GIS at the City of Henderson


The opinions expressed herein are of the author alone and do not reflect in any way the official policy or position of the City of Henderson or any other entity that may be mentioned herein.


The City of Henderson is not the first to face the issues discussed herein, nor will it be the last.  Looking no further than its neighboring entities reveals extreme examples of the good and the ugly.  The key to the City of Henderson’s continued success will be finding what works best for the city.  Tighter integration of IT with GIS will strengthen the central role of GIS and empower all city departments to take advantage of the savings GIS technology provides.

The issues:

  • On the centralized to decentralized scale, the City of Henderson GIS function is organized in a hybrid model leaning more toward the decentralized model since IT’s decision to not fill the GIS Manager position 1 1/2 years ago.
  • IT’s support for GIS is not a priority due to lack of budget, lack of understanding, and pressure to maintain status quo.
  • IT and GIS have been treated as separate functions due to lack of understanding.  These functions overlap significantly and the City cannot fulfill its mission without both.
  • GIS staff in IT do not have the ability to allocate resources to GIS-centric projects similar to the Project Management Office (PMO).
  • The GIS function at the City of Henderson is lacking a champion to provide direction and magnitude in demonstrating the return on investment and value in savings provided to the City.
  • The city departments with GIS support are currently well served, but have fallen into a state of complacency while riding out financial issues resulting in a digression of innovation and subsequent lost efficiency and savings.
  • Efforts to attract and retain good people with needed GIS experience is hindered by Human Resources to a large degree, and to a lesser degree by individual departments under financial duress.

The opportunities:

  • The City’s investment in GIS to date has been leveraged well across many departments interested in continued support of GIS functions.
  • The IT department maintains exceptional people whose skills complement the functions of GIS, and vice versa.
  • The hybrid model of GIS organization in the City provides the domain expertise to best service individual departments benefiting the most from GIS.
  • IT/GIS systems have gained significant traction in assimilating disparate systems to combine information required for better decision making in the City, and there are many more opportunities for assimilating other systems that will provide additional value and savings.

Proposed Recommendations:

  • Establish a career path for GIS professionals to complement IT functions and support departmental disciplines.
  • Establish a Geospatial Management Office (GMO) patterned after the organization and goals of the current Project Management Office (PMO) where GMO staff provide IT department level support for all departments participating in GIS functions.
  • Fill the open GIS Manager position with the responsibility of managing the GMO.
  • Incorporate the three GIS positions currently in IT into the GMO while converting one of the three GIS positions into a programming-focused position.
  • Add one additional programming-focused position to the GMO.  This position may be an existing IT position that is reallocated full-time to GMO projects to support current demand.


The City of Henderson has invested an estimated $60 million into GIS since its inception/adoption.  GIS is the longest standing enterprise system in the City (1989), and as such has served as the system of record for data used by all city departments, consultants, and residents at large.  GIS has provided an estimated $300 million in value and savings since its inception/adoption.  The City is losing the value of its investment in GIS while current issues are not addressed.  Filling the vacant GIS Manager position alone will not save the City’s investment unless the Department of Information Technology (IT) makes GIS a higher priority and provides additional budget while removing cost barriers to other departments under the current hybrid organization model.  At the current rate of digression, the cost of rehabilitating the GIS functions at the city in the future will far outweigh the cost of taking appropriate action now.

Aligning GIS functions with those similar to the existing Project Management Office (PMO) will enable the GIS staff to:

  • continue support of existing projects
  • allocate resources in support of additional projects to meet increasing demand
  • partner with city departments in meeting goals by providing IT-blended solutions for geospatial requirements
  • add value to the City’s investment in GIS and continue momentum in a centralized capacity
  • measure and report the City’s return on investment and value savings


GIS is used in practically every level of government from federal down to county and city.  The degree to which GIS is used depends upon several factors, but the main factors are whether the organization has a good GIS champion and how well that champion is accepted.  GIS is an empowering technology whose success depends upon principles such as transparency, visibility, accessibility, education, and support.

Today at the City of Henderson it is impossible to implement an enterprise system without having some tie to GIS…so valuable an asset has become the GIS database.  From Maximo to Comcate, and from KIVA to Humminbird DM, the list is long.  The ability to integrate and apply geospatial facets to everyday city functions is invaluable.

There are three general categories of distributing GIS capabilities within an organization: centralized, decentralized, and hybrid.  The City of Henderson has a hybrid model where GIS staff report directly to the departments they support, but also support a formal, centralized user group for city-wide coordination of GIS efforts.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of model.

Among the considerations to the current hybrid model is the momentum in numbers when weighed against the benefits of subject matter expertise.  Individual departments gain efficiency by having GIS staff dedicated full-time to their specific disciplines.  By the same token, the city as a whole may lose traction due to dispersed resources.  Gaps in GIS services and support are created if some departments are unable to provide the resources needed to sustain innovations provided by GIS.  Moving to a centralized model has been examined in the past, hoewever, the benefits of the hybrid model have outweighed the benefits of the centralized model.

In the end, money rules.  The decision to stay with the hybrid model points to budget.  The department with the most GIS staff, the Department of Utility Services, is enterprise funded (fee based), whereas the other departments with GIS staff are general funded (tax based).

In the Department of IT, the GIS Manager was met with many road blocks to the progression GIS as a whole due to limited resources under the General Fund model.  These road blocks were both internal  and external to the IT department.  IT spending is traditionally reactive, spending budget to maintain current levels of service, whereas GIS technology is focused on providing future value.  Future value is easy to neglect when the savings are not understood or fully realized.  The GIS Manager was met with resistance at multiple levels within IT and HR when attempting to educate the decision makers on the value of GIS spending.

In contrast, Utility Services has a good GIS champion and good acceptance at all levels throughout the department.  The GIS section was able to secure a Utility GIS Manager position and obtain the resources necessary to maintain and deliver critical information to users and decision makers.  The GIS section has a strategic plan in writing and gives regular educational presentations on the return on investment and value added to the department.  That acceptance has also encountered external road blocks under the city umbrella.

While budget is the main contributing factor to continuing with the current hybrid model, the effects from waning support for GIS in a centralized IT role are becoming apparent throughout the organization.  Due to the recession, all city departments have been required to do more with less.  IT/GIS functions enable city staff to do more with less by providing the tools and technology required to work more efficiently.  Diminishing budget in IT/GIS functions inhibits city staff from working efficiently and is counterproductive.  The savings realized from IT/GIS functions offset the monies spent to maintain and advance the mission of the City.  Continued investment in IT/GIS functions empowers the organization to sustain optimal service levels with less money.


Click here to watch a 10 minute video demonstrating some of the ways GIS helps the city generate savings and create value (GIS Day 2010).


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