A Governor and a Geologist Meet an Environmentalist and a Hospital Administrator - Result: Executive Champions

By Joe Francica

_No, this isn't the beginning of a familiar parlor game. It's what happens when you gather very smart people who understand the fundamental principles of geospatial data integration. At ESRI's Senior Executive Seminar (SES), held the day before the User's Conference convened in San Diego, senior managers gathered to hear their peers discuss the ways in which they moved GIS out of the backroom and into the boardroom. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana; Keith Everill, information assurance manager for BP America; Ruthita Fike, CEO of Loma Linda University Medical Center; and Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency all provided dramatic examples of GIS underpinning strategic policy decisions. Here are their stories.

GIS for Statewide Economic Development
Schweitzer of Montana seems to be cut from the same mold as previous politicians from the western United States who have graced the SES stage in past years, including John Hickenlooper (mayor of Denver), Judy Martz (former governor of Montana), Jeremy Harris (former mayor of Honolulu) and Jim Geringer (former governor of Wyoming, now ESRI executive). A former soil scientist, Schweitzer is using GIS to convince citizenry, businesses and foreign investors that Montana is rich in energy resources. Using GIS, the governor has the data to back up the claim.

Governor Schweitzer provided details on land ownership management in the state and the difference between owning land versus owning mineral rights. There are 56 counties with information about land in two databases: land ownership and mineral ownership. These data are in different places. Schweitzer wants to place them in a repository which will show soil types, demographics, mineral rights, land ownership, geology and any information about energy development. "There are real opportunities ... the more overlays, the more business that will be spawned," said Schweitzer. "Imagine what all of the data we have in a digital form will do for all of us who are in public policy."

Montana's economy is based on multiple assets. Schweitzer wants to promote Big Sky country as an "energy" state, with riches in coal, natural gas, wind and biofuels. The state contains 28% of the U.S. coal reserves and the maps to prove it. He explained to the SES crowd how to mitigate potential pollution problems, capturing the carbon emissions by pumping the CO2 back into the ground near existing wells to enhance oil recovery.

Schweitzer also illustrated the wind power potential of Montana. He quipped, "Wind doesn't blow all the time. You consumers are the problem ... The wind doesn't necessarily blow when you need your (bread) toasted." To address the challenge Schweitzer is looking for salt domes where it is possible to store compressed air. The stored air could be released at a constant rate to turn turbines which would generate a continuous flow of electricity. Currently, about two-thirds of the electricity produced in Montana is shipped out of state.

Biofuels and the education of future farmers are two areas of Montana's GIS-related economic development. The technology is also being used to plan for new training programs at colleges to support workforce development in proximity to the areas where new power plants are being considered. Schweitzer expressed dismay at the lack of vision from the current slate of presidential candidates of either party. "If one of those candidates stands up and says we are going to have an Apollo-style mission (i.e. like John Kennedy did for the space program) for energy independence in the U.S., he will be elected president. This is the greatest challenge in our history, and I hope and pray that we get it right."

GIS for Corporate Strategy in the Oil Business
Keith Everill, the information assurance manager for BP America's Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Exploration, had the task of forming a group to better understand the return on investment from GIS at BP.

Although BP first purchased ESRI's ArcInfo in 1989, the development of GIS in the company was mostly at a small scale with an unsupported, informal network. Multiple tools and versions were scattered across the company; there were no standards and no mechanisms to share data. It made it hard to operate in a federated approach. "Our approach was inconsistent. We had aligned our operating system tools like Microsoft Office, but there was no common strategy to govern the use of GIS tools that accommodated a common operating environment," said Everill. Then, during a regular review meeting of technology operations, a spark ignited in the mind of one key manager, which led to a review of all GIS technology and the proposal to articulate its value in business terms across BP. A small team was formed from across all departments to conduct interviews with managers, hold workshops and develop an online survey for global operations managers.

The resulting finding: BP had been slow to realize the potential value behind a robust exploitation of GIS. As group vice president, Ian Vann put it this way: "Geographic information is a critical underpinning of the E&P [exploration and production] business. It plays a fundamental role in all of our decisions." Suddenly, the goal of obtaining the absolute return on investment (ROI) of GIS, as a strict dollar amount, wasn't so important.

The search for best practices resulted in finding a wealth of applications across all areas of its operations. BP found that it had world class GIS solutions but they were disconnected. GIS in some operations carried a substantial business value. It was surprising to find how heavily utilized GIS was across many aspects of the business lifecycle, such as environmental analysis, emergency preparedness, compliance, operations and others. The opportunities to develop GIS were reinforced through this internal study. It led to a simple realization: "Energy is a spatial business." Everill said, "Everything happens somewhere. We had been trapped in an electronic office without realizing the power to integrate it all; small actions can have big impacts." Conversations first focused on the impact GIS had already had, and then discussion moved to integrating information systems and looking at a common operating platform.

Where to go? BP needed to enable both expert and casual users. The greater value of GIS would be realized when the technology could be embedded into core workflows. Throughout the course of the project it become apparent that GIS was already having a major impact and the applicability cut across the entire business. BP acknowledged that the true GIS value proposition was based on understanding where it was used throughout the full business lifecycle of the company. Now, the company is considering how others can use GIS, including those in marketing and gas processing operations.

GIS for Medical "Geoinformatics"
Ruthita Fike is using GIS to investigate health issues. She calls it "health geoinformatics." As CEO of Loma Linda University Medical Center, she has a vision to use GIS to improve health care delivery, educate the next generation of health professionals and refine research initiatives. Loma Linda University is the first educational institution to offer a bachelor's degree in health geographics.

Loma Linda University Medical Center operates a level-one trauma center for an area that represents 25% of the state of California. It is also located in one of the most earthquake prone areas of the country. Fike recognized that services over such a large area resulted in fragmentation. In 2005, the medical center approached ESRI on a project called "Discoveries" – a Web-based GIS for emergency medical services. The objective was to locate victims as well as first responders. The result was the creation of EGIS – Advanced Emergency GIS. The system maps the locations of ambulances, helicopters, fire department personnel and law officers along with real-time traffic congestion zones to help plot the fastest route to hospitals. All emergency responders can access the Web and the data are updated in real-time.

The center is part of the Seventh Day Adventist network of health care centers worldwide. Loma Linda supports the network by linking organ donors worldwide with resource-poor communities. "Place does matter when it comes to the quality of healthcare ... GIS has given Loma Linda a powerful tool to improve health worldwide … It is helping our mission in saving lives," said Fike.

GIS For Environmental Policy
"What you see when you travel around Europe is the diversity of how people live and the environmental conditions," said Jacqueline McGlade, the executive director of European Environment Agency (EEA) based in Belgium. The job of the EEA is to monitor the environment and warn regions when risks begin to appear. The organization provides information to policy officials as well as cost/benefit analysis to support policymaking. "(We) bring data together, make it reliable, and make it understandable," said McGlade.

McGlade has begun to ask some fundamental questions using GIS. "Are people margined by their environment? What are the natural margins? This is where GDP [gross domestic product] does not translate into longevity because certain parts of the population are marginalized, even those in close proximity to wealth." Europe has focused on spatial integration, identifying interoperability as a key issue from the beginning. EEA was behind this push.

EEA's Water Information System for Europe provides an example of this thinking. The objective is to support the creation of water accounts and to evaluate the amount of water available in various locations. Another example is EEA's near real-time ozone monitoring. The objective here is to link monitoring stations across Europe. Every three hours, all stations report through a central reporting station. Information is fed to hospitals and this is filtered to patients with pulmonary problems like emphysema.

Additional services that the EEA intends to provide include sensor Web enablement, energy mapping, an inventory of real-time emissions, and reporting of oil spills at sea where ship identification and the risk of spreading oil slicks are immediately addressed.

While working in the U.S, McGlade was amazed at how many government agencies were working on delivering free data to the public. Not so in Europe. After returning home, she experimented with offering EEA data to public. There has been a growing demand for EEA data, which demonstrates the multiplicative benefits of data used over and over by both public and private entities. McGlade has become a strong advocate of free data for the public and the recognition that a different business model is in front of the European community.

Published Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Written by Joe Francica

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