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Innovative funding strategies.

Governments are constantly looking for funding mechanisms to keep their programs moving forward. Both from the perspective of sustaining current levels of service while looking for ways of providing service that will progresses these offerings to the next stage of superior service. Information technology projects are no stranger to this budget process. After all, information systems oriented programs are capital intensive. These activities also often require human resources with a definitive skill set. While information systems have become a staple of government operations, projects that include technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) are forced to compete for limited financial resources during the budget process.

Many governments expend a lot of energy getting a GIS project off the ground. This early focus is understandable as the start up costs will take the most significant amount of resources. As with many government efforts, whether information systems focused or not, the costs tend to stabilize over time. Unfortunately, many professionals who are involved in the process described focus on the short term budget needs as opposed to looking at more long range planning. When the economy is strong these professionals tend not to worry much about long term budget justifications. But when the economy weakens these same professionals begin scrambling along side their peers to justify and/or sustain their efforts.

Government professionals and managers who have been involved with GIS for a longer period of time learn to recognize these cycles in the budget process. Armed with this foresight, these individuals have developed innovative funding strategies that keep their programs progressing. These strategies include funding methods that leverages internal budgets and accounts, establish fees linked to GIS service, offset data development, or that look towards grant opportunities. Another methodology exploited revolves around cost recovery mechanisms that provide for charge backs to departments or the sale of GIS data or services. A partial list of funding strategies includes the following:
General Fund Investment Fund
Internal Service Fund Grants
Capital Projects Light Duty Workers
Capital Funding (GIS as Infrastructure) Volunteers
Bonds Use of Police Explorers
Data Trusts Use of Fire Cadets
Digital Submissions Ordinance Universities
Recordation Fees Continuing Education Benefits
Utility Fee Interns (Paid)
911 Fees Interns (Non Paid)
Sales Tax Light Duty Workers
Data Sales Enterprise Fund
Product Sales Replacement Fund
Federal Government Grants Wireless E911
Private Grants Transaction Fees
Cooperative Data Agreements Joint Power Authorities
Charge Back (Departmental) Fee for Service
Fee for Service (Government to
 Government) Project Budgets
Convenience Fees (Internet)

Parts of a GIS

Most individuals involved in GIS have been schooled in geography, information systems, or a degree associated within a discipline such as engineering or urban planning. This focused education should force the notion that individuals charged with the GIS pay focused attention on understanding how governments are funded. More importantly how the revenues received within a government can be applied to programs within an organization.

The most successful GIS managers have learned to look at all the aspects of the GIS program they are looking to fund. These managers recognize that the parts of a GIS to broken into staffing, training, software, data creation and maintenance, hardware, and applications development. While the hardware and software components comprise a significant upfront cost in your investment, the data development and staffing traditionally yield the highest long term expense. However, by breaking the GIS into its individual elements, one can begin to truly understand not only the costs associated with the parts of a GIS but resources that may be able to be applied.


Examples in Innovative Funding Strategies

Training Options

Training is cited by most governments as one of their toughest budget obstacles. Research shows that budgets for training are often the first line item cut during economic down turns. While this budget cut is understood and accepted by most government executives, GIS managers have cited that a more significant obstacle revolves around getting department personal to go to training. These managers often cite conflicts with work schedules, getting the users of GIS applications to take the time to get trained, and alleviating the fears of employees to integrate technology into their workloads.

By looking at each of these factors innovative GIS managers have come up with some innovative approaches to solving both the budgeting while taking on the organizational obstacles at the same time.

The training available today can address different learning styles and can accommodate almost any budget. Governments have utilized in-house training, vendor based training, and certified training centers for one on one training. Low cost training opportunities can come in the form of self paced work books and On-Line training. These educational venues may be obvious to some. What may not be as obvious are some of the most overlooked educational opportunities.

* User Groups-most vendors have established regional and national users groups. These user groups can take the form of focused discipline user groups such as public works special interest groups or software specific focus groups. More often than not this training is complimentary and occupies only a few hours a month.

* Seminars and Workshops-Much like user groups seminars and workshops can be a low or no cost training opportunity. Look towards professional trade associations with GI S tracks to be more common place. These workshops offer a more balanced environment and justification for attendance.

* Continuing Education Budgets-Most organizations provide for an employees benefit in the form of monies for continuing education and certifications. These funds tend not to be reduced during sluggish economies. This benefit is perhaps the most untapped employee benefit when it comes to GIS training. Hundreds of universities, community colleges, and university extension programs offer a GIS curriculum that qualifies for this benefit. Not only does this training format qualify for the education benefits it helps alleviate the organizational barriers such as workload conflicts. More importantly, the certificates and credits stay with the employee.

* Government Employee as a Certified Instructor-Software vendors provide for certification of individuals and organizations to become official instructors. Extending the opportunity for an employee to be tested and become a certified instructor can aid in in-house training programs. Not only does the certification increase the credibility of the training it allows for a constant in-house trainer. Like the continuing education benefit cited previously the certification stays with the employee and more than likely can be funded via the continuing education benefit.

Staffing Alternatives

Staffing shortages have produced some innovative short term approaches to staffing a GIS. It is important to recognize that the GIS professional does require skilled personnel. However, there are tasks such as data collection, data input, digitizing that can be performed under the supervision of a skilled professional. Alternatives staffing applied by GIS program have included volunteers, paid Interns, non-paid interns, fire cadets, and police explorers,

Case Example: City of Manhattan Beach, CA Use of Light Duty Workers

The City of Manhattan Beach was looking to supplement their GIS personnel with qualified workers. Their resourceful GIS Manager tapped into the cities employees that had been placed on "light duty" rosters to asset inventories, collect GPS data, as well as additional meaningful data collection activities.

Case Example: City of Cleveland Water Department, OH Use of City Residence

The City of Cleveland had developed a budget for data conversion on its GIS project. When the mayor learned that the conversion would be outsourced to entities outside the United State the city made a bold move to keep the money allocated local. The city reallocated the funds and paid local residence to produce the data conversion. Several of the citizens that applied for the position eventually became full time employees of the GIS department.

Data Development

A GIS is fueled by data. The data needs to be converted, incorporated, created, and maintained which is why data remains a significant and consistent budget item over the life of a GIS. While the data comes at a cost it is the part off the GIS that stimulates the return on investment.

As a GIS matures so do the data requirements. Data can move from fairly straight forward digitized parcel data to the inclusion of items such as orthophotography, lidar, demographics, video, and weather data to mention just a few. There also came a time when GIS professionals stood there ground in the notion that if they did not create the data themselves it would not be current or accurate. Times have changed and with it the alternatives to data development.

* Web Services-commercial and government agencies provide for subscriptions to data sets that can be consumed by a GIS via an internet service. These services can be free in the case of federal and state data. Commercial data sets such as demographics, weather, and imagery can be secured either on a local or national level for a nominal charge. The explosion of the Internet has produced a mechanism to distribute the data at a mass distribution price point. Whether the data is derived via a government or commercial source the metadata provided allows the subscriber to determine the accuracy and currency of the data.

* Data Trust Fund-This vehicle provides for a financial receptacle where funds can be commingled into a trust to be used on the creation and sharing of a predetermined data set.

Case Example: Los Angeles Region Imagery Acquisition

The Los Angeles County GIS embarked on a cost sharing initiative with the goal of generating orthophotography, oblique imagery, pictometry, and lidar data. The program called for County departments and cities within Los Angeles County to contribute funds based on a predetermined formula. The result was a data trust where participants could secure the data for their individual uses. The trust posted a one million dollar surplus that will be used on future updates of the data.

* Cost Sharing-Some governments have designated one agency as a lead agency in the creation and maintenance of core data sets. This method is extremely useful where duplicate data would more than likely be created from one government to another. The concept of cost sharing allows the governments to take the money they would allocate for the creation of a data set and transfer it to the lead agency. Thus, freeing up the individual governments to utilize their staff to perform analysis, create supplemental data sets, or to generate applications. This approach can lead to significant cost savings or cost avoidances.

Case Example: Houston-Galveston Area Council, Texas

The Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments recognized that several public, private, and utility organizations were developing redundant parcel data sets. The organization estimated that the initial cost to maintain 1.5 million parcels and approached ten organizations to pool their funds and create the dataset once. The result was a cost savings of $205,000 annually to the taxpayers and share holders.

* Collaborative Data Creation--Traditional cost sharing methods looked for one agency to build a data set on behalf of an entire region. With the advancement of web based service oriented architecture (SOA) came new opportunities to spread the cost of creating a data set. Under the server model each agency can be responsible for creating the data for their own geography while working on a seamless regional data set. Thus, resulting in the availability of data that can be used by all participants.

Case Example: Sacramento Area Council of Governments

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments teamed with member cities and counties to create a street center line file and address data set. This collaboration provided for opportunities to combine there funds with federal funds associated with Homeland Security. The result was a regional street database that will be used for E911 and mutual aid for disaster management.

Sale of Data

There are numerous organizations that have looked at the sale of GIS data or services as a means of creating a cost recovery mechanism. While there are examples of governments that have generated revenue with this approach the odds of securing a consistent revenue stream. In fact most jurisdictions report sales of less than one percent of their total budget.

If an organization believes the sale of data is an option for your organization consider two things before your embark on this activity. First, understand your market. What is the size of your market, what are the market targets, and what price can your market bear. Secondly, if an organization plans to sell data it must invest in a strong sales infrastructure to make the venture profitable. This infrastructure includes marketing, pricing, and an individual assign to taking sales questions.

Grant Programs

There are numerous federal and state grants that have been leverage to produce GIS data and applications. These grants may provide for hardware, software, and or personnel support. Key items to remember is that most grant programs are funded on regular yearly intervals. Changes in these programs are exposed through the federal budget process. Many programs have extremely short application timelines.

GIS Managers should familiarize themselves with the federal processes as a means of putting themselves in a position to respond the grants as they are announced. While one can anticipate grant opportunities the question to keep in mind is have you educated the individual departments on how GIS might be applied to a grant opportunity designed to assist them in meeting their program goals.

If this education process has not taken place well in advance the organization will not be in a good position to apply for the grants in a timely manner. For example, if a law enforcement grant was announced and had a seven day or less response period. Would you be in a position to respond if you never looked at your law enforcements needs or

explained the value of GIS to the agency?

Budget Justification

While the strategies for funding or supporting a GIS cited can help an organization sustain a program, closer attention should be placed on being able to justify your budget requests. After all, as government executives and elected officials better understand the value of GIS they are more apt to support budget requests.

* There are several questions GIS mangers should be asking themselves on a regular basis.

* Do you understand the value that GIS brings to an organization?

* Have you communicated this value in terms of return on investment?

* Are the GIS activities aligned with the organizations missions, projects, and objectives?

GIS Managers often overlook the need to place a quantitative value on the applications of GIS technology as it is applied to organizational projects. For example, GIS technologies ability to perform revenue audits can generate more money than the sale of GIS data. Along the same lines are the benefits of increased efficiency, increased productivity, decision support, aiding in budget processes, and cost savings, and cost avoidance that should be documented and communicated.


Innovative funding strategies can aid in jump starting a GIS program, sustaining activities during economic down turns, and assisting in moving GIS to new levels. Organizations should understand the options that are available to them. More importantly, like an good investment strategy understanding your options coupled with a solid diversification strategy should propel a GIS program into the future.

Christopher Thomas


Government Industry Manager

Federal, State, and Local
COPYRIGHT 2006 Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Thomas, Christopher
Publication:Urban and Regional Information Systems Association Annual Conference Proceedings
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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