Cost-effective integrated spatial
systems for local governments
by Nico Elema, GIS Global Image, and Prof. Louis Fourie, University of Stellenbosch Business School
In order to assist implementers of integrated spatial systems to develop cost-effective solutions in their
organisations, cost factors that influence such systems need to be understood, measured and managed. This
article addresses these cost factors, and briefly discusses how costs can be understood and managed for more
cost-effective implementations of integrated spatial systems in local government.
arious systems and processes government since the approval of the information, which will provide users
are implemented within Constitution of South Africa in 1996 in the organisations with the means to
local governments to assist , various white papers and Acts update, maintain and report on data.
in the day-to-day operation of the were passed, defining the structure It is evident that systems are required
organisations, including financial, and purpose of local governments to be integrated, and where spatial
human resource, building control in South Africa. Various categories information exists, this information needs
and land use management systems. of local government were identified, to be presented to users.
Developments in information technology namely category A, B and C. Based In order to present information
and specifically geographical information on their functions to society, and the spatially, municipalities implement
technologies have enabled the effective requirements of internal and external a GIS. Much like most information
implementation of integrated spatial clients to the municipality, certain technology systems, a GIS consists
management information systems information needs have evolved in local of different components or building
(ISMIS). The ability of these enterprise government. The needs are determined blocks. In essence, it can be derived
systems to integrate different systems by a detailed user requirement survey that an information system consists of a
into a single data repository, from (URS). collection of people, processes datasets,
where information can be updated and
software and hardware which collect,
disseminated, has enabled users from all Complementing the planning process
process, store and communicate data
levels in the organisations to access and of an ISMIS, the detailed URS can be
as information in support of operational
report on GIS data. undertaken with officials within the
tasks and decision making .
local municipality. Based on studies
As costs are inevitably incurred, added
undertaken within various local The combination of a GIS – that has
benefits are also derived from the
governments in South Africa, general the ability to integrate and graphically
system. Where systems have been
needs have been identified, which represent data, and a management
implemented and pressure is mounting
include inadequate access to information; information system (MIS) – that has
for users to gain access, implementers
a need for improved productivity; the ability to integrate and provide
need to be aware of the factors that
access to more electronic information; predefined information to decision
hinder users to gain access, in order
fewer duplication and inconsistencies makers in report format , provides
to open systems up to as many users
of information; information needs to be a system where most data that are
as possible. The main objective of this
disseminated; information needs to be generated, can be integrated and
article is to assist in the identification
managed and be centralised through a presented in a spatial format. Data from
of cost factors in the development
information sharing portal; information these data sources can be integrated into
and implementation of ISMIS in local
needs to be spatially based in a a single database management system
government, with the goal of developing
geographical information system (GIS); (DBMS). A DBMS permits an organisation
cost-effective systems. Cost effectiveness to centralise datasets, manage them
information needs to be maintained
does not necessarily refer to the project effectively, extract data and provide
and the existing systems need to be
with the least cost, but the project with integrated. access to the stored data by application
the most effective application of cost, software .
providing the greatest benefit in relation The electronic systems within
to user needs, and where the benefits municipalities are also diverse in function As integrated spatial systems
ultimately outweigh the cost. and are often based on requirements by advance from being “nice-to-have”
national government for municipalities to applications to necessary applications
Local governments in South Africa
function effectively. As more information within organisations, the challenges
and their GIS needs
is being gathered through time, that face an ISMIS increase with the
Following the transformation of local systems are required to manage spatial demand for the utilisation for spatial
PositionIT - July 2009 73
information and services. These l Data accuracy (the level of accuracy is owned by an individual or business
challenges include the managing of can affect the cost of implementing entity but the software is distributed
organisational and technological change a system). at no cost as freeware, shareware or
related to business processes and l Data availability (by making use of abandonware) and open source software
the integration of municipal legacy existing data sources, cost can be (which provides computer users with free
systems. Further challenges that are reduced in a project). access to its source code so that they
faced by organisations occur where can modify the code to fix errors or to
different organisations collect data Cost factor 2: Software make improvements).
for different purposes, and where
Within the software industry, different
contrasting meanings are assigned to Cost factor 3: Customisation
licensing models were found, under
their data . This highlights the value
which software is made available to Closely related to software, is the ability
of metadata within the establishment
users. Each of the different software of the organisation or service provider
of an ISMIS, where information such
licensing options has an impact on to customise a software package for
as the scale, accuracy and owner of
the cost of implementing an ISMIS the organisation. Implementers of
datasets are documented. In order
and has its respective advantages and ISMIS need to assess user needs,
for users to interpret information in
disadvantages. and determine where the balance lies
the correct context, metadata need to
between using purchased software and
be documented on the data. If data According to Skidmore and Eva 
needs are different in exceptional cases customising software. If customisation
perceived advantages and disadvantages
to the levels of accuracy or currency is required, implementers need to
can be found where software is made
accommodated within the system, the determine to what level of customisation
available as software packages. The
users need to interpret data accordingly. in order to successfully address user
perceived advantages include reduced
cost; the saving of time since the
Cost factors which influence the
software already exists; quality benefits, Cost factor 4: Hardware
development of an ISMIS
since the software has been tested;
In order to implement an ISMIS cost- Implementers of ISMIS need to be aware
documentation and training do exist and
effectively, factors that influence cost of the different system requirements of
software packages are usually supported
need to be identified and understood the various software packages. These
by formal maintenance agreements,
from the outset of a project. In software packages are not only the GIS
which ensure organised maintenance and
understanding these cost factors, software, but would also include the
enhancement of the software.
implementers and service providers need database management systems (DBMS)
to relate the cost factors to the needs of Skidmore and Eva  further discuss that would be required to store data
the organisation and thus consider the the perceived disadvantages of software within the system. In large organisations
potential positive and negative impacts packages which includes: with many users and large datasets,
these cost factors might have on the these demands will be higher on the
l The fact that the ownership of the
financial and operational requirements of hardware requirements, which can
software lies with the supplier, and
the ISMIS implementation. increase the cost.
not with the purchaser.
O'Brien  discusses how costs can l If the supplier is financially unstable, Cost factor 5: Training
be tangible (which can be quantified) there might be a risk that the
or intangible (where costs are not Where ill co-ordinated training takes
supplier can go out of business,
quantifiable). In order to identify these place during the implementation phase
which could affect the quality of
tangible and intangible costs, factors of a system, users could end up being
support and development.
need to be considered that would retrained, which would add unnecessary
l When organisations use software
influence costs, in the implementation time and cost to the project, making the
packages as supplied by a supplier,
of integrated spatial management project less cost-effective.
they lose their competitive-edge.
information systems for a local Cost factor 6: Maintenance
government. These factors include l The purchased software fails to fit
data, software, hardware, training, the requirements of the organisation.
customisation, maintenance requirement l If a system fails to fulfil the user’s In order for the ISMIS to be effective
and time constraints, and can be functional requirements, the over time, maintenance will be required.
summarised as follows: customer can seek legal redress to Maintenance will provide the sustainable
resolve the failure. If a product was momentum the project requires, after
Cost factor 1: Data developed inhouse by an internal the system has been implemented and
IS department, this would not be tested.
Data is a key element of an ISMIS.
Data can be derived from different possible.
Cost factor 7: Time constraints
sources, which include internal data, l Since user requirements change,
external data or personal data. maintenance is required at a Where projects are required to be
cost which can be perceived as a completed in a short period of time,
Related to data, three factors are
disadvantage to the organisation. more hardware and software are
identified that impact on the cost of
required, thus increasing the cost.
implementing an ISMIS within local The different software licensing options
government. The three data factors that are available, include licensed Managing the cost of an ISMIS
are: software (where the ownership of Different types of users also have
l Data currency (which refers to how source code is owned by an individual different needs which are one of the
up-to-date data needs to be in the or business entity), proprietary software driving forces for the development of
system). (where the ownership of source code applications.
Three different types of users are within the system – a case where l The first level of users can be
identified (see Table 1). The first being “too many options clutter the grouped as the capture users. Due to
super users who have access to all mind”. It is thus important that the higher costs associated with the
information within the system related the correct set of software tools be capturing of data (through the use of
to their respective functions within the provided to a user based on the super users, time associated to clean
organisation, and can add, edit, maintain user’s function in the organisation. data and higher software licensing
and report on data. The second group l User base: The total number of costs), the costs-per-seat is relatively
comprises the basic users who have users who actively access the the highest. Due to the higher costs,
extremely limited functionalities available system. If the system is intranet the relative number of users is also
from the system, and can view, and based, these users could be from limited to only a few users in the
report on data. The last group, the within the organisation, or if the organisation, which leads to the
expert users, consists of users who highest cost-per-seat calculation.
system is internet based, these
cannot add, or edit new data to the users could be from outside the l The second level of users can be
system, but do have the ability to view, organisation. categorised as the analysis users.
manipulate and report on data. The Training requirements are normally
expert functionalities within the system Based on Fig. 1, the relationship between not as extensive as the super users,
allow the user to create complicated cost (calculated as cost-per-seat), and since the data have already
queries and analysis on the data, which functional functionality and user base been captured and cleaned, the
is illustrated. In Fig. 1, users typically time associated to analyse data is
would lead the user in creating new
also relatively less than the capture
layers of data based on the existing data require specific functionality from the
users. As mentioned earlier in
created by the super users. ISMIS, based on their function in the
this study, staff specialists (expert
organisation. These functionalities
In general super users are typically users) outnumber managers (basic
are typically collected during the user users) three to two . Since more
the most expensive users and also
requirement survey (URS) in the initial users have access to the ISMIS,
the fewest number of users in the
organisation. On the other hand, it is the
least expensive to provide basic users
with access to the system, resulting in
most users having access to the system.
It is important for implementers of
ISMIS to understand the relationship
between user requirements, the
associated functionality requirements
from the system, and the impact that
these requirements have on the number
of users accessing the system. As
presented in Fig. 1), this relationship
is better understood in discussing the
principles of cost-per-seat, functional
functionality and user-base.
l Cost-per-seat: If the aim of the
organisation is to measure its
Fig. 1: The relationship between cost (cost per seat), functional functionality and user-base.
success in the publishing of spatial
related information to as many phases of the project. there is a positive impact on the
users as possible at the least
The functionality requirements can be cost-per-seat associated with the
financial cost, the calculation of
categorised into three levels, namely implementation of the project.
cost-per-seat would provide an
indication of how successful the the requirement to capture data, the l The third level of users can be
organisation was. Cost-per-seat is requirement to analyse data or the categorised as the viewer users
calculated by calculating the total requirement to view published data. in the publishing platform. Viewer
financial cost of the project divided
by the number of users actively
Type of user Function Functionalities Relative Relative
using the system.
in the required from cost number of
l Functional functionality: Within organisation the system users
an organisation, different users
Super user Data capture Add, edit, Most Fewest users
have different functions. Based maintain and expensive
on these functions, a specific user report
requires certain functionalities from
Expert user Data analysis View, manipulate More than Fewer than super
the system, in order to optimally
and report data basic user, users, but more
perform a function effectively . If
but less than than basic users
the user has too little functionality super user
within the system, the user would
Basic user Data publish View and report Least Most users
not be able to perform his/her
tasks. The same would be true, if
the user had too much functionality Table 1: User profile in the organisation.
PositionIT - July 2009 75
user’s requirements indicate Value Ex Ante In Medias Res Ex Post
that they require basic mapping
Resource allocation Yes – helps to select If low sunk costs, Not applicable. The
functionality to simply view data.
decision for the best project or make resources can still be project has been
These users might simply want to
project “go” versus “no-go” shifted. If high sunk completed.
search for and map a property on a
decisions, if accurate. costs, continuation is
map, and as easily as possible view
information on the property which
could include ownership, land use, Learning about the Poor estimate – there Better – reduced Excellent – although
actual value of a is a high uncertainty uncertainty. some errors may
zoning or any other information
specific project. about future benefits remain. May have to
available from the system without
and costs. wait for a long period
analysing the data. Management
of time for the study.
reports are also readily available
which generate updated reports Contribution to Unlikely to add value Good – contribution Very useful –
as required from already updated learning about increases as the although there may
data. Training requirements are actual value of a assessment is be some errors and a
similar project performed later in need exist to adjust
also basic, and due to the easily
the project. There is for uniqueness. May
accessible data, most users access
a need to adjust for have to wait long
the ISMIS at this level. Since more
uniqueness. for the project to be
users access the system relative to
the analysis- and capture levels,
the lowest cost-per-seat can be Table 2: The value of different types of CBA .
expected from this level.
Measuring the cost-effectiveness
of an ISMIS
are undertaken during a project, it is Technology in the Business Enterprise.
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76 PositionIT - July 2009