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Cloud Computing: An Interview with GIS Executive & Cloud Computing Expert, Bob Bates

 By: Paige Parker, VP of Sales

We all know change can be difficult, but more often than not change is good, especially when it involves technology. In today’s world, technology advancements are happening everywhere. Thanks to new products and services people can benefit from what it can bring.

Here at ControlCam people are raving about our new mobile application technology that is allowing local county governments to convert their old paper tax appraisal forms into a digital documents that can easily be updated on their phones or tablet PCs. Letting them cut time and cost with their workflows and field work management.

When, I heard Mr. Bob Bates (an executive director of GIS) was a proponent for pushing the envelope with bringing cloud based technology to local governments, I was very impressed. It is this type of inspiration that lies at the heart of ControlCam. We believe in promoting the latest and greatest in products and services for local county governments. I was honored to get the chance to interview, Mr. Bob Bates a legend in the industry on his career and thoughts involving the cloud. It is interesting to hear what he has to say about his achievements and the advantages of cloud computing within government agencies.

Can you tell me a little more about you? Where are you from?

I was born in Gainesville, Florida and lived there all (62 years) of my life. I am the Executive Director of GIS, Technology and Support Services for the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office where I have served our community for over 41 years.  I attended Santa Fe College and the University of Florida.

Organizations:

GIS/CAMA Conference Committee Member & Past Chair

IAAO

URISA

Current President – The Alachua County GIS Users Group

Past President – The Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers

Certifications:

Certified Florida Evaluator (CFE) form the Department of Revenue

Certified Cadastral of Florida (CCF) – Florida Department of Revenue

Master Cadastral of Florida (MCF) – Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers

Florida Real Estate Salesman License

How did you get into the GIS industry?

When I first started working in the Property Appraiser’s office in May, 1973 we were using ink and Leroy lettering on mylar. In the mid 80’s we starting looking at automating and moving all of our hand drawn maps into a digital GIS environment. That started a new beginning for me that led into a wonderful career.

Since then the Property Appraiser’s office has implemented three different GIS systems in Alachua County. The first GIS system was IBM GFIS back in the late 80’s running on an IBM 4381 mainframe. Alachua County held the first IBM GFIS users group in Gainesville. Then in the early 90’s we implemented a GIS software called MacGraphix that ran on Mac’s. MapGraphix was a GIS application developed by ComGraphix out of Clearwater, Florida. The software was very user friendly. I use to joke that “we had windows before windows”. In the late 90’s Ed Crapo the Alachua County Property Appraiser told me that he wanted GIS on every workstation in his office and then the decision was made to go to PC’s and the ESRI platform. GIS has been part of most of the staff in the Property Appraiser’s office for over 17 years.

Today I oversee the Alachua County GIS Service Center providing GIS services for approx. 300 users in multi departments from the City of Gainesville, Alachua County departments, Sheriff, E-911, EOC and several small cities.

Have you won any awards throughout your career?

Yes.

Distinguished Service Award – Alachua County Board of County Commissioners

Past President of the Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers and received the Outstanding Achievement Award in 1999

Many from other civic organizations that I have been involved in

Have you been featured in any other articles?

Yes.

Geo Info Systems October 1994 – “A History of Implementing an Urban GIS”

Government Technology, August 2014 “How the CLOUD is Changing Everything for Government IT”

ESRI News for State & Local Government Fall 2014, “Alachua County is Thriving with ArcGIS in the Amazon Cloud” 

What sparked your interest on cloud computing?

We needed a good offsite back-up solution for our GIS data and the Amazon Cloud met our needs. Two years later we keep running into issues with many of the departments that we support using different versions of ESRI’s ArcGIS software and since they need our data we could not upgrade until they did. We also had to deal with power interruptions and hardware failure that started to compromise our ability to provide reliable GIS support to our users. Every time a server was rebooted it took services down for other external GIS users. After looking at all of the tools that Amazon EC2 services has to offer we decided to make the move to the cloud and we have been very pleased with the decision that we made.

What have you done to promote cloud computing in your industry?

We have done several articles and presentations this year which has generated a lot of interest, phone calls and emails on how we configured our network and inter-structure. We are always willing to share our trials and tribulations with others and their organizations. Our GIS software provider ESRI is continually using us as a reference when they receive cloud questions from their users.

Where do you see cloud computing going within the next 10 years?

In the future cloud computing will be even more mainstream than it is today.  It will be more of a default for many systems.  Just as buying and collecting music, CDs are phasing out, books, movies (DVDs), and software will no longer be a disk in your hand but rather a link on the internet. Local cable providers and newspapers will slowly disappear and services will be provided through the cloud. It will not take offices full of specialized professionals sitting in front of high-end computers to get jobs done.  They will work from home or in the field on their mobile devices, entering and analyzing data remotely into the organizations’ cloud.  Meetings will also take place remotely, i.e. Meetup.com.  Without the brick-and-mortar walls that separate professionals from different organizations, collaboration will enhance the products and services from these organizations.  Most importantly, however, in ten years we should be able to expect that everyone will understand that the “cloud” is not a mysterious space vortex but a service they’ve been using in many facets of their lives for many years.

Do you think it is important for local governments to invest and switch to cloud computing? If so, why?

Yes.

Cloud computing offers a wide range of environments that is scalable and much different from traditional IT environments. It also offers the opportunity to immediately install hardware and software much faster to deploy services for a new implementation. Many times in local government we find ourselves requesting bid proposals or going through a RFP process for expensive hardware, software etc. With the cloud providers you pay as you go for what you use. Using Amazon EC2 services we were able to get going quickly and let them worry about hardware, software, network infrastructure, UPS, maintenance fees and other related expenses so we could focus on our business processes. If you wanted more resources you just check a box.  It really can’t get any simpler than that.

I think that it is important for local governments to take a good look at what level of services that Cloud providers are offering. We have a small IT shop with limited funding and by taking a hybrid approach with the cloud we were able to take all of our GIS, Disaster Assessment applications and our website and move all of the internet traffic off of our internal servers to the cloud all within budget. The level of services that we are receiving from AWS has exceeded our expectations and we are currently evaluating and testing other business processes to move to the cloud.

How do you use cloud computing now?

Two years ago we started out just putting our monthly data backups online in the cloud; now we use it for everyday transactions.  We host our data in a combination of Amazon Server and ESRI ArcGIS Online making it available for our users to download or access through our many maps and apps.  ESRI’s Open Data has streamlined our processes by enabling users to handle their own downloads of our data.  Previously we would export our GIS layers to various databases, excel spreadsheets and shapefiles.  Now we handle one export or replication job and Open Data handles the user’s requested file type and creation of that.  When a layer is updated from us to the cloud, all maps, apps and downloads are updated instantly.  There are no more questions as to why one system doesn’t show the change yet.

We host our aerial imagery in the cloud and have been able to host many more years’ worth of them as local server space is not an issue.  We have also empowered our other GIS departments to manage their own updates and we link to their managed data.  Our users are able to pull our data out and put it into their desktop product or chose from one of our predefined maps and apps to view the data.  They have the tools available to do their own analysis and filters and do not have to request special exports from us.

We have moved our FTP site to the cloud along with over 7,000 custom pdf’s for display and download. Another unique thing that we have done is to host ESRI’s ArcServer 10.2.2 and ESRI’s license manager to provide a license pool in the AWS cloud.  By doing this we have eliminated the need to jump through many hoops (firewalls) as our other departments are within other organizations’ networks.  As with our data, our GIS licenses are available even if our local network is down.

Another application that we have moved to the cloud is the ARM360 Viewer, which is a Disaster Assessment application developed by GeoCove for data collection after a hurricane or other emergency events. It ties directly to the Property Appraiser’s database and creates level of damage reports on the fly for FEMA in their format.

We have found that new applications that we create and test are much faster in the cloud. Things that use to take us three weeks we can now be done in two days.

What is your definition of cloud computing?

Cloud computing is Internet-based computing that involves delivering hosted subscription-based or pay as you go services with configurable computing architecture and resources over the Internet on-demand.

Seeing cloud computing is growing and advancing every day, ControlCam has starting offering cloud storage options for our aerial imagery data. If you would like to learn more, please send me an email at sales@controlcam.com.