Using GIS to link addresses to PDF documents

Many local gvernments face the challenge of organizing decades worth
of permit, building plan and zoning variance documents in a way that
will allow employees to locate them if needed. Most municipalities
have these paper documents stored in boxes, filing cabinets or in some
other storage container that can be a burden to search through. The
Village of Winnetka Community Development Department has recently
attempted to reduce their amount of paper documents by scanning new
zoning variance requests into a digital, PDF format.

The ultimate goal for the department is to convert all their
documents, both current and historical, to a digital format that allows
for a more efficient workflow. While there are several document
management solutions available for managing digital files, many are
expensive and do not provide a spatial component to show the location
that each document applies to. To avoid purchasing new software, the
Geographic Information System (GIS) Department was asked to produce a
sample project linking the existing digital zoning variance documents to
the village address data and would allow for employees to retrieve
documents spatially.

GIS software is not a document management tool, but it does allow for
external files to be linked to spatial data using a common attribute,
such as address or Parcel Identification Number (PIN) information. For
this project, a data table containing all the network path information
for each variance document was created and stored in a geodatabase. To
create the link between the documents and their corresponding spatial
features, the address information and PIN number for the parcel
associated with each document was also included in the table. An
existing address point feature class for the village acts as the spatial
component for this project and also contains its corresponding PIN
information. Thus allowing for the use of these common attributes to
link these sensitive documents to their respective geographic location.

Accessing the documents from the GIS system requires a basic
knowledge of the tools available in the software. Using a database
relationship between the document path data table and the address point
feature class, a user can query an address and open the PDF using basic
GIS tools. When accessed, the software reads the network path of the
document from the data table and opens the file in the standard PDF
viewer software loaded on the computer. This allows for village
employees to retrieve document information using a basic map interface
instead of searching through numerous network folders and deciphering
file naming conventions hoping to find what they’re looking for.

While PDF document retrieval and viewing can be done without GIS,
integrating the functionality of accessing digital zoning variance files
and linking them to GIS has helped the Village of Winnetka streamline
their document retrieval workflow and help improve their time
efficiency. All in all, demonstrating the effectiveness of using GIS
within local government to centralize documentation and to make
searching for it more efficient.