GIS, Illinois State Water Survey

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Enterprise GIS at the ISWS

“The vision for GIS at the Illinois State Water Survey is to integrate geospatial data management, analysis and visualization with sound science-based research to meet the goals of the ISWS. We will take a leadership role in the statewide and national development of innovative GIS applications for water and atmospheric resources research, and education. These activities will attract research funding and creative scientists, and promote the Illinois State Water Survey as a premier research, service and education institution.”

The ISWS has a long history of utilizing GIS technology in its research. How do we improve our use of GIS and integrate the technology into new areas of research? In practical terms, how can we use GIS to improve our current activities and open up untapped areas of research?

As water resources research becomes more complex, the need for effective data management, analysis, and visualization becomes apparent. Field data collection, remote sensing, and environmental modeling continue to generate enormous amounts of geographic data. These "place-based" temporal datasets are often managed and analyzed independently of one another, without a practical method for linking together what they have in common. The importance of data visualization is apparent when scientists communicate technical concepts to laypeople and decision-makers.

To meet these growing technological challenges, the ISWS is benefiting from an enterprise GIS strategy that more fully integrates the technology within our research and assists us in managing, analyzing and visualizing data. The GIS data management strategy is part of the overall ISWS data and information management effort that includes enterprise (ISWS-wide) databases, a robust metadata standard, and a simple "point-and-click" interface to access our resources. In addition, we are utilizing cutting-edge GIS data modeling and visualization tools.

What is “enterprise GIS?”

Unfortunately, the term “enterprise” in computer parlance has become a vague and overused buzzword. Ask ten computer people what “enterprise” means, and you'll likely get ten different responses. For us, “enterprise” means three practical things:

  1. Make the data available to any user in a common format. At the ISWS, the geodatabase is the common format, and ArcSDE is one technology we use to make it available to everyone.
  2. Provide software "hooks" to data so developers and researchers can use it easily. Geodatabases are relational databases. This means that data residing within a geodatabase can be accessed not only by ArcGIS, but also by any software application that can connect to it, such as Microsoft Office, a custom application or a web site. A hook is generally a web service or Application Programming Interface (API) that handles database input/output or analysis, while freeing a developer from worrying about the details of the database. The ISWS is implementing several web services to provide these hooks.
  3. Begin to think in a GIS context. When GIS moves out of "making pretty maps" and into "using it for data management, analysis and visualization," scientists begin to collaborate in interesting ways. "GIS thinking" then extends to the enterprise.

ISWS GIS Strategic Plan

The Illinois State Water Survey currently is implementing a plan to expand our use of GIS in research. The plan is broken down into four major goals:

  1. Making data accessible
  2. Developing innovative GIS applications
  3. Increasing and sharing our GIS expertise
  4. Providing technical assistance and training

Making data accessible

One issue that is commonly encountered is whether to build a centrally-managed GIS data warehouse, or let users manage all of their data independently. Recognizing there are pros and cons to both approaches, the ISWS is implementing a hybrid of the two. Common datasets are stored in ArcSDE and the server file system while researchers are encouraged to store their project-specific data on their workstations until they are ready to share it with the ISWS. Another important consideration for accessibility is metadata. GIS metadata not only is important when sharing data, but also when re-visiting projects after several months.

Developing innovative GIS applications

ESRI##s ArcIMS product allows organizations to share their GIS datasets with any computer user with online access. Currently, the ISWS has several ArcIMS-based applications available, with more being planned. Other technologies being explored at the ISWS include ArcGlobe, Google Earth, and Google Maps.

Increasing and sharing our GIS expertise

With more than 60 GIS users, the ISWS has a wealth of GIS expertise. To aide in sharing that expertise internally, we have created an electronic knowledgebase and an informal seminar series for staff.

Providing technical assistance and training

Along with the rapid advance of GIS software technology comes the need for continued training and support. The GIS staff in the Office of the Chief provide technical assistance to ISWS staff with software applications, license management, GIS-related projects, and facilitate the use of ESRIs Virtual Campus program available to all ISWS staff.

Illinois State Water Survey

2204 Griffith Dr
Champaign, IL 61820-7463
217-244-5459
info@isws.illinois.edu

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