Geographic information systems technology has proven to be a significant asset for many governments across the U.S. Recent technological developments are looking to make this useful service even more beneficial by combining the data visualization and real-time collection offered by GIS with the immediacy and constant on-hand accessibility of mobile, and the results are inspiring.
If you use GIS already in your government's daily operation, or even if you're considering adopting a program, it's worth considering how you can integrate that technology with mobile platforms for maximum benefit.
Mobile is already where we live
One of the biggest factors contributing to the rapid growth of mobile technology in GIS platforms is that the hardware is already so widespread. Smartphone saturation is higher now than ever, with almost 66 percent of Americans owning a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center. What's more, mobile is quickly overtaking personal computers as the primary way through which users access many online services. Whereas five years ago, mobile optimization was a nice-to-have, in the coming years, and even today, it's more of a necessity.
The communication possibilities are endless
It goes without saying that smartphones are excellent communication tools. But what's really important about them is the sheer number of methods of communication these devices allow, as well as the scale at which it's possible to reach people. Massive notification services can send text message alerts to a dedicated group of subscribers automatically. Paired with the GPS capabilities inherent to smartphones, governments can prioritize alerts in emergency situations based on location - for example, sending a text notification to a certain neighborhood in the winter regarding snow removal.
These devices also offer the ability to communicate with residents who otherwise would be difficult to reach via conventional communication methods. For example, text messaging allows the hearing impaired to receive important information that they may not be able to otherwise get through a phone or radio alert.
Portability is key
Perhaps the greatest thing about smartphones is that the vast majority of people carry one with them at all times. Whatever your feelings are on the questionable social etiquette surrounding constant phone usage, there's no denying that this portability is crucial in managing government operations.
Maintenance teams responding to a call in the field can use their smartphone to update data in real time, providing more accurate information more quickly. As an added benefit, smartphones have a relatively low cost compared to more specialized equipment that may have been required to use GIS programs previously. Even on restricted budgets, it's easier now for governments to equip their employees with the tools needed to make better use of GIS than ever before.
You can work with your citizens
Government management on any scale is a tremendous challenge, so anything that allows officials and administrators to get extra help is a welcome addition. Mobile GIS is perfect for letting your citizens take an active role in alerting you to issues that need addressing. For example, GCN noted that people in Corpus Christi, Texas, are using the GPS capabilities of their smartphones to report emergencies directly to 911, providing valuable and accurate location-based information right away. This is important even in non-emergency situations - for example, citizens reporting potholes, broken streetlights and other minor infrastructure problems. Mobile GIS would allow them to use location-based data that makes it easier for governments to respond.
The future of GIS is likely going to be geared much more heavily toward mobile, with software developers working with governments to create apps that everyday citizens can download. These apps, combined with the cameras and GPS locators in smartphones, can save governments time and money in basic maintenance.