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The Data Czar: Developing a Life Cycle for GIS

April 19, 2010
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One of most significant constituents in the structure of any business is its information systems. Information systems are critical mechanisms that support an organization's strategic goals. To keep projects on track, on time and on budget, adherence to the software life-cycle process is crucial. The process methodology should comprise seven key phases, with each phase containing a host of tasks and respective metrics from which to measure successes and mitigate its failures.

As Haag, Cummings and Phillips explain in their book Management Information Systems for the Information Age,* the first of these is the planning phase, in which critical success factors (CSFs) are identified and prioritized. These CSFs are essential requirements and must be documented and adhered to in your project scope, lest you allow feature creep to set in. List tasks, assign them to responsible individuals and set milestones for their completion.

A hefty portion of GIS development enters at the second phase, which consists of identifying business requirements. No stone must be left unturned when investigating what it takes to make GIS function from a business perspective. No GIS can fulfill its mission if it does not truly address the people, their concerns and the prioritized strategic goals of the organization. Sign-off of this document by those interviewed provides confirmation of what is required of the system and should be listed as a major milestone in the project. It is from this document that the transition from a logical format to a technical design definition begins.

The design phase includes everything from the architecture to modeling the graphical user interface. Once this stage is completed, development of the system begins. Designs are converted to platforms, spatial databases, and applications. To make sure all components function as they should both individually and as an integrated system, rigorous test conditions must be written and performed on each piece of the code and system. A user acceptance test (UAT) should also be performed as a way of fulfilling the business requirements.

In the implementation phase, training is provided as well as help and user documents to assist in using the new system. Finally, ongoing maintenance is the phase that will keep the system functioning smoothly, by providing for example, a help desk. Such a strategy would set up the machinery to handle issues with the current system as well as address dynamic business process changes.

An untold number of dollars are spent each year on the development and implementation of systems. Geographic information systems are becoming a greater percentage of these deployments, particularly in the frugal government sector where the thirst for spatial congruency rages. Harnessing the software development life cycle (SDLC) can foster efficient information systems implementations and provide secure and reliable business solutions on time and within budget.


*Stephen Haag, Maeve Cummings, and Donald J. McCubbrey, Management Information Systems for the Information Age, McGraw-Hill Companies, 4th edition (January 2003).


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