Case Study



District09 standardises and secures GIS environment

Doing more with available data and securing that data even better is a double challenge. To meet it, District09’s GIS team decided to enlist the help of a trusted technology partner. Together with FME specialist Nordend, District09 has brought greater structure and standardisation to the management of their IT environment. At the same time, they have significantly increased the governance and security of that environment.

District09 has been the ICT partner of the city of Ghent and partner organisations since 2003. Since 2021 under the name District09. As well as the City of Ghent, the citizens of Ghent and the Ghent ICT sector also rely on the services of this autonomous municipal company. District09 employs some three hundred staff for this purpose.

‘What we needed was a solid framework to structurally address our operational or digital issues. Together with Nordend, that new framework has given us a foundation on which we are now building further.’

Francis Vanden Bulcke, GIS Technical Application Specialist at District09

GIS team manages geodata with FME

District09’s GIS team manages numerous IT environments and applications that use spatial data. These can be external applications, such as citizen portals, but also internal applications that officials within the various city departments use for their work, for example.

To easily convert that spatial data to other formats and share it quickly, the team uses FME technology, developed by Safe Software. These include working with FME Form and FME Flow, formerly FME Desktop and FME Server.

The need for a structural framework

At one point, the GIS team determined that popularity of FME and various ways of working would only remain scalable through standardisation of usage. At the same time, the security of that environment also appeared to be in need of a thorough overhaul to come into line with current security and privacy standards. So there was a need not only for standardisation, but also for data protection per department.

“Unfortunately, it was difficult for us to tinker with security,” confesses Francis Vanden Bulcke, GIS Technical Application Specialist at District09. “After all, we didn’t know what the impact of our changes would be on the numerous FME Workspaces that had already been created over time – more than 500 in total! So we couldn’t do that on the fly. What we needed was a solid framework to address the issues structurally.”

Reconciling policy and security

District09 attributes the growing need for such a framework for IT governance to two main trends. GIS Expert Michaël Ferré explains: “On the one hand, the City of Ghent has an ambition of supporting its policies as strongly as possible with factual information, surveys and analyses, in order to make very data-driven decisions.”

“On the other hand, we live in a time when security requirements are becoming increasingly stringent. We have to reconcile these two broader trends in our IT management. In other words, we need to enable more and more data-driven policies without compromising on security. This requires central coordination and an appropriate governance framework.”

‘The way we work with Nordend is professional but also very human: a mix that fits perfectly with our own working culture. We felt that the fact that we share the same work ethic with Nordend was an excellent basis to build on.’

Michaël Ferré, GIS Expert at District09

Cultural fit

To create that new framework, the GIS managers decided to involve a trusted technology partner in their project. “We had already had good experiences with Nordend in executing previous assignments and so we already knew each other well. More importantly, we knew each other’s way of working,” explains Michaël Ferré.

“The way we work with Nordend is always professional but also very human: a mix that perfectly matches our own working culture. At the end of the day, we work for citizens. In other words: for people, who all have a different story. The fact that we share the same work ethic with Nordend was a good basis to continue our collaboration.”

Taking stock and brainstorming

Francis Vanden Bulcke, also praises the distinctly creative nature of the collaboration. “In an initial phase, we inventoried everything that was already running at that time. That mountain of information was spread over countless Excel sheets. This gave us a clear overview of where we stood and also gave us a better idea of where we needed to go with the FME platform. Slowly but surely, we re-aligned the FME and IT environments.”

In the next phase, the two parties set about brainstorming together on how best to get where they wanted to be. “Those creative workshops were definitely the most exciting and fun part of our process,” says Francis Vanden Bulcke. “In those brainstorms, we started from the idea that people were already doing a lot with all our data,” adds Michaël Ferré. “We didn’t want to deprive them of those opportunities, especially because in many cases these uses were now business critical. As it turned out, users did not have to give up substantially on the freedom to access data they had previous enjoyed. That freedom had not disappeared, only been somewhat curtailed, and in a way that they themselves also benefited.”

Creating support

Although IT initiated the project, users were very closely involved from the beginning. “That was also a conscious choice,” continues Michaël Ferré. “In this way, we managed to create sufficient support among them as well. This also ultimately allowed us to go much further in optimising our IT environment than we had initially thought possible.”

The results of this approach speak for themselves. District09’s GIS team has once again gained control over which process goes into production and when. In doing so, their developers can continue to work as before, but within a standardised structure, with standardised release management. Because of this standardisation, they not only enjoy better quality control, the management of their processes is also simplified.

District09 supports the whole process with the necessary governance, with a particular focus on security. Password management, for instance, is now under control, which can only benefit security. As Vanden Bulcke concludes, “Together with Nordend, with that new framework we have laid a foundation on which we can build further.”