Introduction to the eGIS Storefront, An Interview With Rob Renner
In this column, Rob Renner, a Social Science Analyst in the Office of Policy Development and Research and the head of GIS activities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, talks about the Enterprise Geographic Information System.
The new eGIS Storefront provides a one-stop shop for anyone seeking to find HUD’s geospatial data resources and GIS mapping tools.
EGIS is the Enterprise Geographic Information System— specifically, HUD’s Enterprise Geographic Information System. “Enterprise” means it’s a service for the entire agency; it benefits all program areas of HUD that have a business need for geospatial solutions. So “E” means everyone.
We created eGIS Storefront because geospatial technology is increasingly important to the agency’s work and increasingly in demand. Let’s face it: everyone who has a smartphone is basically a GIS user, whether they know it or not. “I’m here— where can I go to get something to eat or see a movie?” People have come to expect a map for everything these days. With that in mind, the IT powers at HUD decided that it would be worthwhile to fund GIS at the agency level. PD&R, having the bulk of geospatial knowledge and expertise in the agency, was the natural choice to coordinate and manage the effort. The idea is that, if we coordinate how we invest in the technology at an agency level, we’ll be able to provide services and solutions to our staff as well as to our grantees much more efficiently. Rather than having CPD and Housing and PIH go out and buy their own GIS software and hire their own contractors, it would be better to coordinate those efforts agency wide. The eGIS Storefront is a very specific solution that we’ve developed with funding for the eGIS program. Its purpose is to provide a one-stop shop for anyone to find the geospatial data resources and the GIS mapping tools we have available; it’s also a place where you can learn more about other initiatives that the program is undertaking. In the past, this kind of information was scattered around in different websites. HUD User had data for people to download. We had a homepage at eGIS.hud.gov with links to all our applications. Various SharePoint sites offered information about how to access geospatial tools and documentation. The storefront brings all that information together so that we can drive people to a single resource when they have questions about what we offer. It is intended to be a self-service resource.
eGIS is available to both internal and external users. If you’re a researcher looking for the location of public housing developments, you can go to the site, type in “public housing,” and quickly find the GIS data we offer for public housing, for example. eGIS is a responsive design website, so if you’re on a tablet or a mobile device you will be presented with the interface appropriate for your device. We were originally looking at a hud.gov domain, but we realized that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of all the responsive design work that the HUD User folks have already done. So the HUD User site seemed like a natural place for eGIS.
No, not in this case. This is purely about access to data and increasing the information available to people who are curious about what tools we have. There’s a lack of, shall we say, awareness about what we are already doing. Instead of answering the same questions over and over, we can direct people to the storefront first and say, “Hey, it’s all there— explore away, and if you have more questions, come back to us.”
Through the website at https://www.huduser.gov/portal/egis/index.html.
Well it’s pretty self-explanatory. There are three main sections. There’s a section specific to data, and when you go there you are presented with a very simple interface where you type in what you’re looking for, and the site will search through our catalog of geospatial data resources and give you the results. People are familiar with that kind of interface. Or you can simply browse. At the moment we have maybe two dozen data sets up, but that list will grow tremendously as we continue to add more geospatial data sets to the site. We’ve started with the HUD data sets that people request most frequently, such as the location of public housing developments, the location of HUD’s insured and assisted multifamily portfolio, and the location of all of our entitlement grantees. These are the core data sets of our mission, so we’ve started populating the storefront with those data sets first, but we have literally dozens of geospatial data sets that would be of use to researchers and grantees that will be hosted and discoverable on the site. There is a section of the site specific to eGIS applications. Users can browse the different web-based GIS tools that are available to HUD staff and the general public. Each application has a page dedicated to describing the purpose of the tool and provides links to training resources and documentation, if any exist. This section will continue to grow as we currently have several new GIS applications under development. Finally, there is a Documentation portion of the site where the audience that is interested in data can access data dictionaries for all the data sets as well as code examples that show how you can use the Application Programming Interface, or API, to incorporate HUD geospatial data directly into their own applications without having to download the data.