There’s a Map for That

Blue Sky GIS – What I Do (2012)

Often one of the most over looked aspects of a housing organisation is the map guy/gal. Having been used for years by Local Authorities it is something the sector is still getting to grips with. I’m lucky enough to sit next to one of the two GIS specialists in our organisation and get a front row view of their work. Whilst we often jokingly refer to them as ‘colourers in chief’ their impact cannot be under-estimated. Depending on your size, geographical spread and ability to use data you have to hand, those what dabble in a bit of cartography can also be a gem for you and your kin.

GIS, what does that entail exactly

G.I.S. itself stands for Geographical Information System (don’t worry, I googled that too). It’s a means by which to use, manipulate, visualise and otherwise demonstrate data. In short a GIS Officer/Analyst/Necromancer is someone au fait with all things Maps and data. They can help identify areas of land to sell off, reduce costs relating to boundary searches/disputes and liaise with Land Registry (not for the faint hearted, you may need a live sacrifice). In addition, they can work with your estates team(s) to more accurately identify and cost areas of work for internal teams and external contractors. Ultimately, they can save you a lot of money.

That’s cool, show me the money

You’re not going to be making it rain à la Floyd Mayweather in a strip club, but you will need to drop a dollar or two. GIS specialists don’t grow on trees, but they are available. Though it depends on your organisation’s size, structure and what you want to achieve as to how much you need to spend. It’s worth noting that having just one person who is a specialist, at least at the start, is not a wise move. At the initial phase you will need to smash through a lot of set up work. Like clearing out your old eccentric uncle’s garage when he dies there will be a lot of crap to sort in the beginning.

So what do I get out of it?

So you’ve taken the plunge and gone in on GIS for your organisation. Easy part done, time to justify your shopping spree. First port of call – visualising information en masse. Let’s face it data is boring. Whilst some of us can see the patterns a bit like Neo in the Matrix, for the average Joe/Joetta having some way of displaying lots of factual tit bits is better than loads of figures on a spreadsheet. Mapping that stuff (where appropriate) can help. Showing stock/population density is a good start (nothing says stock rationalisation like seeing one property miles from any other stock), highlighting areas where arrears are above average, locations/concentrations of ASB cases are all things that can be plonked on a map. Mrs Jones threatening legal action over encroachment on her property? No worries, use boundary information and a bit of software that is accurate to within 3 inches to show she is chatting bollocks/right [delete whichever is appropriate]. Got to map and locate all trees you are liable for (yes, this is a thing check it out here if you don’t believe me, sexy stuff eh?). No worries. Go out, survey the sods, get it logged, map it. Viola! All your botanically based public liabilities neatly mapped.

The possibilities aren’t endless, but there’s a lot of them. You can also get to a stage where most staff members can use a watered down version of GIS to self-serve, freeing up your specialists for the more complex stuff. Of course that largely depends on your data being up to scratch, but I’ll leave that potential horror story well alone for today.

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