Strips Away the Boundaries
GIS and Web Technologies to Better Serve Citizens and Staff
do I call the Education Programs Office or the Human Services Department?"
Phoenix citizens looking for job training opportunities no longer
have to flip a coin to answer that kind of question, or bounce from
phone extension to phone extension. Using "Phoenix at Your
Fingertips," a Web site organized with the end user, not the
service provider, in mind, they can get the information they want
citizen-focused Web service that strips away the traditional boundaries
between government and citizens is just one of many ways the city
uses information technology to create more efficient, responsive
government. Since 1990, Phoenix’s population has grown from 900,000
to 1.1 million while city government has simultaneously reduced
head count. City leaders attribute at least part of this accomplishment
to information technology investments that date back to the late
1980s, when $42 million of a voter-approved $1.2 billion city bond
issue was earmarked for IT reengineering and network expansion,
as well as projects such as the Web site and a Geographic Information
the last decade, Phoenix has fine-tuned its deployment of a number
of technologies. It uses many of the same tools as other cities
— GIS, shared databases, imaging systems, intranets and the Internet
— but is a leader in tailoring information to the needs of the end
user. It is also linking technologies to provide both internal and
external customers with better ways to measure performance and solve
at Your Fingertips
at Your Fingertips, a World Wide Web site http://www.ci.phoenix.az.us,
went online in October 1995 and now receives about 900,000 hits
a month. It offers a menu of virtually every service the city has
to offer, from where to find job training to how to have a fallen
tree removed. It also includes some related services offered by
nonprofits. Citizens use it to download forms and job applications,
sign up for services, learn about public meetings, send e-mail to
city officials, report crimes, read neighborhood newsletters, use
the local library’s card catalog or follow links to over 250 outside
agencies. More services will become available as the city merges
its Web infrastructure with its GIS system, making the Web the front
end to access GIS data.
other cities have gone online to provide citizens with information
on city services," concludes a report by the U.S. Commerce
Department’s Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance
Program (TIIAP). "Phoenix stands out because it presents the
information in a user-friendly manner, i.e., in categories that
make sense to citizens, rather than by department or program area."
common — and simple — approach is to let each department devise
its own Web page, but citizens often don’t know which department
offers which services. So Phoenix’s Information Technology Department
(ITD) spent six months negotiating with city departments to design
the system properly. Information technology officials had to persuade
departments to relinquish some control of what appears on their
Web pages and to give up some visibility.
needed to understand that they fit into a larger scheme," says
Kristine McChesney, deputy information technology director within
the Information Technology Department (ITD). "It’s not important
that the department’s name shows up anywhere or that all the department’s
services appear in one list, which is what would happen if each
had their own Web page."
grants totaling $275,000 from the U.S. Commerce Department’s TIIAP
program enabled the city to set up about 30 public access workstations
(browser-equipped PCs and trainers on site) across the city. The
Information Technology Department partnered with the Human Services
Department to train senior citizens as trainers. For activists,
inclusion of a cadre of active senior citizens, and e-mail access
to officials and related policymaking sites is a big attraction.
Lonnie Wells, a Phoenix citizen and trainer, says people who use
the online service become more interested in learning about government.
Phoenix, the city’s intranet, is the technology platform for the
city manager’s "Seamless Service" directory. When a citizen
calls a city employee in error, the employee obtains the name and
number of the correct contact with a desktop PC using a keyword
searchable database. Callers aren’t transferred from department
to department. The directory also helps city employees who often
have to get information from workers in other areas, but may not
know who to contact. Soon employees will be able to use it to find
answers to frequently asked questions.
popular is this application? Of the roughly 300,000 hits to the
intranet in May, 11,864 were to the directory, ten times the number
of hits (1,160) to the personnel department’s list of job descriptions,
the next most popular database.
employees in different departments to search the same databases
is just one of the benefits of having an intranet, which is essentially
like a mini-World Wide Web — only for internal use.
the intranet positions the city to take advantage of new applications
now being designed to run in a Web environment, from the geographic
information system to workflow and e-mail to such software packages
as PeopleSoft (human resources management) and SAP (Phoenix’s financial
comparison to traditional networks, intranets make it easier for
employees to send and receive reports and use various programs.
Employees go to the main menu (similar to a Web page — only a little
less fancy) and point and click. McChesney describes it as one-stop
shopping: The browser serves as the front end to all applications,
so staff members don’t have to learn a different set of commands
for each, something they have to do when accessing a network through
a typical client-server arrangement. The intranet also has plenty
of capacity (bandwith), which is needed when sending major files
like GIS maps over the network at high speeds.
the citizen-targeted information windows separate from the staff
"Web" pages may create more work for Web site designers,
but is critical, she explains. "By organizing things the way
we have we make the system more user friendly," says McChesney.
"Inside Phoenix is organized by workflow. If you are trying
to accomplish a particular task, all of the steps and information
you need will cascade from your menu picks. Staff can concentrate
on what needs to get done and citizens don’t get a lot of stuff
they don’t care about."
officials are excited about using intranet technology to help coordinate
fragmented service delivery. A prototype project is the Phoenix
Education and Youth System (PEYS).
Phoenix, many youth services are provided through the schools. For
example, the Fire Department offers urban survival courses through
schools. The Human Services Department places social workers in
school-based CARE Centers and runs Head Start programs through the
schools. Through contract, the Police Department places school resource
officers on campus to enhance student safety and follow up on truancy
and child abuse cases. Several city departments are helping schools
reduce truancy through a program called Operation A.I.M. (Attendance
is Mandatory). Public Works does recycling outreach; Streets and
Transportation honors crossing guards; Planning looks at school
capacity and zoning impacts; and the Parks, Recreation and Library
Department provide a number of youth programs on campus.
has 295 schools — 50 of which are charter schools — in 28 districts.
Keeping track of who was doing what and where was a major headache,
not to mention the difficulty of spotting patterns in service distribution
and tying them to community outcomes. The Youth and Education Programs
Office in the Office of the City Manager, which coordinates information
about city departments that serve youth with staff members, wanted
to get out of the business of constantly answering queries from
the field, and turn more attention to the bigger picture.
PEYS, every department will have access to the schools and youth
facilities database. They can use it to do their own personnel scheduling
without having to constantly update addresses and changes in school
grade level enrollments, student absence rates, and ethnic breakdowns.
The county provides information on the number of adjudicated youth
in the schools and the parks department provides the number of curfew
violators in the schools. The database also includes such information
as the police precinct, library, and human service center closest
to each school.
Information Technology Department developed the centralized relational
database using a popular business area analysis program called the
Municipal Reference Model, from Allen Mitchell, Inc. in Canada.
Six city departments used the program’s standardized taxonomy of
city services to outline the scope of services the new system would
cover. (Business area analysis essentially asks, "What business
are we in?") But it was the interviews ITD conducted with more
than 55 representatives from various departments and the city council
office that drove design specifics, says Deborah Dillon, director
of The Youth and Education Programs Office.
to Dillon, once these individuals began telling interviewers what
they do and what information they need to succeed, they got excited
about ways in which they could help one another by sharing information.
predicts the database will foster collaboration. For example, someone
who is starting an after school program can find out which schools
have a school resource officer and coordinate with them. Dillon’s
department can also answer inquiries from council members who, for
instance, might be concerned about violence prevention and want
to know where programs are targeted.
ultimate goal is to tie the database to performance indicators using
the city’s GIS system. That will position departments to benefit
from the data collection activities of other departments and do
some creative problem solving.
$7.6 million GIS combines geographic, census, infrastructure and
zoning data in a common database. It replaces thousands of physical
maps, covering 460 square miles of parcels, streets, sewer lines
and other data, with a desktop application that can overlay one
map with one or many others. Departments use the system for spatial
analysis, as well as planning and decision support. For example,
Public Works uses a GIS-generated map of land parcels and streets
to estimate when trash vehicles on certain routes will be full,
and to select optimum routes. The Police Department plans to use
maps of district population density, resident demographics, and
crime statistics to decide where to deploy patrol officers. The
City Clerk’s office uses a map overlaying crime rates and proximity
to schools to support liquor licensing decisions.
also enables faster response times in key areas, says Bill Bayham,
deputy information technology director. The Police Department, for
example, uses it to support its 911 response service, in conjunction
with computer-aided dispatch.
geographic information system was designed with software development
tools from Oracle Corp. and the Environmental Systems Research Institute’s
(ESRI) Arc/Info software. The Information Technology Department
administers the GIS using a client/server architecture that links
relational databases. Individual departments maintain their own
data. The Planning Department refreshes zoning and census data,
the Engineering Department tracks parcels, and so forth.
GIS and Internet/Intranet Applications Converge
new services for citizens and employees are coming online, thanks
to some new technology developed by ESRI, says Bayham. The company
has developed an Internet or intranet map server that acts as a
broker between the Web server and the spatial data in the GIS system.
That means that someone accessing the server through a browser can
request the map server to grab spatial data and overlay it with
information from a live dynamic database. The result: customized
maps that include statistical and tabular information.
plans to tie the geographic information system to Phoenix at Your
Fingertips. A pilot project is underway to help citizens find out
about community events. Through the Web site, citizens can access
a community calendar, as well as seven specialized calendars, such
as one listing arts events. Users can customize their own calendars
by selecting which of 33 different categories of events they want
listed. Once they find the event, they will be able to key in an
address and GIS performs an optimum route analysis and delivers
a map to their screen.
administrator Bayham envisions a growing capability for citizens
entering through Phoenix at Your Fingertips to browse the city’s
map information much like employees can now do. For example, someone
moving into a given area could find all parks within 1/2 mile that
have swimming pools.
possibilities will expand as intranet applications such as the Phoenix
Education Youth System (and another shared database being piloted
in the environmental management area) proliferate. Deputy Information
Director McChesney predicts, for example, that parents will be able
to download maps showing youth programs available in their neighborhood
schools and youth centers.
the most important result of the GIS/intranet marriage is the ability
it gives staff to manage performance. Right now, about 700 city
staffers access GIS through a client-server application. When the
Web front end is built, everyone can take advantage of GIS. They
will be able to integrate statistical and tabular information from
relational databases with spatial data from GIS. The upshot: maps
that illustrate trends and patterns in community outcomes.
and the rest of the staff in the Youth and Education Programs Office
are excited about using the GIS to analyze youth programs.
have a lot of ideas about what we do but we don’t know how much
we can say about cause and effect," says Dillon. "For
example, we have a program called Operation A.I.M. for Truancy.
It is based on the assumption that keeping kids in school reduces
property crime in an area. We are digitizing crime grids and overlaying
school attendance boundaries. We hope to track performance indicators
like juvenile property crime and see if we can make any connections
between indicators and the programs that address those problem areas."
staff are also looking for ways to use the geographic information
system for creative problem solving. "Let’s say a certain school
has a high rate of teen pregnancy," says Dillon. "You
could begin to look at schools with a lower rate and ask, ‘What
is going on in that area that is positive that might be impacting
that rate?’ "
cites a prototype: a map of domestic violence service calls overlaid
by school attendance boundaries. It has people discussing ways to
address the problem as it affects youth. Someone suggested initiating
girls sports programs in those areas with high domestic violence
rates, based on national studies that show that participation in
female sports is a good way to break the cycle of violence.
another taste of what’s to come regarding ways to improve performance,
Bayham offers the following scenario: A water service truck responding
to a break in a water main brings up a map on a laptop or handheld
computer, locates the shutoff valve, and speeds to the next crisis.
Bayham, 602-534-9799; Deborah Dillon, Education Program Director,
602-495-0518, fax 602-495-5650, e-mail: ddillon@
ci. phoenix.az.us; Kristine McChesney, Deputy Information Technology
Director, 602-256-3393, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
az.us. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s NTIA program office,
which provided some of the material and description on Phoenix at
Your Fingertips in its Networks for the People profile, can be reached
at 202-482-2048, fax 202-501-5136, e-mail: email@example.com,
Web site: www.ntia.doc.gov.
1998, The New Public Innovator magazine, published by the Alliance
for Redesigning Government. Reprinted with permission. For subscriptions
and Alliance membership information, contact the Alliance at 202-347-3190.
Engdahl is the editor of The New Public Innovator. You may reach
her at (202) 347-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trends on Geographic Information Systems by Sally Matthews, General