We did an interview about Railroad GIS with Tomy Brown, owner of Geomobiliti Inc. and a Railroad GIS expert. What are the trends in the Railroad Industry from the GIS perspective, and his experience in using GIS Cloud are all covered in this interview.
GC: Tomy, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what do you specialize in.
TB: I am the owner of Geomobiliti Inc. We are located in Florida and we specialize in GIS for short lined railroads and we provide GIS services to companies in general.
GC: What is the background of your clients in terms of industries?
TB: For instance, some of our clients come from Telecommunications industry. We provide TIS (Technological Innovation System) Analysis to identify candidate parcels for terrasse and as an example we have to take into a consideration how property is zoned.
GC: How did your workflow look like prior to GIS implementation?
TB: We have used GIS from the very beginning, but I can tell you how it looked like In the Railroad Industry before. Majority of work was done manually, so paper maps were used, documents were stored and things like that. So with the GIS introduction, a lot of the data was now cataloged and stored in a data repository and attached to features in a GIS map allowing people to very easily pull up and print the information using the GIS.
There is a particular example of an old school user who wouldn’t use GIS. He had a situation where he had a potential client calling about 2 pieces of property that the railroad owned. So by using the GIS technology and some simple operations like intersection he was able to get results super-fast and was able to go and check the locations of his results in the field. Had he have done it the old fashioned way, he would have had to go and look through the maps looking for those intersections and what took him 5 minutes with GIS would have taken him 2 hours. So I don’t need to tell you that that, sold him to start using GIS.
GC: What would be the main components of a GIS Railroad industry?
TB: Railroad GIS is usually created for the Real-estate Department. It’s to help record all the real estate transactions that take place, not only with the land but also that include license agreements with utility companies. There is a considerate amount of revenues generated from utility companies’ crossing over railroad property which is especially important in US because the railroads are not nationalized. Private railroad companies have transactions that take place with utility companies and adjacent land owners to lease land that the railroad owns. All of that data is captured in an affirmative agreement and we were able to map that on GIS. When we gather all that data and put it in a database, which is stored on a server, users can access the data online as supposed to going to a file cabinet and look for it manually. You can click on a feature on a map and retrieve not only attributes but also attached documents like PDF-s.
It is so much easier now that you can for instance see an aerial image of the location and associated document to it. It allows a user to do actions in 5 minutes what would have taken them couple of hours usually.
GC: You use both Desktop and GIS Cloud. How has that been for you in terms of combining both to create a perfect workflow for your company?
TB: We use Desktop for doing analysis and then creating maps. Once we have maps done and ready at a point where we are ready to publish them, we then publish the maps using GIS Cloud Publisher for ArcMap. Once the maps are published to GIS Cloud, we prepare the map for client. We set the layers so they are easily identifiable, we color code it so the features stand out and then we attach documents to the layers and features. We have tried different options of map publishing for our clients to keep their cost down. Once I found GIS Cloud, we found that the performance of the map and functionality of the apps outweighs far anything else we have come across.
GC: Are your clients satisfied with GIS Cloud apps, and do they find them user friendly to use?
TB: When I suggest to my client’s different solutions that we offer, and show them the GIS Cloud option and its capabilities along with its price, the decision has been very easy for them thus far.
GC: Is there a need for prior knowledge of GIS before using GIS Cloud?
TB: The interface has been designed very user friendly, it is very straight forward, so it has been one of the main advantages of the apps for our clients. Some other solutions, while they may have similar tools, they are not very inviting to amateur users. So that is why I think some of the older users in Railroad companies, who are resistant to change, are willing to go GIS Cloud once they try it out. In other words GIS Cloud makes it inviting for everybody to be able to use GIS.
GC: When you could point our features to recommend GIS Cloud to other users, what would those be?
TB: I would definitely start with map performance which is probably one of the biggest selling points. We recently had a client swap over using an ESRI product to use GIS Cloud. One of the biggest compliments coming from them is how fast the map display is. With GIS Cloud you can create attractive maps that are easy to use, and then everyone wants to use them. So when we present our clients different solutions, and when they see how fast and how beautiful their maps are using their data, they are easily converted to GIS Cloud. And then the search tool that GIS Cloud apps have, is such an awesome and life saver feature.
The other big selling point for GIS Cloud for Railroads is Mobile Data Collection app. The ability to record data about their assets and to record property and drainage issues, so to collect that information is very valuable for them to understand patterns, trends and the issues that they are dealing with on a daily basis.
GIS is also a great way to make departments collaborate and work together. To put all the data in one repository, so that everyone can access it and work simultaneously.
GC: Special thank you to Tomy Brown who was kind as always to find the time and do an interview with us.