Acquiring the skills to develop GIS solutions in-house
Faced with an urgent requirement to update an aging GIS solution, an employee from Harrow Council took the ambitious decision to redevelop this critical application, himself, in-house. To gain the skills and knowledge required, he attended a training course delivered by Esri UK after which he was able to create, maintain and further develop a Python-based solution, saving the council thousands of pounds.
Harrow is a London Borough in the North West of the capital, bordering Hertfordshire. The London Borough of Harrow Council serves a population of over 230,000 people across an urban area of 50.47 km2.
The three-day training course delivered by Esri UK enabled one council employee to develop the new application, from scratch, in days
The council cancelled plans to hire a contractor to develop the solution, making a significant financial saving
The training materials continue to act as a useful resource, helping the council to continue to develop the solution to support new council services
Over a period of years, Harrow Council has developed a suite of web-based services for citizens that are powered by geographic information system (GIS) technology from Esri UK. These online GIS services allow people to register for council tax or report fly tipping, for example, by verifying locations on digital maps. The council also uses Esri GIS software to deliver its ‘MyHarrow’ application, which enables citizens to use online maps and location based services to easily find their nearest library or school and check bin collection days or see who their Councillors are.
At the back-end of all these online GIS services lies a small but vital GIS integration application. This solution had been developed several years ago by a third party to extract data from the council’s Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG), enrich it and present it on demand as a core part of its web based GIS services. Without the LLPG Integrator application, MyHarrow and the council’s other web-based GIS services would grind to a halt.
The LLPG Integrator was in urgent need of updating as it was no longer fully compatible with the latest format for LLPG data. Unfortunately, however, the council did not have the skills or knowledge to develop it in-house. Rather than engaging a contractor to modify the solution, LLPG custodian Luke Studden decided that the time had come to replace it with a new integration solution that he could manage and develop himself.
“ We see Esri UK as the market leader for all things GIS ”
Luke Studden – LLPG custodian, London Borough of Harrow
Harrow Council had been using Esri ArcGIS software for several years and instinctively turned to Esri UK for advice. “We see Esri UK as the market leader for all things GIS,” Studden says.
After speaking with experts from Esri UK, Studden decided to develop a new LLPG Integrator solution using Esri ArcGIS software and the programming language Python. Having never used Python before, he signed up for Esri UK’s three day course entitled ‘Introduction to geoprocessing scripts using Python’. “The course was extremely comprehensive,” he says. “It covered all the basics, but also enabled me to develop some quite advanced skills. By the end of the three days, I had all the knowledge I needed to go away and re-develop the council’s LLPG Integrator solution myself.”
Studden particularly appreciated the depth and breadth of the course materials supplied. “The training manual sits on my desk and I refer to it frequently,” he says. “It’s a good companion for programming in Python.”
“ The course was extremely comprehensive. It covered all the basics, but also enabled me to develop some quite advanced skills. By the end of the two days, I had all the knowledge I needed to go away and re-develop the council’s LLPG integrator myself ”
Luke Studden – LLPG custodian, London Borough of Harrow
Within days of completing Esri UK’s training, Studden had successfully redeveloped the council’s LLPG Integrator from scratch, using ArcGIS technology and Python. By creating this solution himself – and not outsourcing the project to a third party contractor – Studden saved the council a significant sum of money, which could potentially have run into many thousands of pounds. The investment in training from Esri UK therefore represented exceptional value for money.
The new LLPG Integrator solution has now been up-and-running at the council for over a year and delivers consistently good performance. Unlike its predecessor, this GIS solution can be easily adapted by the council, as required, to reflect new versions of the LLPG or changes in council services. “We can extend it, modify it and enhance it whenever we want to,” Studden says.
Recently, Studden adapted the LLPG Integrator to enable users of MyHarrow to view environmental information pertaining to their streets and neighbourhoods, such as flood risks. This new capability was introduced in less than two hours of Python programming. Esri UK’s training course has therefore furnished the council with the skills it needs to continue to develop new services for citizens.
The new LLPG Integrator is robust and adaptable enough to support the delivery of online GIS solutions for many years to come – and this is a key advantage for the council. MyHarrow and other online GIS services are strategically and operationally very important because they help the council to deliver more flexible and accessible services for citizens. At the same time the online GIS services enable the council to reduce the cost of customer contact by eliminating the need for more expensive face-to-face and telephone enquiries.
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