Apollo Teng | A Place for Everything

GCN IT Leadership Awards 2007 | A county GIS manager adds depth, breadth to geodata

Career highlights

  • Created a three-phase aerial photography, ground-control densification, triangulation and orthophoto project for the county.


  • Organized and hosted the annual countywide GIS users group meeting.


  • Established the countywide software and maintenance contract with ESRI for GIS software.


  • Started and managed a biannual countywide orthophoto and oblique (3-D) image acquisition. When funding wasn't available, he solicited and received contributions from departments that used GIS services.


  • Improved the efficiency and data accuracy of 60 GIS data layers, updated quarterly for the county's public safety systems.

  • Apollo Teng

    You could pass within inches of him on the street, this man credited with virtually inventing the geographic information systems department for Montgomery County, Md., and later be unable to place him.

    You would be forgiven. Apollo Teng seems to strive for the effect. Teng is quiet and soft-spoken, his gaze unchallenging, his attire equally unassuming: a straightforward suit, black shoes, muted tie.

    It is Teng's work that speaks for him, and it is as voluble as the man himself is not.

    Since 2000, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has singled out Teng and his team for nearly two dozen of its awards that recognize innovative county government programs. Last year Team Teng won a NACo Best in Category award for making GIS data quickly and easily available to emergency managers and another award recognizing the department for using GIS to improve program efficiencies and enhance the county's revenue.

    'Under Apollo's leadership, GIS has emerged from a back-office program to a key program of county government,' said Ivan Galic, chief of enterprise applications at the county's Technology Services Department.

    But before Teng could lead the department, he had to create it. When he came to Montgomery County in 1993, GIS operations were widely decentralized, used a variety of noninteroperable software and were greatly underutilized. It was a challenge he relished. 'I thought, 'I can make my contribution here,' ' he said.

    The first step was 'to make sure that, countywide, we shared the same procedures, the same standards,' Teng said. One group developed standards while another did a GIS software search, settling on ArcGIS. Teng negotiated a countywide licensing agreement with the vendor, ESRI, hired staff and began showing county agencies what his team could do.

    'We did a lot of marketing at the beginning and many, many, many demo packages,' he said. Those demos, showing how GIS could help the agencies be more efficient and save money, essentially sold themselves.

    Take the county Motor Vehicle Administration. 'They used to have one or two people spending more than half a year to go through what was at the time maybe 500,000 registrations to determine how much of the rebate from the State Highway Administration should go to each city, town or village in the county,' he said. 'Today, we have 700,000 registrations and, with GIS processing, it takes two weeks.'

    That represents a savings of $80,000 in staff time and a rebate revenue of $15 million.

    'My department does public safety, 911 call dispatching, and with these maps, we can see where everything is to route a call, and that can save crucial time,' said David Allen, a senior project manager at the county's Technology Services Department.

    'It also helps that the maps are up-to-date,' Allen said.

    In addition to offering quarterly data updates, Teng 'has also been able to help us streamline the process of making the updates to our system ' what used to take us four to six weeks is now done in a day,' Allen said.

    'You start having successes, word gets out and you need to do less marketing,' Teng said. 'Now we are overburdened with success,' he said with a laugh, 'and my biggest challenge is prioritizing the workflow.'

    A man, the plan, that data

    It all starts with base map data. In the 1980s, Teng helped create New York City's centerline data, correlating addresses, jurisdictions and other information to maps. Ten years later, he did the same for Montgomery County.

    The centerline data is stored on a 4T source server running Enterprise ArcSDE and offering 150 data layers, which show such information as the location of sewers, streetlights, watershed data and police stations, for internal department use.

    Basemap data with 30 data layers is on the 1T release server and is available to everyone else, including the public, through the department's Web applications.
    County departments import the base map data and add their own data for their use. Their data, including updates, also resides on the source server.

    The department has even broken new ground in IT housekeeping.

    'Configuration change management ' principles and practice ' is a familiar concept on [the IT side], but not as such in GIS,' Galic said. 'We worked together to apply those concepts to GIS. We had to get the requirements, build, test, document, deliver and then lock it all down. I know the configuration change management side, but it was Apollo who had to take the lead in marrying it to the GIS side.'

    Today, the department helps with site selection for police and fire stations, E911 operations, public works and disaster planning. It also assists several departments in helping to determine fees, inventory trees, conduct court proceedings, route trash collections and help libraries fine-tune their collections.

    'Geodata is part of everything today,' Galic said. 'It's like a spider spinning a web all over county government.'

    And he means that in the best way possible.

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