As with most assessor’s mapping sites, the parcel boundary and attribute
data are owned and maintained by the County of San Francisco.
The real estate listings, however, are maintained by private teams of real
estate brokers in various local offices. SFProspector includes data about
property availability and pricing as well as site photos because a small
cadre of realtors enter the data themselves. This collaboration between private
and public entities is what sets SFProspector apart from the typical municipal Web
site. Devoid of formal GIS training, the realtors are connected to the city’s enterprise
GIS information only by shared geography, a mutual desire to stimulate
local commercial business, and a Web browser.
In the six months since the launch in November 2002, 15 commercial
real estate companies have registered to update the SFProspector site, uploading
approximately 600 photos of rental and sale properties. Logins are individual
by broker with one superbroker for each company. Typically, the superbroker logs
in first, creates an entry for an available property, and tags it with a broker’s
name. Individual brokers later add some photos and make changes to their listings
Behind the map. Usability and education are critical components to a collaborative
spatial Web site. At SFProspector, an administrative data entry dashboard
(unavailable to the general public) helps the realtors keep track of their holdings.
When a superbroker logs in, she can see all subbrokers and their information,
such as how many sites have been posted and their posting dates.
The dashboard is one of several efforts to educate the (nontechnical) brokers
in data-entry techniques, an effort that began in person. As part of the overall
site and administrative dashboard design process, the prime consultant, GIS Planning
(www.gisplanning.com), joined city
staff in holding training sessions at individual
real estate companies. GIS Planning also educated the city’s technicians.
Six months after signing the contract to build SFProspector, GIS Planning passed
site-management control to the city staff. Seamon emphasized that the city didn’t
try to build their own application interface, but instead injected their requirements
into GIS Planning’s best-of-breed solution.
Even with training and a usable dashboard interface, nontechnical realtors
sometimes still need help with data entry. Rather than give them a direct line to the site’s developers, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development handles basic training aspects of incoming support
calls, only passing true technical problems to the technical team. Realtors
communicate mainly via e-mail, but can also phone for support.
Carrot and stick. The realtors got a message from the top that SFProspector was
important. Mayor Willie L. Brown held a session for real estate executives in the
City Hall press room in which he clearly articulated his executive sponsorship
for SFProspector to the private sector. According to Seamon, “Executives,
politicians, and bureaucrats are starting to see that technology has a direct relationship
in affecting the economy,” and this session formalized the intent to collaborate for mutual gain.
What are the gains, specifically? The benefit to real estate executives is
increased exposure; the city’s Web site serves 1.5 million visitors per month.
The benefit to the city is increased commercial activity and the resulting tax
revenue. The benefit to IT bureaucrats and the public they serve is a more tightly
integrated information source.
During the design phase, the site’s planners also evaluated the competition,
namely, private commercial applications such as Costar
model (that is, exposure increases sales) overlapped the city’s. However, the city’s
control of business data and ability to offer their service freely set their model
Lessons learned. Seamon said managing construction of SFProspector was allconsuming
for four of the 12 months, but not for technical reasons. “The technical
piece is the easiest to deal with; up-front time with the vendor and existing staff
with experience in the map services arena allowed for a smooth technical implementation,”
Seamon said. “That said, you can develop the greatest application,
but if nobody’s using it, it has no power or value. The budgetary, organizational,
and media pieces, such as communicating the value to other organizations, were
much more challenging. Realtor involvement was critical, so we spent a lot of
time reinforcing the interactive value to these organizations,” he continued.
The technical ease Seamon describes was also due to the fact that the city’s
underlying enterprise GIS was in good shape, with clean data and spatial technology
already in place. (SFProspector runs on IBM
and IBM’s DB2 database connected to ESRI’s
(www.esri.com) ArcIMS with
ArcSDE middleware, all part of internal GIS operations before the SFProspector
project began.) The city departments supplying data were unified and there
was no need for additional server or software purchase — the primary expense
was paying the vendor. Seamon considers this project an example of rapid application
development (the site was up in six months) due to pre-existing enterprise