GIS Helps Power Self Service

Given budgets and the difficulty of raising taxes, governments are always looking for ways to lower costs and improve services. Self service is one of the more powerful tools they employ to reduce expenses.

When citizens can take care of business themselves, an organization can reduce the need for personnel. It’s a strategy that companies also want to implement. Look at the self service check-out lanes in grocery stores, or automated call routing that moves you through a company’s phone system — and often handles your needs without the interaction with a human being.

But now people with GIS degrees are finding themselves in the thick of such efforts, because geographic information systems has become the latest technology used to construct self-service mechanisms. An example is local governments using interactive Web maps to lower operating expenses while improving services. According to Directions Magazine, the following are some examples of governments using GIS for citizen services:

  • see services such as police or fire stations, recycling sites, and pedestrian areas;
  • report pothole, noise, and crime, including location;
  • document potential driving impediments such as construction, traffic light outages, and detours; and
  • show where tax money is being spent.

Carver County in Minnesota enabled public property search, and even has a smartphone application to give mobile access. The city of Aspen and Pitkin county have a self-service center with Web and PDF maps, mobile apps, and public data available for download.

And self-service GIS extends to the private sector. For example, many retail chains offer interactive online mapping to help consumers find stores nearest to them. Provide an address or even ZIP code and you get a list of locations together with their hours, directions, and maps. It doesn’t take much work to imagine many other self-service maps that companies could create:

  • Utilities could let consumers report outages or hazards like gas leaks.
  • With a different twist on the idea of “location,” a company could let a customer see the progress of a custom product order, from placement, through manufacturing, and finally to shipping, with the ability to obtain a tracking number.
  • A manufacturer could offer a variation on the retail location map, showing people where they can locally buy products. With information from retail shops, the company could potentially even show which locations currently had stock in house.
  • An auto insurance company could have maps to show where a policy owner could get an initial or post-crash inspection performed.

GIS provides immediate gratification to consumers who need information, frees up employees to do work that can’t be automated, and cuts costs. Whether for government or the private sector, it’s worth considering.

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