Base looks for a GIS payback

"We haven't been able to do it, and nobody else has," said Greg Kuester, GIS
and computer-aided design manager in the office of the director of public works at the
Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.


In spite of initial return-on-investment studies and ongoing anecdotal evidence based
on requests for custom color maps, the payback remains uncertain.


Base managers have been supportive, but Kuester said GIS is "a tough sell. We have
to educate decision-makers better about the benefits."


The base first bought into GIS in the late 1970s with Digital Equipment Corp. PDP
minicomputers and Arc/Info software from Environmental Systems Research Institute of
Redlands, Calif.


Last year, the base switched to the MGE GIS from Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala.,
running under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 on 45 Pentium and Pentium Pro PCs.


Users no longer need double desktops--a Unix box plus a PC for office applications.


Kuester said the GIS environment has been stable, but he has strong concerns about
their network security.


"A lot of data captured on these new types of systems can be sensitive," he
said. "Some people are so eager to get their networks on the World Wide Web that they
let security slide. We're looking at firewalls and other measures, but nobody has laid
down a global mandate."


Because certain Aberdeen tenants have their own firewalls, Kuester expects the garrison
will "go with the dominant one so we can encrypt and decrypt messages easily."


Likewise, he has promoted use of the same data formats among the base's 55 tenant
activities.


"Lots of different needs involve geospatial data," Kuester said. "We
meet with tenants and demonstrate what we do at the garrison level to get their support
and make sure the data they create can be fed back and forth."


Unlike a city, the base is responsible for "everything inside the fence,"
said Intergraph's George Korte, an engineer who has worked with Aberdeen and other Army
GIS installations.


"The built-up area is less than 10 percent," he said. "The rest is
ordnance ranges and training areas and other hazards. There are unique environmental
requirements for endangered species" near Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.


GIS data helps Aberdeen orient its firing ranges and set up noise monitors for testing
large guns. The base is working on more advanced applications, such as computer-aided
dispatch of provost marshals and firefighters to locations pinpointed by the Global
Positioning System, Korte said.


Military systems have the reputation of being too stovepiped, Kuester said.


"We try to share everything we do," he said. "GIS is the glue that has
brought directorates together across the garrison."


Kuester said when he learns something new, he passes it on to others and doesn't charge
them anything.


Feedback arrives from other military users via the Tri-service Center for CAD and GIS,
which hosts a World Wide Web site at http://mr2.wes.army.mil.


"The center is trying to propagate [GIS] technology," he said, "but it's
tough to get management to buy in. They'll buy [equipment] for you, but you have to make
it produce." If GIS had broader support, he said, it could help the military
re-engineer many outdated processes. But until fairly recently, GIS access has been pretty
much isolated to engineering and environmental users. Aberdeen's GIS has helped different
groups.


When a parade or race is scheduled, "we can lay out the telephone poles and light
poles on color maps," Kuester said. But it's hard to quantify how much the community
as a whole benefits from the GIS infrastructure. "The biggest sell is the return on
investment," he said. "We need cold, hard cash facts."


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