Sharing GIS and gazetteer services in the public sector

By Jonathan Bunn

Posted in Business Blog on February 11th 2011 12:25

Shared services have been implemented in the public sector for many years now, and a number of neighbouring local authorities have reaped the benefits of sharing their HR or finance functions; even entire IT departments and software systems.

But it’s only recently – given the effects of the recession and the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the fact that the coalition government is looking to reshape public services by shifting more power to local authorities – that the need for public bodies to investigate sharing other IT services has become so imperative.

To that end, shrewd councils, police forces and fire and rescue authorities have been developing plans to share their GIS and gazetteer management systems.

Benefits of shared services
One of the main draws for developing a shared service is the very fact that shared services automatically means shared costs. And who wouldn’t want to share the cost of something if they will still get the same value out? If the funding of the software itself, and the resource to implement and manage it, is shared, it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

And it’s unlikely to just be the same value that an organisation gets out. In most instances, the value is synergistically enhanced because operating a shared service brings many other benefits too. To give it a basic formula, we can say that:

Centralisation + Consolidation = Cost savings + Efficiency

So while cost savings are important, efficiency is equally so. For a local authority or emergency service, efficiency is about successfully bringing together separate services into one central organisational system that will benefit its “customers” – in this case, its residents.

And the residents will benefit from the reduced cost of the services provided by their council, and from a (hopefully) lower council tax rate. On top of this, local residents can expect improved service delivery, faster response times, a council, police force or fire and rescue authority that is better-informed and consequently better at decision-making. Moreover, switching to a shared services environment requires public sector staff to develop new skills and to give increased emphasis to delivering greater flexibility and improved customer service.

Sharing GIS and gazetteer management solutions
Spatial information platforms are ideal for sharing across organisations. After all, the same spatial and map-based data is often referenced by different public bodies. For example, a county council and its equivalent fire and rescue service or police force can share both spatial and address data and deliver it centrally as part of a shared resource. This enables the sharing of information about addresses, land use, demographics, crime information, the location of hazards, and much more.

And it needn’t stop at just the emergency services working with their equivalent local authorities. Public sector providers of housing, education, health and social care and transport can all benefit from sharing geospatial resources too.

One thing is clear: the recession and public spending review have changed the landscape for public sector bodies for the foreseeable future, meaning that cost- and resource-saving needs will make the implementation of shared services vital to their success.

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