3 Ways GIS Helped Horry County, SC
November 11, 2021 by
GIS, or geographical information systems, provides important data every day for people creating and using maps or benefiting from location-based information. Cars and smartphones, for example, rely on GIS data for navigation systems. Even 5G mobile internet connectivity relies on GIS.
Location-specific data is perhaps nowhere more prevalent than in the public sector. Putting GIS at the core of government operations can make this data readily accessible to residents, developers, contractors, and visitors. Why is this important? Tim Oliver, chief information office for Horry County, South Carolina, answered this question during a recent American Planning Association webinar, “GIS-Centric Strategies for Keeping Communities Informed & Engaged in Planning.”
From building permits, zoning, and land hazards to crime, community events, and even road closures, GIS can help governments improve operations and enhance service. In Horry County, Oliver’s team built innovative GIS-enabled apps to provide relevant community data based on location, rather than overwhelming constituents with county-wide data that is hard to read and search.
Following are three top takeaways Oliver shared from his county’s experience:
- GIS-centric activities keep things moving forward. Everything in local government, including planning and development, is based on location. That’s why Horry County transitioned all line of business applications to be GIS-centric, ensuring all data in deployed apps comes from a trusted source in real time. It also moves things forward with greater efficiency. A building permit, for example, needs relevant parcel information in GIS. In Horry County’s GIS-enabled system, this means the parcel must be input within a reasonable time, shifting from the old hand-delivered process. Once the deed is recorded, it now takes just 24 hours to issue the permit.
- GIS-based mobile tools keep communities informed. There is opportunity through GIS to make the entire planning process more engaging for residents and visitors. A mobile app, for instance, puts the user at the center of the experience because most individuals care most about their own location. And, in Horry County, “60% of the users coming to our website were coming from mobile devices,” noted Oliver.
This led the county to build an in-house app that uses an individual’s profile and location to provide real-time, subscription-based data feeds, such as zoning information, location-specific development updates, evacuation information, and more. Besides offering users the precise information they want when they want it, the app makes broader information readily accessible, something that has reduced the number of information requests that come into county staff. Since the introduction of the app, more than 20,000 users have developed personalized profiles across the country.
- User experience counts. It’s safe to say the app’s early success is due in large part to good design. Data is presented in intuitive, user-friendly ways on screens that are optimized for mobile use. Rather than have constituents blindly searching page after page for information, the app surfaces customized information for each user on a personal dashboard. The county’s upcoming website redesign will further identify whether the user has a customized profile, what kind of device they are using, what is important to them, and where they are located. “It’s our responsibility to deliver what the constituent expects and is used to using,” said Oliver.
In addition to surfacing information, the app supports business interactions with the county including car registrations, driver’s license updates, business license applications, and more. Real-time updates on these processes are available to residents, and the flow is more streamlined for the constituent and county office staff alike.
Bonus Innovation Eases Data Entry
Oliver also noted his team’s creative use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA); a virtual robot that resides in the cloud. In Horry County, RPA is used to increase data entry speed and accuracy for tax remittance and code enforcement, and staff is working toward using RPA for building permits as well. The tool has access to a line of business systems via a login and password, very much like a virtual employee but with no coffee or lunch breaks. RPA can move between business systems and roles. It works by reading information from a form then keying in the appropriate information in relevant systems. In the county’s first project, RPA captured information from 90,000 property tax returns and keyed the data into lines of businesses by each account. The robot can process 300 to 700 forms per hour with zero errors while a manual process tops out at 30 forms per hour.
Streamlined processes and better, faster, constituent service are just some ways GIS can help governments move forward and improve outcomes. Agencies that creatively leverage their GIS data to create more effective and engaging planning tools will move the needle in meeting not only constituents’ needs, but also their expectations.