Women in GIS: Liza Casey

By Directions Staff

What is your position at the City?
I am Director of Enterprise GIS for the City of Philadelphia attached to the Mayor's Office of Information Services.I have worked for the City for eleven years; for six of those years I was in the City's Housing agency as the Director of IT.I discovered GIS at Housing where I had long been working on integrating the City's address based databases such as those used by Revenue, the Tax Assessor, the Department of Licenses and Inspections and so on.

Liza Casey
I realized GIS was perfect for what I wanted to do at Housing.Before long I began to realize the impact GIS could have across the board in City government.I became Philadelphia's biggest cheerperson for GIS.In 1993 Mayor Rendell created the position of CIO with responsibility for all IT Citywide and sign off on all IT acquisitions.I came to the attention of the CIO in connection with a GIS Task Force and shortly afterwards he brought me here to function as his deputy for GIS.

What is your background?
As far as formal education, I have a BA in Philosophy from the University of Rochester.(Sorry, Jack, I know that means I am really not qualified to be a GIO after all.) However, all of my work experience has been in IT.I have taken numerous courses and have been to quite a bit of training (I've also functioned in the role of teacher and trainer) but I think the things that were most important for me to have learned, I have learned on the job and from my professional relationships with colleagues in the industry and my own staff.

Would you recommend GIS to other women?
I love my job and being a part of this industry.I would recommend involvement in GIS to almost anyone.I think it is important to point out that GIS is not a single career path.The attendees of the ESRI User Conference are often called collectively "the largest gathering of GIS professionals in the world." These "GIS professionals" are engaged in a very diverse range of activities which all touch some aspect of GIS.Some of them are involved in the development of new mapping technologies; others use the technology to build applications.Some of them are involved in creating data or building data conversion methodologies; others are responsible for using GIS to manage physical infrastructure such as utilities.The expertise of some is in the telecommunications and computing infrastructure that supports GIS and others are database experts.There are also many GIS professionals who are applying GIS to the sciences such as environmentalists or social geographers or, like me, to government activities.

There will continue to be a need for people who are professional geographers and cartographers.There will be jobs involving the use of GIS tools, geodesist for example, where mapping is central to the work they do.However, I think, especially with burgeoning mass access to applications like MapPoint, employers in the broader market are going to be looking for GIS skills to accompany another more specialized expertise.They will be looking for technical skills such as programming or database experience or they will want expertise in the field of endeavor to which the GIS is being applied.Most employers assume that those looking to fill jobs just out of college will have basic database, spreadsheet and word processing skills.In a subset of somewhat more specialized jobs, employers will begin to assume applicants will have GIS skills.Some of the kids in K-12 now will have used GIS tools throughout their education.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?
Philadelphia has built one of the largest integrated municipal GISs in the world.I am proud of having provided some of the leadership for the architecture and growth of this system from one or two fledgling installations to an enterprise system that is depended upon in many different ways by virtually every department.I am proud that Philadelphia was recognized this year by ESRI's Presidents Award.There are some outstanding individuals here who had the vision and brought about an unprecedented level of interdepartmental coordination and I am proud to have been able to work with them.

What does your typical day or week look like?
I have to say that one of the things about having arrived on the management side of GIS is that the administrative demands on my time keep me farther removed from the technology than I would like.

As far as other activities, I would say I spend a percentage of my time learning.I try to make the most informed decisions possible.I ask a lot of questions, research on the internet, and read industry publications.I also spend time selling.In the beginning it was selling the technology.Now it is selling things like need for a new million dollar server or more staff.I spend a substantial amount of time reviewing documents, RFPs, proposals, work product etc.Unfortunately, I also spend time fighting, fighting against bureaucracy (yes, that's still part of municipal government) that impedes getting qualified staff or holds up equipment orders for months.Or, fighting with vendors and consultants who have not delivered what they have promised.And then there is always networking.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?
From the local government side of the industry it is two things.The first is the broad range of activities in which I find myself involved.At one time or another I've met with almost every City Commissioner.I'm called in on things ranging from planning the security for special events to GPSing the street trees.I work on projects such as diverse as how to better manage our pavement and how to help keep kids safer after school.It gets very very busy but it never gets boring.

Secondly, it is exciting to watch the new technologies be applied to making the City function more efficiently or provide services not otherwise available.For example, we built an intranet zoning application over which there were seemingly endless meetings designing it and getting feed back and a huge effort on the part of my staff getting it into production.When it was done, I had still never met any of the end users until I was present when one of them, a long time City employee, was interviewed.Hearing her talk about how much it changed her life (she did not have to constantly get up and search for maps) and how for the first time she could give people information over the phone instead of having to ask them to come in was incredibly rewarding.I was touched.

What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in GIS?
Wireless.Wireless access to sites like MapQuest.com will start it and it will grow from there.You are in a strange city and you want to know what movies are playing within a half mile of your hotel--it will be right there on your wireless palm device.Wireless access to data and applications that incorporate GIS is also going to hit big time for many government and other facility management applications.Check this out: When it goes out, a streetlight sends a wireless signal to a GIS based operations center which knows exactly where that streetlight is.This triggers an application that creates a work order, checks to see if there is other planned maintenance due in the vicinity and creates additional work orders, checks inventory, determines which work crew is closest, assigns the work crew and prepares a route for the them.If it requires supervisory approval, that is taken care of via the supervisor's wireless palm device.Meanwhile as the crew finishes the job they are working on they use a wireless devices to up date the work order system and pick up the information about the next job.

Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be in?
Even in college I knew I wasn't going to be the next Socrates.I was vaguely thinking of Law School so I got a job working for a lawyer.He had an Apple with I believe 32K (yes, K) RAM which he let me play with.I fooled around with BASIC and I discovered that I had a knack for computer technology and enjoyed working with them.Maybe it was the rigorous logic.My fate was pretty much sealed at that point.

Email: Liza Casey

More Women in GIS.

Published Tuesday, November 9th, 1999

Written by Directions Staff

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