REGIS offers one pointofservice to government private sector education and citizens

April 30, 2012
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Today, more than ever, local governments are being asked to do more with fewer resources and collaborate to share services and the associated costs. Our state and local leaders have started discussions for creating one point-of-service for many functions such as One Fire, One Parks and Recreation, and even One Kent. While there are several efforts to discover how public services can be consolidated, it’s important to discuss what consolidated, single-point-of-services are already working in our region.

For the past 13 years, the Regional Geographic Information System has been a single centralized GIS department for more than 20 local governments. It is a nationally recognized working model of regionalism and cooperation among government agencies that has achieved savings through sharing of services and costs, and a level of cooperation that is extremely important, especially in today’s economy. In 2007, REGIS won the Exemplary Systems in Government Award from the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association.

REGIS is one GIS versus multiple duplicate GIS implementations in the region and a collaborative effort versus individual stand-alone GIS functions.

GIS is the collection of geographical information (streets, utilities, land parcels, zoning, political boundaries, flood plains, topography, etc.), all of which share one common denominator: a geographic indicator. All of this data is stored in a single shared system at REGIS, which maps, overlays and analyzes the information. For example, approving a new development application requires review of factors such as water and sewer infrastructure, topography, transportation network, zoning, future land use and other factors, which REGIS provides to all of its members with quality and reliability.

REGIS provides easy access to customized GIS tools so that even a non-GIS user can effectively utilize the information. For example, it’s easy to locate water, sanitary and storm pipes by jurisdiction, material, diameter, date installed, etc. Another example is the mapping of comparable sales by neighborhood and property classification for a user-defined criteria (price range, number of rooms, size, etc.). These are easy-to-do functions on REGIS. There are functions in almost every service area that can be performed easily, even by a non-GIS person. All of this is accomplished through a shared pool of resources, thereby significantly reducing individual GIS costs to REGIS members.

Approximately 80 percent of all information that governments use to make decisions and serve our citizens is geographic or spatial. Through REGIS, local decision makers can view all relevant information at once rather than having to go to several different locations or systems.

REGIS also links non-GIS attribute information with GIS to make it one source of information for its members and the public. This also allows us to do more with fewer resources. Three major strategic benefits of this collaborated and shared system across the jurisdictional boundaries are: cost savings through sharing and consolidation of services; access to seamless regional information to make better decisions and to make them more efficiently; and encouragement of regional partnership and collaboration.

REGIS officials are discussing a five-year outlook for the growth and success of the organization. One of the immediate goals is to further diversify the REGIS service model to expand its service boundary and to serve government entities beyond the current Kent and Ottawa regions. The REGIS service delivery mechanism is similar to cloud computing where users can access REGIS from anywhere with a high-speed Internet connection. This diversification will not only help the organizations currently without a GIS, but also the ones that already maintain a stand-alone GIS. Through REGIS, they can expect significant savings for both one-time and recurring costs of running a stand-alone GIS, and it will also free up significant resources. Current members have already realized these savings and now we want to make the shared and collaborative system available to other communities.

Additionally, this REGIS partnership aligns with the incentive-based revenue-sharing program currently promoted by the state government. All REGIS members can potentially use their participation in REGIS as one of the performance measures to qualify for the incentive-based program.

One of REGIS’ main goals is to reach out to the private sector. REGIS offers a cost-effective way to utilize GIS technology to enhance the growth and success of the region’s private and nonprofit organizations without investing in and maintaining an in-house GIS function. We offer an associate membership to the private sector, which has multiple service tiers to make it affordable to all sizes of organizations. We will also be hosting an open house for the private sector in the near future and welcome all inquiries on how REGIS can help these organizations.

Becoming a regional GIS education and training center is another strategic goal for REGIS. We have already made progress by completing two programs for Grand Valley State University, and are currently working with Ferris State University to develop a program for its students. Other educational institutions and municipalities also are encouraged to contact us.

Citizens also may access REGIS information on its public mapping website at http://ims.gvmc-regis.org/website/public. The website has many layers of information available with easy-to-use tools, such as a parcel finder, cemetery finder, zoning finder, 2010 Census population data and more (sensitive information is restricted). For example, the new cemetery finder application allows the public to find a particular grave by searching for last name, cemetery name and grave status (availability). More communities will be available as completed. REGIS has also recently published Census 2010 population information in an easy-to-use, understandable format, and is working on adding appropriate socio-economic data.

REGIS members pay a proportionate share of operating costs and agree to share resources; in turn, they receive a fair and adequate level of service. The current membership covers Kent County and the city of Hudsonville from Ottawa County.

REGIS was formed in 1997 as an independent agency of Grand Valley Metro Council.

Dharmesh Jain, Ph.D., is director of REGIS. He may be contacted at (616) 776-7617 or jaind@gvmc.org

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