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Balancing Environmental Quality and Economic Vitality in the Adirondack Park


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Publications & Results
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As the public sector moves from working in a largely paper-based environment to one in which government agencies offer more and more information and services electronically, a number of new issues and concepts arise.

This report presents the results of a review of technology standards, government policies, legal principals, and best practices for electronic recordkeeping in government. This review was conducted in April 1996 to understand the key issues a CTG team expected to encounter during the design and development of a prototype for the New York State Adirondack Park Agency. This report outlines the results of that survey and is intended to serve as an introduction to key concepts and to guide the associated choices that APA is expected to face as they move from a largely paper-based business process to a networked document management and workflow system.

New York's 6 million acre Adirondack Park encompasses 12 counties and 105 towns in upstate New York. Its mission is to maintain the delicate balance between environmental quality and economic vitality in the region. The APA maintains tens of thousands of records about real property, physical and civil infrastructure, and natural resources. Organizing, finding, and using effectively so many different kinds of information had become a critical problem for both the agency and its customers.

During 1994-95, CTG worked with APA and several corporate and university partners to develop and evaluate a prototype system to combine document records and geographic data into a unified system. The resulting “electronic reference desk" allows agency staff to point at a land parcel displayed on an electronic map and summon legal documents, other maps, project plans and related information about the property.

This report provides an overview of the partnership project, presents the results of the prototype, and discusses how the work can benefit others considering similar initiatives.

This report covers the findings from an evaluation of a prototype map retrieval system developed for the Adirondack Park Agency. The report reviews data needs and data availability to inform a data development strategy for the future. It also presents an analysis of the costs and benefits which can be expected from implementation of a full system to support APA operations. Finally, the report discusses the potential improvements in internal operations, intergovernmental relations, and innovative initiatives that could be supported by an integrated information system. Recommendations for a future system development strategy are included.

The Center for Technology in Government worked with the Adirondack Park Agency to develop a prototype system that combines document records and geographic data into a unified workstation or “electronic reference desk.” This report presents the findings of the technical staff responsible for developing the prototype system. It covers the gathering of geographic data and the development of the database as well as the data conversion process. Hardware and software configurations are included, as well as lessons learned from the process and recommendations for other GIS system developers.

Lessons Learned

The project results hold many lessons that are of value to any government organization facing similar problems regarding prototyping, land records, data development, and the need to integrate and manage information in a variety of formats. The project generated insights into the use of prototyping, geographic information systems, spatial data and document imaging which are useful to any government organization.

The sooner a prototype is developed, the more it can stimulate creative problem solving. In this regard, a quickly-developed prototype is better than one with more features that takes longer to construct. Introducing agency staff to a stripped down technology solution, loaded with their own data, is a powerful catalyst for creativity. Subsequent project activities, including the final prototype design and the modeling and benefit analyses, are much more grounded in reality because staff have seen the technology in action and have developed some confidence in its potential by having experienced first-hand how it might work.

A prototype is a valuable tool to focus attention on non-technical issues. In defining the workflow to be automated in a prototype, agency staff must discuss what they actually do in performing their jobs. This produces a better understanding of how those jobs can be changed (with and without the technology) to improve service. A prototype system can then serve as a powerful focus for discussion of important agency business problems and help direct attention to key policy and management questions: What is the problem we're trying to solve? How do we currently attack the problem? What do we need to be able to solve the problem? How will we measure improvement? Who will benefit? While these questions don't require a prototype to answer, having a prototype in hand shows how information, processes, and technology work together.

The automated permit retrieval system prototype demonstrates a unique model for integrated records management and land information systems. A number of states and counties have sought to improve land records management and the related services they provide. The APA system is a first attempt to manage integrated records across different physical media and institutional sources. Other governments struggling with disparate types and forms of data will benefit from knowing more about the core technologies and information management techniques explored in this project.

A coherent data development and management strategy is essential to the success of any system which relies on a variety of data formats and sources. No system is better than the quality, integrity, and consistency of the data it contains. The project demonstrated the importance of having a clear picture of an organization's data resources and a well-articulated data management program. Some key program elements include sufficient metadata to describe datasets, consistent coding schemes for related data, data modeling to identify and make use of the relationships among data elements and data types, and recognition that data resources belong to the entire organization and should not become isolated in separate work units or program areas.

Use of existing spatial or tabular data is a simple, quick, and cost-effective method of populating a new geographic information system (GIS) with data, but users must be aware of the special problems presented by temporal inconsistencies and scale variability across different data sources. Use of existing data is particularly desirable when prototyping, since it enables a prototype system to become functional in far less time than when data must be acquired from outside sources. However, both time of data creation and scale of physical representation are sources of unavoidable inaccuracy when different data layers are used in concert. This problem is manageable if well-documented and well-understood by users.

Service bureaus that perform document conversion provide highly specialized services; the services offered, quality of results, and prices charged are likely to vary widely. Choice of vendor may be strongly influenced by the output file formats they are able to provide and their ability to be read by image display software. In addition, tight quality control is needed at every step of the document conversion process. Sending sample data to several vendors is highly recommended; in this way image quality, job pricing, file storage requirements, and timeliness of delivery may be evaluated. Several vendors, each with a specific area of expertise, may be needed to complete a complex document conversion process.