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GIS in Business Processes

Angela Ionita
Senior Researcher
Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Romanian Academy, Romania
Email: [email protected]

Marcel Foca
Director of Intergraph Computer Services, Romania

Marius Ienculecu-Popovici
Consultant for Solutions in Public Administration
Intergraph Computer Services, Romania

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are becoming a part of mainstream business and management operations around the world in organizations as diverse as cities, state government, utilities, telecommunications, railroads, civil engineering, petroleum exploration, retailing, etc. in private and public sectors. This array of institutional types is integrating GIS into their daily operations, and the applications associated with these systems are equally broad from infrastructure management, to vehicle routing, to site selection, to research and analysis. This paper presents a point of view regarding the place and the importance of GIS in Business Processes, with a few simple examples and mentioning the most important trends in our point of view: extending business intelligence with geographic information systems. The framework proposed in this paper refers the process of collecting and creating knowledge within the organization such as Intelligent Community, represented here by City Hall. The application area used in our examples represents a good example of the organisations, which exhibits the characteristics of a modern organisation. Work performed in these organisations requires knowledge sharing, reuse, exploration and reflection. Preliminary results indicate the utility of the proposed framework, as well as opportunities for further development, including its suitability for generalisation to other areas. In the last part of this paper are presented the trends in the evolution of GIS, Business Processes and Business Intelligence and some conclusions.

Much Geographical Information (GI) data already exists, most often collected by public organizations in the framework of their mandated management activities, focused on the needs of GI users and potential users, better understand and demonstrate the potential of multimedia GI content for economic development and for the improvement of commercial and public services to the citizen. Many of these organizations are beginning to explore the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their decision making processes by generating maps that convey information gleaned from their respective databases. Spatial display and analysis will be important in many workflow scenarios.

Over the last decade we have confronted with a lot of examples of GIS applications that have produced useful spatial data products for different organisations from public to private sectors. The applications have clearly been beneficial but most of organisations are still facing with the challenges of implementing applications of GIS technology, as suggested by on-going popularity of “enterprise GIS”, “GIS data sharing”, “multipurpose GIS”, “multi-participant GIS” terms.

In this context, the GIS world is confronted with three major problems:

  1. what is the best movement beyond GIS implementation practices of today in order to reach/discovery the future best practices;
  2. where will keep getting new ideas for improving the implementation of GIS applications to adapt to a continually changing world;
  3. what is the best way to understand and exploit the new GIS possibilities due to the dramatic developments in information technology and communications (high speed networking, data compression, complex spatial data types, etc.) which can enable significant organizational improvements.

In order to progress on those problems, the hope is to develop a more systematic theoretical foundation for understanding of GIS application implementation within and among organizations. According to [1] “…one of the keys to this better foundational understanding is to do with the business processes (and their tacit/explicit knowledge content) which GIS aims to improve … Finally, we need some way of judging which processes are likely to be improved in which situations with the applications of GIS. In other words, improving GIS implementation is highly dependent on being able to adequately and properly capture the embedded tacit and explicit knowledge in business processes and apply them through GIS”.

Business Processes
A lot of different procedures for identification and improving business processes have been developed and tried by businesses with varying degrees of success. Some of the most notable earlier procedures include Porter’s Value Chain and Total Quality Management (TQM), which were used during the 1980s. Business Process Reengineering was popular during the 1990 decade. The 1990s also saw the emergence of the Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) package software systems most of these procedures are actively evolving. For example, TQM is being replaced with Six Sigma methodology; Business Process Reengineering is evolving into Business Process Redesign [4]. Other processes such as Continuous Quality Improvements, Management by Objective, Management by Walking Around, Customer Focus Management have also emerged [8].

The use of information and communications technology and Business Process management is becoming a core competency that every business must have in order to function in today’s global and highly competitive business environment. All of the various business process improvement procedures are merging into the single discipline of Business Process Management. In [2] is presented a useful list of four major business processes including: business process improvements, business process reengineering, technology transfer, and process standardization. Harmon [4] completed a similar list, which include the following three processes: improvement process, process redesign, process reengineering.

In today’s world, business is acquiring the new information management technology through the purchase of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. GIS solutions are part of COTS solutions because in business areas, it is not affordable to develop and maintain custom software that closely matches their business processes and requirements. The COTS solution is then configured or tailored to match, as closely is possible, the existing business processes. But a perfect match is not possible and adjustments must be made. Developing custom software models or application to be used with/in a COTS solution to accommodate the existing business processes is a dangerous approach that often leads to time consuming and additional cost and there is no guarantee that custom modules and/or application will work with COTS. Adjusting business processes and practices to match the capabilities and functions of the new technology is a much more reasonable approach. Developing more efficient business processes is often the best way to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Developing workflow to provide information and data to the users when they need it can avoid time spent looking for the information or waiting for the information to arrive. Most of the major COTS evolving GIS solutions incorporate industry accepted best practices and implementing these practices as part of the COTS implementation could provide additional efficiencies. In actual practices most businesses use a combination of custom application and business process modification to implement a new COTS solution. Although GIS is often viewed as a technology project and an arena for the technically sophisticated computer professional, the development of a successful enterprise GIS is dependent more on proper management participation and supervision than on technical solutions.

Some examples
Regarding Romania, as in most of other countries, government agencies in charge of geographic information have the combined challenge of improving performance, learning to cooperate through partnerships within the limitation of budget restrictions, and satisfying increasing user demands. Otherwise, they will be unable to accomplish their goal of providing valuable information to support increased knowledge and national policy.

For specialized domain of geospatial solutions implemented in Romania, the project developed by Intergraph Computer Services, Romania, at the City Hall of Bucharest (CHB) is a focal point. By the content area of solutions, by the complexity of solved problems and by the degree of information’s integration and geospatial functionalities in the framework of integrated information system of the institution, this project is unprecedented in Romania. This complex system has been awarded, in 27 April 2005, in San Francisco, USA, with Intergraph’s 2005 Geospatial Achievement Award for the component named Urban Data Bank.

At the beginning, the problems have been approached as “puzzle”: the financial department with his own solution, the urban planning department with his own solution etc. In short time turn up the fact that is necessary a parallel approach of all domains of activity, planified and integrated. In the first step, the Urban Data Bank (UBD – the official name of the solution) serves for 43 departments of CHB, where is needed the visualization, analysis or designing of geographic information (GI) in more than 200 different work processes. The surprise for both teams: the team of supplier and the team of beneficiary, during the request’s analysis has been the discovery of GI users in the unexpected places, in addition to the traditional directions responsible for cadastre, property, urban development or infrastructure management within a city hall.

This example prove that the definition of an enterprise GIS should not be measured by traditional numbers of layers, feature classes or departments whose spatial data has been captured. Having the information is only the first step in building an enterprise GIS.

Another example, the employees of an office for administrative documents archiving discovered that by using the access to spatial data from UDB, shorted and simplified significantly the processes of finding the old documents advanced more years ago. Or, the secretariat responsible for the advancing of authorization for public meetings deployment, based on the spatial analysis of the information managed by CHB, may identify the conflicts between the requested route adopted by demonstrants and other activities on territory of the city.

In this framework, few years ago, most of 300 employees being no users of GIS, today becomes current users of geospatial information. Much more, in order to avoid the bottleneck generated by vectorization by few GIS specialists of graphical elements needed for daily workflow in 43 departments, the graphical edition it is not the monopole of “GIS Office” (does not exist in CHB) but it is the responsibility of primary user’s information, whatever in what department is placed.

With other words, an enterprise GIS should be defined and measured simply by the number and percentage of people in the organization utilizing GIS on a daily basis to accomplish the core business process of the organization (CHB). And the mainly question could be reformulated as: are the day-to-day business processes carried out by the people working at the front counter, answering the phone, going out into the field, processing the back office information and paperwork, collecting the data necessary to make a decision or managing the people who accomplish all of this using GIS?

The first step to answer is given by the formulation and acceptance of new concepts.

In the building of the CHB solution, the starting point has been the fact that for this “new comings” in geospatial world the accuracy and correctness of the location of geographic elements it is not critical – anyway, not in the same degree as for cadastre – and for this reason it is not necessary the special training in topography, geodesy, cadastre, etc., for the vectorization of element.

In this way we are confronted with the “approximate geometry” and “editors for approximate geometry” terms in a graphical environment based on web technology. In the special cases, approximate geometry, if necessary, generated by simple user but managing workflows depending on the geospatial components, will be checked and corrected by GIS specialists from cadastre department.

Another example is how to assign the post number. In order to understand how work in CHB, we can analyse what happen at the assignment of postal number and the advancement of appropriated certificate (without this document no more works to do in Bucharest). In the specialized department responsible for this workflow there are no topography or geodesy specialists and, in this case, was necessary to work on the paper maps, in order to mark with red pencil on 1:500 plan, the property entities for what has been advanced a postal number certificates, according to the documents of requesters.

By implementing UDB, in addition to the employment of information support of data recording, the property entities are loaded also in graphical way, with “approximate geometry”, precisely by the same employees processing the requests and certificates. Later, the specialists from cadastre will correct or revectorize these elements based on the measurements.

Hardly now will be closed the whole workflow which is moved to two departments during some months but in the transition phase facilitated the access to the vital set of information: there is a property entity, located on the street x, at the postal number y having an owner Z for what has been advanced a series of documents for consultation. Who know the implications of those information in the current activity of city hall, the difference between an information marked with red on a plan from a cupboard in one department and the same information from database, accessible to all departments, even in the “approximate geometry” step, discovery the consequences and the benefits of a distributed geospatial solution at the level of whole institution.

Building GIS into the business process does not mean that someone somewhere in the organization uses GIS to move the process along, but that each person involved in the business process who needs land records information uses GIS technology to move the business process along.

Building GIS into the business processes of an organization is a really challenge. The technologies used in these business processes must be capable of integrating with and using GIS technology. One approach to expanding the use of GIS in business processes is to simply give access to GIS tools to the people involved in the business process. This can be accomplishing in one of several manners. The most popular two methods are to put a desktop GIS application on each computer or to provide web access to the GIS for the people in the business processes. But in order to be effective it is necessary to have and to use a spatial/geographical data infrastructure at appropriate level (local/national/regional).

Replacing core business applications or integrating GIS into them is not easy and may be expensive. In fact, the vision of an enterprise GIS being defined in terms of numbers and percentage of users instead of the amount of data or number of layers should be the guiding statement towards achieving the efficiency in business processes because will provide a maximum return on investment made in GIS, placing the benefits of GIS into the hands of the people who most need to make daily decisions using spatial information in decision making and integration tasks are well documented and the advantages should be put to use.

“For those specialized in operations developed at the level of (big) city hall, this level of complexity in IT problem it is not to shock and the decision of this city hall in order to propose an ambitious project and to develop such complex system for information management, it seemly to be a natural consequence of the solution of awareness problem. But for somebody accustomed to the slowness of movements in Romania in general and in public sector, in particular, the existence of such a project could be amazingly, and CHB as institution should be revolutionary” [5].

But CHB is not alone as client waiting for GIS to extent the functionalities out of the departmental limits and to be the glue of information management systems and workflows of whole organization in order to become a tool offering general coherence in the management of organization.

“An IT system for the management of 389 data levels with more than 4000 different characteristics at the whole organization level, seems to be a singular demand in the IT scenary of the Romanian public administration. But on the geospatial solutions market, systems like the above mentioned one trends to become a standard and paradoxically, Romania can be qualified as one of the most demanding GIS markets in the world. The public administration systems in the advanced countries inherit old systems, implemented one by one 10-15 years ago in order to solve departmental problems. For a Romanian complex projects, the main challenge for the solution supplier is to shape the daily work flow of the organization within the IT system, but also to integrate ERP or CRM systems with geospatial databases into one functional solution. The Romanian customers often requests the integration of the data pertaining to various processes into a single database that would feed information to a variety of automated systems and applications. The result will be a relational geographical inventory of all infrastructure components, digital geographical maps generated at all users level, more effective work flow management, better operations organization and, by all means, cost monitoring. This is why geospatial solutions are the implicit part of an integrated system, and the geospatial information has to be considered the foundation of an effective management based on an integrated decision system.” [3].

The complex systems such as the system for CHB and the system of City Hall of Oradea outlined that is necessary to be developed in more than a single step. For the project regarding the management of the geospatial development of the metropolitan area, according to [7] in the first step was necessary to create the Local Council for GIS from the City Hall, water, gas, electrical and thermic energy providers and only few branches of some national agencies. Latter has been added the cadastre office, environmental agency and private companies. This approach leads to an active solution of the problem of centralized administration of a city in developing but also for the request concerning the integration in the management of the locality and management of the neighbourhoods.

The role of prototyping
Such ambitious project it is not possible to be developed only with local funds. In 1998 the team initiated a pilot funded by SALA (the Federation of Municipalities from Sweden). The results of this project constitute the starting point for an exclusive financement from Local Council of Oradea until 1999, when has been obtained the first co-financements from the Ministry of Public Works and Land Administration. The project beneficiated by the in-house development, reducing the costs. In additional, the Flemish Government supported the implementation by IMIS (Infrastructure Management Information System) and City of Linkoping from Sweden, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), Hemmis and City of Warregen from Belgium got the consultancy [7]. The technical solution has been the GeoMedia from Intergraph Co.

It is know the fact that in an intelligent community, such as a City Hall, in order to communicate geographically it is necessary to define, adopt and to adapt some standards. In this idea and because the technical solution belong to Intergraph Co., the natural extension has been the development of a “Methodology for establishing the unique standards in urban planning and land administration with a view of the employment of GIS at the level of City of Oradea” referring the implementation of an information system for urban planning and running as tool for improvement of efficiency; control of urban development in City of Oradea; enhancing the exchange of information in real time between the users, free of used software platform; protection of the historical ensembles and monuments; decision support at the local level; decision transparency growth at local level [7].

In September 1996 a Gartner Group report use the term of Business Intelligence (BI): “By 2000, Information Democracy will emerge in forward-thinking enterprises, with Business Intelligence information and applications available broadly to employees, consultants, customers, suppliers, and the public. The key to thriving in a competitive marketplace is staying ahead of the competition. Making sound business decisions based on accurate and current information takes more than intuition. Data analysis, reporting, and query tools can help business users wade through a sea of data to synthesize valuable information from it – today these tools collectively fall into a category called “Business Intelligence.” It is important to mention that BI is not a single application. It consists of a series of components that interact behind the scenes to extract electronic data, assemble it, analyze it and display it in a form that is easy to work with and understand. These components include a database; an Extract, Transform and Load data tool; analytic tools; reporting/querying tools; training.

In [6] is presented a point of view regarding the synergistic power that can be exploited by extending business intelligence with geographic information systems, based on the scope, the fundamentals, and the commonalities. Each of the functions of BI and GIS suggest four areas in which research and applications should focus: human resources, data management, decision making and collaboration, and planning systems.

The need for coordinated and collaborative business processes is changing the face of how these processes are modeled, executed and managed. GIS is important in BI because most business problems include significant spatial components and GIS enables decision makers to leverage their spatial data resources more effectively. Customer Relationship Management, Enterprise Resources Planning, Supply Chain Management, and more others are acronyms for some solutions designed to extract and analyze information from data warehouses and allow decision-makers to perform at a higher level of efficiency. But data on it’s own has no value. Without simple visual ways to integrate, display and analyse, it is possible to end up with massive amounts of data but no information. From a particularly point of view, the geo-spatial data and maps managed within an enterprise GIS represent a kind of common “language” that is understood within and across organizational boundaries. This “language” has the power to weave together and integrate traditionally disparate business functions. Each of these diverse functions is ultimately dependent upon the location and spatial relationships between real property, assets, and people.


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