The Power of Enterprise GIS

It’s much more than merely collecting data; it’s about efficiency, productivity


“We’ve got entire floor plans and all of the spaces within the terminal in our GIS system; and we operate about 5 million square feet of assets. But that wasn’t just a lofty exercise. For janitorial contracting, for example, we can issue much better RFPs since we can track exactly what needs to be cleaned and when. We also cataloged all facility assets valued over $1,000. That started in GIS, but migrated into the maintenance management system. However, GIS provides the link to that data.

“We used to only have an aggregated total of our lease data. With GIS, our lease data is depicted down to the level of individual rooms. That enables us to be more responsive to market conditions for leases, and more adept at projection modeling for lease revenue. We’ve eliminated the smokestacks of data and have it all in a flat, enterprise environment where we can share the data. But at its most basic level, accurate, reliable, usable data is why we use GIS and why we will continue to use it.”

Every GIS system is only as good as its data. But I’ll get to that momentarily. First, I would like to point out two more benefits of GIS.

Once a novel concept, then a fad, and now an established standard, operating “green” has become crucial to airports. GIS provides exceptional opportunities for greening an airport. A GIS can help airport staff determine what areas of an airport are being used (or not) during any time of day or night. With that real-time data in hand they can conserve a lot of energy, particularly by manipulating HVAC systems and lighting.

Another significant benefit of GIS concerns utilities. Airports change, and when they change they often have to dig. When they dig, utilities are a major concern. With accurate GIS data, every airport utility is known and mapped. That real-time information can easily be put into the hands of the people doing the digging, avoiding potentially dangerous accidents and costly delays.

Without question, GIS helps save time and money, making operations and revenue generation more efficient. But to produce those results, GIS must be implemented well, and there is an art to its implementation.

Items to consider
Airports planning GIS implementation or expansion should keep in mind several things about GIS ...

• Looking Up Your New Address
When implementing GIS, start by establishing a common addressing system for the entire facility. Many airports have one series of numbers stamped on doors, a different array of column numbers stamped on beams, and often a grid system that engineers use on the airfield — divergent numbering systems abound. From a GIS standpoint, you need a reliable, consistent, unitary system that will tell you exactly what is what. Establish a common addressing system for the entire facility.

• A System of One’s Own
Operational ownership of a GIS system is as important as the system itself. But is it an IT function? A physical plant function? An engineering project? At many airports over the past decade, a particular department championed GIS; it was their baby. But once it grew into an enterprise system, the GIS actually became a source of organizational strife concerning who should own and manage it. Avoid that confusion. GIS has become an IT function, and the IT department should be the system custodian.

• Minding the Storage
Another critical element is data storage. All data should be stored in a format that is vendor-neutral. There are several well-known vendors providing excellent GIS products. But will those vendors still be there tomorrow? Five years from now? Ten? Store all data in an open-source manner that can be transferred to any brand of vendor hardware and integrated with any other airport system.

• Don’t Wait Until It Is Too Late
Airports often consider GIS when pondering capital improvement programs. All too often, though, GIS isn’t addressed until the tail end of the process. GIS needs precise, current information as soon as it’s available. By inputting data on a capital improvement program as it unfolds, GIS helps advance the program while obtaining data that has integrity.

• Systems that Communicate
An airport may have ten different contractors working at any one time. One firm is rehabilitating a runway, another has a fencing project, and yet another is putting a concourse on the terminal. Get standards in place, and then require those firms to submit their deliverable data in a standardized form that can be easily entered into your GIS system.

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