state of
New South Wales (Annexure B), mainly along the coast. The divisions are:
- Coffs harbour
- Taree
- Eden
- Albury
- Dubbo
- Grafton




The division offices are equipped with X-terminals and PCs with X-terminal emulation,
Postscript A3 colour printers and pen plotter. This also apply to district offices.


State Land Information Centre (LIC) of New South Wales
See Bullock, K. (1993): Integration: The Key to Successful LIS Development in New South
Wales, in Proceedings of AURISA 93, 22-26 November, Adelaide, pp 262-272. (Attached)