Cloud-Powered Transformation: Tennessee City’s Journey to Enhanced Growth, Connectivity and Speed

The City of Lebanon Case Study

The City of Lebanon invests in GIS

The City of Lebanon relies on a small network of GIS employees to support its day-to-day functions from emergency response such as the police and fire departments to the utilities such as water, sewer, and gas departments. The GIS department’s efforts support an estimated 38,000 citizens and nearly 500 city employees. Since approximately 80 percent of local government’s work involves a geographic component, the City of Lebanon chose to invest in GIS technology.

"GIS has the ability to provide an effective way to collect and manage geographical information that is crucial to the operation of City government."

GIS with the help of ESRI software is a vital tool used to store, analyze, and display spatial data in a way that identifies problems or patterns, supports decision-making, increases accessibility of data, and improves the ability to report information

Kevin Cross, GIS Manager, oversees the city’s GIS department, projects, and staff members. There is a dedicated GIS manager for each of the major departments – water/sewer, gas as well as three servicing City Hall and handling stormwater planning and day-to-day administrative functions. 


The Need to Future Proof

The City of Lebanon was having problems with their on-premise GIS servers – consistently at max capacity with their on premise servers; leading to continual upgrades for the connectivity and speed needed for the GIS network, system and software. Issues with slow load times in their ArcGIS software even with beefy computers and servers was the norm. They also had challenges with constant hardware upgrade needs to meet demands and budgeting for hardware they may not need. 

It was a challenge to accurately budget and justify the upgrades, plus there was the loss of productivity waiting for servers to be purchased, built and deployed.

Fast forward to today with servers in the Cloud, when there are capacity issues and slow performance, the GIS team “makes a phone call and there is an immediate resolution.”

EF-4 Tornadoes ripped through Middle Tennessee in March 2020 killing 4 in Lebanon led the city’s GIS team to recognize they needed a more disaster resilient solution. In that same year the county seat of Wilson County, Tennessee, moved their GIS data and infrastructure from on-premise servers to the AWS cloud—modernizing their GIS—to future proof against natural disasters and other unexpected events.

“We spent a lot of time trying to upgrade hardware to meet the demands; a lot of time acquiring that hardware, making it ready and then throwing in natural disasters, that was the tipping point.”

Today in the Cloud, Lebanon has more insight and flexibility with their cost structure and therefore budgeting allowing for them to keep their financial projections on target. Additionally, the Cloud “saved our IT department quite a few headaches with us – [reducing] the amount of servers we have and the amount of uptime we need”

Tornados, Pandemic, Hardware, Oh My!

The city’s GIS department had up to 4 dedicated servers that constantly required maintenance when Kevin and team started discussing the Cloud with their IT team. “Our IT department has a lot of sway within the city so when they buyin to what we’re trying to do, it makes things a lot easier.” Even with IT on board very quickly, things still took time. The city was in the midst of the pandemic and recovering from tornados and so the city had multiple priorities that needed attention. 

ROK Technologies, already a City of Lebanon partner for mapping services, provided expertise and availability early on, helping navigate options and ultimately prepare for their Cloud migration. During this evaluation and consideration period, Lebanon had many questions – how will our data stay secure? Where will our data be stored? What does the process look like to scale our capacity? –  that ROK, a managed Cloud Service Provider, were able to easily and confidently answer and specific to their city’s needs.

And so at 4:30pm on a Friday, Lebanon’s GIS team stopped working and ROK got to work. Over the weekend, ROK migrated the city’s data – files, images, etc. – from their on premise servers. They also set up file structures and permissions within the Citrix environment for the team’s day-to-day data usage needs. The team was back at work on Monday morning without skipping a beat. The migration process was a targeted partnership with ROK managing the technical part and Lebanon focused on user access and credentials. The process was quick and seamless thanks to well-planned upfront conversations.


The Solution Makes Mondays Easy

The first thing of note that Monday morning was the “ease of use” – their ArcGIS platform simply worked better for them. The team was no longer sitting around to “wait on data to load”. They also had a managed cloud partner available 24/7 if and when they needed to reach out.

“When you have members of the public in your office waiting on a map to be printed; the mayor or a council member asking for updates; it's nice to have our data load instantly.”

Additionally, the Cloud and MSP freed up resources and troubleshooting headspace, saving the IT department numerous hours per week. Being able to access data from anywhere as long as they had an internet connection was a big benefit, especially during remote work periods. 

“One of the big benefits was the ease of collaboration. If I needed a document that somebody in one of my colleagues had or vice versa, a message could be sent pretty easily."

Thanks to the Cloud, Lebanon was able to take full advantage of GeoEvent for routing sanitation work as well as for a stream sensor project that led to the city being awarded a 2021 Esri SAG Award. This modernization project helps predict flooding in downtown Lebanon and provide citizens with future advance notification of flooding.

How ROK supports the City of Lebanon

ROK Technologies ensures that their data is backed up on a nightly, and sometimes hourly basis as needed; that software certificates are working and that they don’t lapse or expire; that authorized vendors can access the servers and data needed for their business partnerships; and ports are working properly. ROK also provides subject matter expertise on creating new databases; provides reassurance that Lebanon is “thinking of things correctly” by implementing Esri and AWS best practices; and offers guidance on explaining why something is or is not working. 

“Somebody changed an ID field that has broken the script and we need to identify why because we rely on that data. And ROK has been really good about answering those quickly and getting to make sure that we're up and running at our fullest capacity.”

The City of Lebanon relies on ROK Technologies and appreciates their prompt response time. “I figure I’ll cause a little headache on them right now to make sure I’m doing it correctly before I cause a bigger headache for them.” when asked why he frequently contacts ROK for advice.


The Benefits Keep Growing

By transitioning to Citrix virtual desktops, Lebanon’s GIS department shifted their focus from maintaining high-performance desktops in physical locations to optimizing virtual counterparts. The virtual desktops now handle the heavy lifting, transmitting pixels, not data, to the local desktop. This realization and shift not only streamlined operations but also alleviated the burden on IT. Now, IT can focus less on procuring top-tier hardware and graphics cards and more on strategic IT initiatives, marking a significant improvement in efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The City of Lebanon’s police and fire department vetted a new partner for dispatching software and  “just having the Cloud made it much easier to share data back and forth with the vendor seamlessly”. The dispatch process requires speed, accuracy, 24/7 access and when peoples’ lives are at stake, high uptime is extremely important. The Cloud provides the City of Lebanon with:

Since migrating to the Cloud, the GIS department is now responsible for the 911 dispatch process; implementing CityWorks; and serving local departments underserved because of lack of resourcing and technology.

Change is good

Kevin’s advice for other state and local governments considering moving to the Cloud is to understand what the overall organizational goals are for utilizing the Cloud. Understanding the initial cost of a Cloud migration is critical, but it’s equally important to recognize the long-term benefits that can and will significantly outweigh the upfront investment. As the saying goes, “measure twice (or ten times), but cut once” holds true for migrating to the Cloud. The primary lesson learned for the City of Lebanon is to do the upfront work to avoid being overwhelmed once everything is in motion.

Despite initial sticker shock, the City of Lebanon’s GIS team had decision maker buy-in – conveying the overall time savings for resources and the enhanced focus on critical departments, to facilitate a smoother adoption process. The city further added to their case, how IT would not have to invest as much in GIS needs and by transitioning their GIS tasks to the Cloud (and ROK Technologies), IT could refocus that saved time and put it toward more strategic initiatives and provide more attention and value to fire, police, and building inspection departments.

"Change is always good…But don’t jump into it too quickly."


Why the Cloud?

The City of Lebanon’s GIS department ultimately chose to migrate their GIS to the Cloud and have their Cloud experience managed by ROK Technologies, MSP for several key reasons.

  • Faster performance and load times for their ArcGIS software compared to their on-premise servers
  • Eliminated the need to constantly purchase and upgrade hardware to meet increasing demands of the team and Esri software
  • Provided more scalability limiting the need to predict the future 
  • Offered a more disaster resilient solution 
  • Allowed for better collaboration for distributed and remote workforces


At ROK, we take your GIS to the Cloud.

Contact us today to see how we can help your organization.




This case study was conducted virtually via a 1:1 Zoom interview in Q2 2023 with Kevin Cross


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