An Overview of the Interactive Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke

When we worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to build the Interactive Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke, we knew it would serve as a great resource for anyone wanting geographic and demographic information related to heart disease and stroke.  Their goal was to provide public health leadership to improve cardiovascular health for all.  And the atlas would help identify places that bear the greatest burden of cardiovascular disease and potential causes, an early step towards tailoring resources and interventions to the needs of specific geographic areas.

The project goals were to provide a new internal and public access interactive web mapping application for the display of heart disease and stroke data as well as their risk factors and related data.  This involved an improved user interface experience and simplified data management.

With over 20,000 hits since January from all 50 states and 100 countries, the project is a success. To recognize the CDC’s dedication and work to help prevent heart disease; Esri presented them with the 2013 SAG Award at their Annual User Conference in San Diego.

Recently, researchers at the CDC published a report showing that out of 800,000 cardiovascular deaths each year, as many as 200,000 of the deaths could have been prevented if people had made health-related improvements to their lifestyle.  But one thing the report noted was that the rates of preventable death from heart disease and stroke were highest in the South, indicating that longevity may have more to do with your ZIP code rather than your genetic code.

With the highest rates of preventable death from heart disease and stroke concentrated in the South, it’s easy to visualize this finding within the Interactive Atlas application.  The map below represents the report’s findings.


The map allows users to select geographic areas to view, either by state, U.S. map with state data, or U.S. map with county data with the ability to pan and zoom to specific areas of the map.  Various health Indicators can be selected if users want to view map data based on all heart disease, coronary heart disease, acute myocardial infarction, cardiac dysthymia, heart failure, hypertension, all stroke, ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and preventable/avoidable death.

Users can then filter by race/ethnicity, gender, age, year, and spatial smoothing.  Other options can be selected to display on the map including determinants of health, for example social environment, race/ethnicity, and physical environment.  If a user wanted to view available health services on the map like hospitals and pharmacies, they have that option.  Users can also overlay the map to show healthcare facilities, roads and cities, and other boundaries.

Another useful feature is the ability to view two maps side-by-side for the purpose of comparison.  So if you wanted to visualize the heart failure death rate in Alabama for men versus women, you could easily switch it to view one map showing data for men and another map showing data for women.

side by side

And if that isn’t enough of a cool feature, the map has the ability to animate so that users can view historical data over time.  This is achieved by clicking the play icon on the map toolbar, shown in the screenshot below.

map animation

What’s intriguing about the interactive map, is not only what it shows, but the technology behind it. The CDC atlas is a Flex application that consumes map services from ArcGIS Server 10.  The data is housed within SQL Server.

The application also consists of a web service (WCF) that provides health and demographic data, which is dynamically bound to spatial boundaries on the client.  The Flex app loads the county and state boundaries during startup and retrieves health and demographical data from the web service, as needed per the criteria chosen by the user.

The app also uses a custom configuration schema that allows for easy updating and maintenance of the data by CDC.

It is exciting to see this application put to great use and really providing that spatial insight that makes it a little easier to understand the new reports the CDC released to the public.  And since we’ve spent enough time playing around with the application and zooming in and out of areas on the map, namely our hometowns, we’re thinking it’s time to start making some health improvements.  Maybe company meetings on the b-ball court?  Could be a start!

Designer Insight for Developers: A series of tips to help developers improve their interfaces

By: Lea Puckett

know thy people

Being the sole designer in a company our size can be a daunting task. With 100’s projects, I’m not always able to jump in and help when there are interface woes. I’ve been wondering for the past several months how I can make a bigger impact without going through the awkward process of cloning myself.

After our company meeting, Unplugged, it came to me. I needed to take the approach of working smarter rather than harder. In this instance, it means I need to share more of my knowledge, rather than piling on more projects. So this post marks the beginning of my knowledge transfer to developers who want to enhance their interface design skills.

Know Thy People

Typically, this is called “Know Thy User”, but I’ve changed it to people. I believe using the generic term user removes emotions from the equation, which is wrong. People use our applications and people are emotional creatures. It’s in our best interest not to forget this crucial point.

You need to get an understanding of the people who will be using your application by any means possible. Conduct interviews. If you can’t talk to people in-person or via phone, talk to someone who can give some insight. Some information, even secondhand, is useful. Gather whatever data you can find. Be it Google Analytics reports, 3rd party resources, or internal analytic reports. Perform user tests. If a system already exists, gather some users and run them through some of the core tasks the application does. This can be done in-person or remotely. There are several tools out there that can help you out with recording sessions remotely and locally so you can share with a broader group.

If it’s a new application, get wireframes in front of the users, so you can get feedback as soon as possible. The sooner you catch issues, the easier and cheaper they are to change. Don’t worry about things being polished. People like to be involved in the process and see their feedback acted upon.

After all of this curating, you should have a better understanding of how your people differ, what their goals are, what their needs are, how they think, and how they feel. You will begin to see trends/similarities between them, which will provide you with natural groupings. By having these groups to design for, this allows you to focus on the important features that meet the needs of the group instead of random individuals. This makes your job easier.
You maybe be uncomfortable with conducting interviews/talking with strangers and tempted to skip this part, please don’t. You will end up creating something that you “think” is what they want, but the flaw there is it’s your thoughts not the people who will be using the application. So boldly go where you haven’t before and get out there and talk to people!

5 Keys to a World-Class Location Enabled Supply Chain – Part One

By: Doug Mills

supply chain
This is the first installment of a short series of blog posts written to help you build a world-class location enabled supply chain.

Building a world-class supply chain is not easy but there are five keys to help you get there: (1) Optimization, (2) Velocity, (3) Adaptability, (4) Synchronization, and (5) Profitability.  These are key attributes that proper use of location based technology and information systems can drive bring to the fight to achieve a world-class supply chain.  We’ll begin with optimization.


Using the location information you already have in your business systems to optimize your supply chain is the first of our keys to achieving a world-class supply chain.

Some of the largest costs in your supply chain are shipping costs.  Sounds obvious, fuel cost are high and few forecasters are expecting those costs to decrease appreciably in the near future. These shipping costs can be overt and easy to identify, what you are paying to the delivery service or to maintain your fleet of trucks. They can be more covert, embedded in higher unit costs from suppliers. Costs of having more goods in transit to you because they are traveling great distances are two examples.

Mastering the “where” lets you take charge.  Using the power of location analytics, you can optimize your supply chain by understanding where your customer or distributors are and where the suppliers are for the materials you need. You can optimize your supply chain, just by picking the right place to build a plant or make the right decision on which is the best of your existing facilities to assemble your product in because of its location.

By understanding where your materials are, while they are in route to you lets you manage risk by helping your avert storms, backups or even civil unrest around the globe. Having clear visibility is no longer a nice to have, it is essential.  For several decades now we have been driving Lean practices. Gone are the days of expensive inventories sitting in large warehouses next to our plants.  We are driving electronic Kanbans and supplier held inventory to arrive within very narrow windows to achieve Takt times. Understanding the total volume of goods in your supply chain helps you manage costs with greater depth of understanding.

Optimizing where your suppliers are is critical. Enabling buyers to visualize where the suppliers are for the commodities they control is a key to driving a world class supply chain. Unit price, and advantageous Terms and conditions are important, but being able to step back and see that perhaps an extra penny or two in unit price can be far offset by hundreds of dollars saved in shipping cost due to 300-400 miles of shorter transportation or the amount of risk to on time delivery there is because we able to identify those vendors that were closest to our needs.  Enabling the purchasing aspects of your supply chain with location information products at the very front end will help better control you your bottom line.

If the lanes can be shortened by becoming location aware you can:

1)     Reduce overt shipping costs

2)     Reduce risk to outside influences on my lanes

3)     Increase velocity in you lanes

4)     Reduce the total volume of materials in my enterprise at any given moment (this equals reduced cost in materials within the enterprise at any given moment)

5)     Increased velocity means there is an increase in the amount of materials you can add into existing lanes without creating additional lanes should you need, to accommodate spike demands (adds robustness without additional cost)

Using the location information and some very basic location analytic tools to optimize your supply chain you can make some real gains in reducing supply chain cost, increasing velocity, and reducing supply chain risk. All of these combined benefits of actively using the location information within your enterprise will drive you forward to a world-class location enabled supply chain.

A GIS Developer’s Take on Service Excellence

gis developer

By: Kevin Bupp, Sr GIS Developer

You can probably think of a time where, as a customer, you were extremely satisfied with the service you received.  Conversely, you can probably think of even more examples where you were not so happy. Service Excellence can be somewhat difficult to explain, but we all know when we have received it, and more importantly when we haven’t.  It doesn’t take much to severely impact the relationship with a customer for good or for ill.  Sometimes, something as simple as always having a cheerful attitude when meeting with a customer can make the difference between a merely satisfying experience and a truly delightful experience.

It is important to note that “Service Excellence” does not mean to “Exceed Expectations.”  While exceeded expectations are always welcomed by the customer, it is not a good long term solution for a company and is difficult to operationalize.  Furthermore, service excellence is not limited to interactions with the customer, but also applies to co-workers, friends, and family.

The following list, while nowhere close to being comprehensive, provides some keys I feel are important for providing excellent service:

  • Deliver what was promised – This is a fundamental component of service excellence.  If you make promises that you can’t keep, the rest doesn’t matter.  Honor your commitments.
  • Deal well with problems and queries – No project is problem free.  How we deal with problems when they arise makes a lasting impression with a customer.
  • Provide a personal touch – Remember that your customers are people too, respect their time and presence.  Listen.
  • Go the extra mile – Very often it’s the little touches here and there that can add up.  The goal is not to simply satisfy requirements, but to create a delightful experience.

As a development team, it is important to regularly look for opportunities to provide service excellence to a customer.  Part of Service Excellence is identifying the areas where you can do something simple that will have a dramatic impact on the customer.  These “opportunities” do not necessarily need to take more time or resources, but with proper planning and design can be achieved.

Service excellence is something that everyone should be cognizant of during every aspect of a project. When everyone works towards providing a delightful experience, not only does the client feel the effects, but so does the entire team.

Big Events in GITA Southeast

By: Tammy McCracken

The Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) has been in a flux of change as they move from a paid staffing model to one that is volunteer-driven.   While GITA National is mapping out an ambitious plan going forward, GITA Southeast is forging ahead with an equally aggressive plan that includes events and activities that focus on education and the industry’s best practices.

GITA Southeast territory includes the states of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.  Quarterly, GITA Southeast hosts a popular venue called “Lunch and Learn”.  These events, scheduled during the lunch hour, are a great way to get out and meet new people who share a passion for our industry.   Typical programs include skills training, product application training, and professional development.

The April 2013 Lunch and Learn, “Using GIS to Support the Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Response of Electric Utilities”, held at the Esri Atlanta office focused on gaining insight into work done by Photo Science  in support of Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC).  Presented by Donald Enderle, he demonstrated how the use of GIS will better support disaster preparedness and response.  Efforts that support disaster preparedness were highlighted such as the use of  Vulnerability Maps and associated reports, staging site analysis and tabletop drill exercises that address those ‘what if?’ scenarios.    Mr. Enderle also highlighted how the use of facility maps and Disaster Response Plans become critical tools for the utility industry.

The highlight of the presentation came when Mr. Enderle demonstrated how it was possible to overlay existing weather event data to visualize impact of a new site location.  He walked our group through the overlay of the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak (the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded) onto a new area – Atlanta, GA!  Being able to demonstrate the ‘what if’ scenarios will go a long way to assisting the industry implement better, more responsive plans when disaster strikes.

facility mapping tornado events

In the works, GITA Southeast is planning a networking event at one of the Atlanta Braves games over the summer, a fantastic opportunity to meet and greet those developing innovative ideas in our industry.

To participate in this networking event or to sign up for GITA Southeast’s next “Lunch and Learn” go to the GITA Southeast website at:

Delivering Service Excellence When Things Go Wrong

business meeting

By: Keith King

If you provide a product or service, things will invariably go wrong.   A deadline will be missed, the product will break, or an expectation won’t be met.  It goes without saying that we must direct most of our attention toward doing what we say we will do.  If we continuously miss commitments and make it hard for our customers to do business with us then we won’t be a business for long.  However, how do you continue to deliver service excellence when thing go wrong?  Here are a few thoughts:

Run Into the Fire

It is often tempting to avoid the conflict or dance around the issue at hand.  This just makes things worse in the long run.  As the service or product provider, begin the process of dousing flames of anger and disappointment with blunt truths and full disclosure.  This may cause the flame to flare up temporarily, but in the long run you will build trust and have a much better chance of salvaging the relationship.

Tell the Truth

Do you want to do business with a liar?  Enough said.

Bad News gets Worse with Age

When you know there is a problem, tell the customer sooner rather than later.  Don’t try to buy time.  Getting out in front of the issue helps you minimize the impact on the customer and gives you a better chance of developing a joint solution.  Obviously, our customers don’t need to know all the gory details behind the sausage making process.  However, when you know something is going to go completely off the rails, err on telling the customer.

Change your Shoes

We are in business to serve our customers…so serve.  That means that we need to set aside our own self-interests and look at the situation as if we are in our customers’ shoes.  Have empathy and work hard to minimize the impact on your customer first and yourself second.

Show up

When things really go bad, get in your car or buy an airplane ticket and go see your customer in person.  This is one of those running into the fire actions.  It won’t be fun, but good things usually happen when you go see customers.

Take the Opportunity to Keep your Mouth Shut

When things go wrong, there usually is plenty of blame to go around.  This isn’t the time to blame the customer.  Let your customer vent.  Hear what they are saying.  When they are done, begin the process of building a plan for resolution.  If you try to start working on the plan too early, or (even worse) you insist on pointing out what the customer did wrong you are only going to meet resistance.  Give the customer some time to “get it off their chest”.   There is a time for everything under the sun…but this is the time to shut-up and listen.

Leave the Contract in the Drawer

When the contract comes out, you are way past the point of delivering service excellence.  You are trying to win a battle. So you have to ask yourself a few questions:  Is this a customer you want to have a long-term relationship with?  Do they have a point?  Did you mess up?  If the answer is yes, then leave the contract in the drawer.  Pulling out the contract turns the situation into a legal issue and it hurts your ability to salvage the relationship.  There will invariably be times where you have disagreements on project scope or a product’s capability; however, whenever possible, deal with these disagreements through ongoing expectation management and discussions…not the terms and conditions.

Make Bad News Good News

Let’s say you have decided to trade in your 5-year-old car and buy a new one.  Let me ask you a question on these two scenarios:

Scenario One/Dealer One:  The car you currently own has performed great.  You have had 5 years of trouble-free service with the car and the dealer you purchased it from.

Scenario Two/Dealer Two:  Five years ago, shortly after you bought your current car something went wrong.  In fact it went wrong because the dealer messed up.  You were disappointed and livid and you let the dealer know.  The dealer, however, listened to your issue, admitted their mistake, and fixed the problem.  In fact they exceeded your expectations in the process of fixing the problem.  You got the car back and have driven it for 4.9 years of trouble-free service.

So my question: who are you going to buy your next car from, Dealer One or Dealer Two?

I bet you picked Dealer Two.  At first, this might seem illogical because, after all, at some point in the experience you were very upset with the dealer.  However, they made it right.  We inherently know that it is impossible for things to always go as planned.  And when they do go wrong, we want someone to be there to own and fix the problem.  My point is to be like Dealer Two when things go wrong.

Let me reiterate, compensating for poor operational or product performance by getting good at begging for forgiveness is not a business strategy.  It is a bankruptcy strategy.   We have just a few chances to recover from our mistakes.  If we can’t deliver, the customer might think we are a nice person/company, but they will eventually dump us for someone who is competent.

In my years of working in complex and highly technical service oriented industries where things often go wrong, I have learned the above concepts through the school of hard knocks and from some very intelligent and street-smart people.  To include my buddy Mike Sorrentino, Jim Morgan, a former CEO of Applied Materials, Roger Cameron from Cameron-Brooks, and several “salty” bosses from Navy and private industry – Thanks for teaching me these concepts folks.  They have served me well.  For those reading this article, I hope they serve you well too.

Estimating the ROI of a GIS (Geographic Information System) Solution for Location Analytics

By: Tim Calkins

If your organization is evaluating the feasibility of a GIS solution or already has a mature Location Analytics platform, calculating the derived benefit to the bottom line is powerful and constructive exercise.  The goal of this post is to help build the business justification with ROI (Return on Investment) as the quantitative yardstick for measuring the cost/benefit and value achieved from a GIS solution.

There are many tangible and intangible benefits derived from the problems a GIS solution will solve.  Qualifying and quantifying the results of the ROI exercise and then documenting them is a common practice and many tools are available to assist with the calculation.

Building the business case

A business case is best described as a financial story based on facts, structured assumptions, and logic. It provides a vehicle by which the financial impact of the options can be examined and conclusions drawn.


A bank wants to analyze its customers and loans by location, product, industry, risk and risk exposure.  The bank would like to assist a manager’s ability to visualize their accounts in an easy to use dashboard.  After review of their capabilities, a spider chart was produced with current and desired functionality.


Visualize Customers Current Desired
By Geography



By Topography



By Risk Rating



By Product



By Collateral Class



By Catastrophic Scenario



By Industry



By DPD (Days Past Due)



The bank had considerable gaps between where they were and where they desired to be as an organization.  They wanted the ability to overlay a map of customers along with a hurricane’s path or see what customers or facilities are within 25 miles of the San Andreas Fault or below 25 feet above sea level along coastal areas.  Working with senior management, gaps were prioritized and then assigned a value.  Results were tabulated and reported back to senior management using a standard ROI template.

The above use case has been oversimplified but building justification can be boiled down to a few basic steps.  The outline below uses a five-step process derived from standard practices around calculating ROI.  These steps were adapted from “The Business Benefits of GIS: An ROI Approach” but summarized for a more agile approach.

The 5 steps are:

  1. Determine the need and benefits of a GIS solution
  2. Outline and prioritize business requirements and opportunities
  3. Assess budget and project timelines
  4. Estimate benefits
  5. Document and present results

Step 1 – Determine the needs and benefits of a GIS solution

Does your GIS solution align with your organization’s strategic objectives?

The first step in calculating your ROI will involve looking at what’s driving the need of a GIS solution.  You’ll need to assess your organizational pain points and weigh them against your goals and objectives.  During this step you must consult crucial stakeholders and identify the improvements and benefits of a GIS solution.  Key decision makers must be identified and should be made aware of the ROI study.  Their involvement and approval is crucial to the ROI process

Step 2 – Outline and prioritize business requirements and opportunities

Defining the scope of the project is next.  Getting agreement on what problems the GIS solution will solve and the functionality needed, along with knowing what is nice to have versus what you need to have, should be documented.  The pain points should be objectively laid out and prioritized with the end users and business partners.  Also you should outline the opportunity costs and what the risks are of not having a GIS solution.  The intangibles are much harder to quantify but a value should still be placed on them.  Critical objectives should be benchmarked for a before and after appraisal.

Step 3 – Assess budget requirements

After the scope of the solution is agreed upon, the cost of the project should be estimated.  The steps are the same if the GIS solution is already in place and you are just adding features or functionality.

The ROI model allows you to break out the elements associated with the specific projects in your portfolio to allow comparison between the benefit value of a calculated base case without GIS and a calculated case with GIS. To complete the template, it is necessary to revisit the original opportunity list.

Step 4 – Estimate benefits

In order to estimate a type of return on an investment in location analytics, a value must be assigned to derived dividends of the solution.  Mapping out capabilities at the start (current) of the project and what’s expected to be achieved (desired) allows you to see the “gap” and assign that gap a value.  Working with senior executives and your organizational goals, you should be able to team up and assess the value of reaching your desired capabilities.  It’s a great exercise to get buy-in and prioritize which capabilities add the most value.

There are many different ROI templates available for free on the web and you can dive as deep in the financial weeds as you want.  How deep is dependent on what level of detail your management requires.  Using these templates and mapping capabilities you should be able to use the estimated benefits to assign a quantitative value with the templates.  Based on the results of the analysis, it may be necessary to adjust the budget or seek additional examples of quantitative benefits that can be modeled in order to make a strong argument for GIS.

Step 5 – Document and present results

The final step will have you compiling your templates and creating reports with the purpose of demonstrating to senior management the value of funding a GIS solution for location analytics.  There are many different styles you could use to format your report but I suggest you start with an outline containing the following key components:

Executive summary It should be a high-level overview of your findings and a proposal for moving forward.  It should be written with your senior team leadership in mind.

Background and history – Describe the need or shortfall that started this project and why your organization decided to look at this type of solution.

Purpose and scope – Next you need to provide an outline of the justification for this project and a review of processes and capabilities.

Proposed project – The next step is to describeas the solutions to the problems outlined above.  It should be detailed enough to accurately describe what features and functionalities will be included.

Cost and time frame – The almighty budget and dollars will receive the most scrutiny.  Time frame and internal and external resources should be included in this section.  This is the most challenging section of the report and should receive the most attention.  If this part is not deemed accurate then it will put the entire solution in jeopardy.

Recommended action – The purpose of the final section is to summarize the results and make a recommendation to senior management that the program should be funded as proposed in the report. This final sec­tion should be very focused on your key arguments and should be no more than a few paragraphs.

Glossary of terms – The last section should content an appendix with a glossary of the terms used in your report.  Your glossary should include both GIS terms and ROI financial terms.  Most likely the report will be presented to both audience and there is a good chance that only readers will only know either financial or GIS terms, not both.  So it will be useful to keep everyone on the same page.


A positive ROI tells a compelling story, especially if the advantages line up with your organization’s mission and strategic direction.  Both tangible and intangible benefits can be achieved along with better access to data and improved quality of a data for decision-making.  Without ROI estimation, senior leadership can only focus on how much a GIS solution costs and not the organizational advantages. Estimating the value of your GIS solutions provides an effective framework and roadmap for the location analytics solution.

If your organization is about to evaluate a GIS solution, our team can provide help in calculating its ROI.  We offer a few free hours to help guide you on your project and get started in the right direction.  If you would like more information, feel free to fill out the form below and we will be in contact with you shortly.