King County GIS delivers return on investment

King County’s long-term use of its in-house Geographic Information System (GIS) has resulted in three quarters of a billion dollars in net benefits to the county, according to a first-of-its-kind report.

The report, issued by Professor Richard Zerbe and Associates, outlines the findings of the study of data over an 18-year period – from 1992 to 2010.

During that time, total cost for King County GIS, including capital development, central GIS operations and maintenance, and agency GIS end-user costs was more than $201 million. Overall net benefits of the County’s use of the GIS program was $775 million.

The study methodology looked at the cost to perform King County agency business functions both with and without GIS.  For example, County permit technicians were asked how much time it takes to pull together all the maps and spatial data needed to assist a permit applicant now with GIS, versus the time it would take the technician to perform the same business function without access to GIS tools and data.

The methodology included detailed interviews of 30 key County staff and an online survey to King County GIS users that was completed by 175 respondents.

Interview and survey responses were analyzed to compare costs of the service both with and without GIS level of effort.  The results were then compiled and monetized by output type and agency to measure cost savings and productivity benefits.

While return-on-investment estimates are often developed as part of a proposal to develop a geographic information system, it is believed that this is the first study by independent economic consultants to examine and measure the actual benefits realized by a city or county from the internal agency use of GIS.

This project was funded in part by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Geospatial Enterprise Office. Professor Zerbe is the Daniel J. Evans Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where he is Director of the Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis.

Link to the report:

The King County GIS Center is part of King County Information Technology, chartered as an internal service fund to provide GIS services to County agencies and external customers. The King County GIS Center operates King County’s enterprise GIS and provides data, services, and training to help put GIS to work. (


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