In search of a spatial approach

A Victorian local council is looking to tap spatial and geographic data to improve services for its 90,000 residents.

A Victorian local council is looking to tap spatial and geographic data to improve services for its 90,000 residents.

Tony Ljaskevic, Bayside City Council's manager of information services, said the council planned to use geographic information software tools to gather and display data from various sources, including its own maps and files, and other publicly available demographic, geographic and topographic maps to help with decision making.

Spatial data would be overlaid on a map with information on public works, health inspections, nursing visits, and development proposals to help council employees find correlations between events happening in the area. In future the council intends to share some limited data with residents and businesses as well.

"We often talk about integrating information, but the GIS [geographic information system] is probably the only tool able to aggregate that information and do it well in a spatial view," Mr Ljaskevic said.

In many government IT circles at all levels in Australia and overseas GIS is being viewed as a key technology to improve the way information is analysed and informs decisions.

In a 2011 report on the use of spatial information among Australian government agencies, Vanessa Lawrence provided 22 recommendations, one of which resulted in the establishment of the Office of Spatial Policy.

Dr Lawrence also articulated the importance of spatial data: "Ensuring that geospatial information is collected to high-quality, consistent standards, is maintained to those standards, and is widely available to a country's government, its private sector and its citizens, is a vital part of making sense of the vast amount of information we come across on a daily basis. It underpins well-informed decisions, it can improve public services and facilitate growth in the private sector."

The Bayside City Council GIS plan is part of a recently approved three-year IT strategy that also includes improving online services and the security of information systems.

The approval of that strategy comes shortly after the council started to digitise many of the paperwork-heavy processes employees undertake regularly such as restaurant health inspections and nurses' visits to new babies.

By combining a newer version of Citrix application virtualisation technology with lightweight devices such as tablets, the council hopes to improve the accuracy and timeliness of information capture and sharing.

Mr Ljaskevic said health inspection workers, for example, usually conducted a restaurant health inspection with pen and paper. The observations then needed to be manually entered into the application back at the office, with the results not provided to the restaurateur for several days.

However, now they can conduct the inspection using their existing desktop application viewed on the mobile device of choice. They can issue notices on site and explain actions immediately.

About 100 staff so far have access to the new mobile solution and Mr Ljaskevic intends to extend its availability to another 400 employees.

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