King County, Washington (home of Seattle) has recently undertaken an in-depth look at the value that the county has received from their GIS investment. Professor Richard Zerbe from the University of Washington’s Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis conducted the study that spans from 1992 to 2010. The report totals the investment over this 18-year span at $201 million, and the benefits at $775 million.
On the benefit side, there is an analysis of the improvements in business process, by looking at what it would have cost if various government agencies and departments were to do the same work without the system. Particular attention was placed on the permitting department, and the time it used to take to pull together maps and spatial data about a property before the system was in place. The results of various workflow savings were compiled and monetized by output type and agency to measure cost savings and productivity benefits overall.
The report takes a very detailed look at costs and benefits, and after the fact of the investment, which is rare. Given the authoritative nature of the report, with a rigorous methodology and interviews with more than 200 individuals representing a broad range of use cases, this report should stand as a shining example to defend and promote the utility of GIS.
King County is definitely a “have” area in terms of GIS investment over time with a strong tax base that makes the county one of the 100 highest-income counties in the country, and with cutting-edge GIS research taking place at the University of Washington, that spurs government use and benefit. Many counties are likely a bit further away from realizing the full benefit of the investment, often times because the full vision for what’s possible has been slow to materialize. For instance, a great deal of efficiency comes from cross-departmental integration of systems, which often lags due to political will.
This is an important study that should help inform others as a cost justification, and a blueprint of determining the value of efficiency gains in workflows. The report doesn’t contain a breakdown of the value by category, although this would be interesting insight to have in order to help determine the highest-value returns from different GIS applications.
You can download the full report here.