CASE STUDY

Anne Arundel County Government Harnesses the Power of Managed Cloud Services to Modernize their GIS

Anne Arundel County’s Commitment to Accelerate Digital Transformation

This transformation commitment creates a more effective and efficient county government for employees, citizens, and communities. To effectively support every citizen of Anne Arundel County with the standardization, coordination, and dissemination of geographic information requires a GIS infrastructure that facilitates collaboration – and is both scalable and reliable. 

Power GIS users throughout the county government, such as the members of the Office of Planning & Zoning or the Department of Public Works, require the best GIS data available at their fingertips – and fast – in order to provide the most accurate GIS data maps and interactive mapping applications to the community. But how do you balance the needs of the community – zoning and land use viewer, sanitary sewer overflow maps, watershed restoration projects, capital improvement projects, aerial imagery, emergency management dashboards – with the responsibility of GIS software and infrastructure maintenance, enterprise data viewing tools, major spatial data acquisition, and geospatial system automation projects? The answer is partnering with a GIS  Managed Cloud Services Provider – ROK Technologies – and migrating Anne Arundel County’s GIS and data and infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

After migrating to the Cloud, Anne Arundel County has gained the ability to scale on demand, modernize their infrastructure, reduce costs and free up their staff to focus on important tasks such as governance, as well as improve the quality of GIS data available to their citizens and minimize the time it takes to reach them.

01

The Goal:
Anne Arundel County OIT Commits to Reducing Transactional Friction of GIS Data

As the fourth most populous county in Maryland, Anne Arundel County is home to over half a million people. Despite the large number of people depending on the county’s GIS data – before moving to the cloud they were subsisting on a small portal environment. Pre-Cloud, their GIS environment consisted of two virtual machines on-premise. Due to resource limitations in IT staffing, necessary OS and software updates and patches were done with unavoidable disruption. When a change happened, it would affect applications and could take up to a half day to restore the environment. The specific expertise required to grow a GIS footprint and maintain GIS infrastructure can put a significant burden on IT departments that are already functioning at capacity.

“We were organized as best as we could at the time, but we had certainly outgrown our model of working,” Matt Webb, Systems Analyst, Anne Arundel County shares.

The county’s GIS department, led by GIS Manager, Dave Gillum, started weighing their options for a new way to host and manage their GIS. They began to seek an established Cloud provider that was well-established. Additionally, they sought a managed service provider that had validated expertise in both IT and GIS. The Anne Arundel County GIS and IT departments were searching for a partnership that would help staff streamline data management, scale as users and demand changed, and to free up the GIS staff to focus on governance and growth strategies.

They knew that they wanted an expert in IT and the Cloud, which led them to ROK Technologies. Since Anne Arundel County needed an environment that could easily upgrade and that had the flexibility to grow, the AWS Cloud satisfied all of their requirements, especially considering ROK Technologies has a well established relationship with AWS.

02

The Solution:
Migrating to the Cloud & Providing Citizens with the Best Data Possible

To start, ROK Technologies performed an audit and assessment of their GIS environment. In initial discussions, the “lift and shift” approach was considered as a migration strategy option. However, after spending time outlining the county’s goals and priorities, it made sense to take this as an opportunity to plan for future growth and make the necessary changes now. One of the major bottlenecks to progress was how they managed their data.

Pre-Cloud, Anne Arundel County received disks with shapefiles and data from different departments within the county and would be the ones responsible to publish that information. It took a long time and left plenty of room for error, not to mention the amount of man hours required to continually update the files. Because Anne Arundel County didn’t have any connectivity to the Cloud from their workspaces, they had to move data between its place of origin, editing, and production environments. Harnessing AWS workspaces, ROK Technologies was able to build an environment with a hybrid cloud solution that allowed AA County to work seamlessly in one environment without having to use hours of overtime moving data back and forth. Utilizing this solution, the county was able to streamline their workflows, and ensure that the data was being edited accurately and in real time.

Since the Cloud, we've been able to actually create an open data site within the county that has most of our apps listed there, rather than this kind of offshoot GIS location, it's actually integrated with the rest of the county's open data and now people have multiple access points to our information, all of which is the same information. So there's no question about duplication and we're able to get that turned around and published in all those environments in a matter of hours instead of days as it was before.

03

The Benefit:
Anne Arundel County OIT Leverages the Cloud for Better GIS Performance

Increased Capabilities

Rolling out the Cloud environment has greatly reduced the amount of time it takes Anne Arundel County GIS department to process and cache aerial imagery. After migrating their GIS to the Cloud, they can easily accommodate the space and compute to handle a new ortho cache. It has reduced what used to tie up a lot of resources to a footnote at a status meeting. Additionally, when most of the county was shut down at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Anne Arundel County OIT GIS was able to seamlessly transition to remote work without interrupting operations. 

Enhanced Workflows

Ian Botts, Senior Solutions Engineer, KCI Technologies explains, “Migrating to the Cloud forces you to reevaluate your GIS workflows and processes – how people create data, how do you keep that data organized, how do you ensure the appropriate permissions, how do you ensure data is secure –  after the migration, we were freed up to focus on governance.” 

Better Data, Better Performance

The GIS department  no longer worries about software upgrades, expiring licenses, or downtime. “Performance-wise, we’re faster, and more reliable,” Matt shares.

After joining the Cloud, Anne Arundel County no longer needs to worry about issues with the on-premise environment. Before, when something went wrong or they needed to push an update, they would be down for an extended period of time.

04

The Results:
Cloud-based GIS Provides Anne Arundel County Citizens with Much-Needed Information at their Fingertips

Now that the GIS staff has the day to day management of their Esri software and its supporting infrastructure off their plate, they have time to examine what services will best meet the needs of their citizens – and deliver them. 

“During Covid-19, prior to us reaching out to the health department, they were publishing PDFs. We were able to develop dashboards for them. That’s not something we had the capability to do pre-Cloud,” explains Matt Webb.

The evolution of Anne Arundel County’s GIS is evident from the customer service inquiries received via email. After joining the Cloud, we’ve received an extremely limited number of complaints. 

“Now, when we receive a question about a dataset, we don’t have to scramble to put it together – 95% of the time it’s already published and we just need to point them to it.”

Using GIS in the Cloud, the Anne Arundel County OIT GIS members are able to differentiate their county, demonstrate a commitment to digital transformation and a deep understanding of their communities needs, and create a strategic plan for future growth. The county’s GIS serves its community better in the Cloud – providing citizens with much-needed information on-demand.

While the Cloud will help Anne Arundel County’s GIS department further their goals, they also are freed up to focus on planning based on their partnership with ROK as a managed service provider to move their GIS forward. The story of Anne Arundel County is just one example of how migrating to the cloud can benefit local governments.

“We call it a force multiplier. You can focus on the GIS because you have a team behind you handling all of the infrastructure, upgrades, and backup - you can be more effective at the things you’re trying to do as a GIS professional.”

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