A Geographic Information System and establishing an information technology staff are two major initiatives Lansdale Borough can institute now to propel its way toward the future of being a more efficient government.
In a technology strategy recommendation given to borough council at the last council meeting in September, David Eisenlohr said the borough can improve its IT resources over the next five years with a $2.8 million investment.
Eisenlohr is with Azimuth Group, the firm hired by Lansdale to perform an IT assessment. Eisenlohr gave the results of the assessment to the public at the September meeting. The assessment grouped 21 opportunities into three areas: Strengthening of Technology Management, Existing Technologies and New Technologies.
Eisenlohr recommended GIS as a "quick win" for the borough. It was also pegged as one of the most important and most urgent priorities Lansdale should focus on now.
That's music to ears of Lansdale Council President Matt West.
West is somewhat of an expert in GIS — a tool that links spatially-distributed databases to maps. Those maps can be then analyzed to identify patterns, which guide decision-making processes.
Read more about West and his role as a GIS teacher at this link.
"GIS will help staff in making recommendations to council for investments, re-investments, and maintenance, and will also enable staff to make better-informed operational decisions during the course of their workday demands," said West. "Ideally, once the GIS is fully implemented, citizens will be able to interact with spatial data via the borough’s website. The level of interactivity will be determined by the level of detail ultimately achieved by the borough-wide GIS."
West's vision is to have all borough departments — and the parking authority — interact with GIS. Each department's use will vary based upon need.
"A borough of our size, with the existing infrastructure we maintain, costs of maintaining our existing infrastructure will continue to rise. GIS will play an integral role in allowing the borough to maximize the efficiency of our resources by investing wisely based on qualitative information," West said.
West said the borough website could incorporate a GIS portal into its design, thus enabling taxpayers to be that much more informed about the local world around them. A good example comes from the City of Philadelphia.
Through West's tenure, Lansdale has placed very little emphasis on using a technology like GIS as a tool for better policy and decision making.
"That's not uncommon for municipal governments," West said. "As technology continues to become more accessible, more municipalities will take advantage of its benefits. We are a proactive council that will make informed decisions based on quality data, and we believe that technology, when used effectively, can help us be more informed."
Other "quick win" recommendations were to establish a governance model, update and redesign the borough website, develop technology standards to avoid incompatibility and increase the information technology staff with two full-timers and tow part-timers, including a full-time manager and part-time analyst. The full-time manager would likely be filled by current IT coordinator Brian Poster.
Eisenlohr also recommended some medium priority goals for Lansdale IT: automate time and attendance data, upgrade the code department software and implement a human resources department.
On the low end of the priority list: upgrade parks and recreation software, replace the telephone network with a VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol. This means transporting fax, voice and messaging applications via the Internet versus a public switched telephone network.
In the end, Eisenlohr pushed GIS.
"The most important (response from surveyed borough staff) is get us connected. Get us GIS," Eisenlohr said. "GIS (is) the core of the future system with the ability to feed financial information, public safety information, community development, public works and utilities, and display in a geographic way."
Some day, the borough would be able to develop maps for voting wards using GIS that can show number of voters, how many have voted and other political data. Today, he said, you can't get answers like that easily.
Network access, he said, is lacking in the borough. Remote locations are not on a common network.
"The IT capacity across the borough is uneven," Eisenlohr said.
The parks department, for instance, has no automated model for reserving facilities or renting ballfields.
Aggressive investments in technology will drive the expansion of support infrastructure, he said.
Borough Manager Timi Kirchner said the research was needed for the borough to know where it was at as far as technology.
"(It) prepares us to move forward to make us more efficient as a borough," Kirchner said.
Eisenlohr said there would not be much savings in manpower, as the amount of work and hours would go up with more efficient technologies.
As far as security, Eisenlohr said a key design consideration are firewalls and passcodes. He said the police should be in the same network as the borough.
"GIS is a very powerful tool for the analysis of police data," he said.
West said security will be of utmost importance.
"As with any form of technology used by a municipal government, appropriate security measures will be incorporated into the implementation plan," West said.
Of the $2.8 million price tag, about $700,000 would be applied to new staff and less than $100,000 to consultants for GIS and network design.
Vice President Paul Clemente said at the meeting that the assessment is a great starting point as the borough moves forward.
"It allows us to have a launchpad for another area of improvement," he said.
Councilman Mike Sobel said the IT improvements are all part of running a business that is Lansdale Borough.
"It's an investment we have to make now for the future to keep up the best as we can as technology changes," Sobel said.