Twenty years ago, geographic information services were in the proposal and planning stage in King County, Washington. Today King County’s geographic information system (GIS) includes integrated spatial databases, mapping and analysis software, information technology, and professional GIS staff. King County’s GIS was developed to meet the business needs of county users, and it also provides free data and online mapping capability to the public.
In March 2012 a return-on-investment (ROI) report issued by Professor Richard Zerbe and Associates showed that use of the King County Geographic Information System has resulted in at least $775 million in net benefits to the county over the eighteen-year period from 1992 to 2010.
While ROI estimates are often developed as part of a proposal to develop a geographic information system, it is believed that this is the first study by independent economic consultants to examine and measure the actual benefits realized by a city or county from the internal agency use of GIS.
The study methodology looked at the cost to perform county agency business functions both with and without GIS. For example, county permit technicians were asked how much time it takes to pull together all the maps and spatial data needed to assist a permit applicant now with GIS, versus the time it would take the technician to perform the same business function without GIS tools and data. The methodology included detailed interviews of 30 key county staff and then an online survey to county GIS users that was completed by 175 respondents.
Interview and survey responses were analyzed to compare both with-GIS and without-GIS level of effort. The results were then compiled and monetized by output type and agency to measure cost savings and productivity benefits.
The total cost for King County GIS, including capital development, central GIS operations and maintenance, and agency GIS end-user costs from 1992 to 2010 is over $201 million. In 2010 alone these county GIS costs were $14.6 million, but for the same year the Zerbe report measured benefits from GIS of $180 million, with a lower estimate of $87 million. So the benefits over a single year far outweigh the costs for the year, and if repeated for 2011 and 2012, the benefits realized over just two years could eclipse the costs of the previous twenty.
This project was partly funded by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Geospatial Enterprise Office.
Dr. Richard O. Zerbe, Jr. is the Daniel J. Evans Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where he is Director of the Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis.
The King County GIS Center is a part of King County Information Technology, chartered as an internal service fund to provide GIS services to county agencies and external customers. The King County GIS Center operates King County’s enterprise GIS and provides data, services, and training to help put GIS to work. (www.kingcounty.gov/gis). For more information, contact Greg Babinski at the King County GIS Center (206-263-3753; email@example.com).
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