The New York Statewide Digital Orthoimagery Program (Program), managed by the NYS Office of Cyber Security (OCS), has produced regularly updated orthoimagery of the state since 2001. The orthoimagery has served as a trusted, high-resolution, and spatially accurate base layer for data development and other Geographic Information System (GIS) activities. Since its inception, the Program has emphasized timely and widespread distribution of the orthoimagery. The images are delivered to the relevant counties and made freely available to all for viewing and downloading; bulk deliveries are provided to federal, state, and county agencies; and Web service availability has existed since 2008.
The report is intended to estimate the return on investment (ROI) of the Digital Orthoimagery Program. Understanding the value of the Program to its users is especially important now, given the Program’s reliance on scarce public resources (a combination of state, county, and federal funding) as well as the greater availability of alternative sources of imagery.
To estimate the return on investment, the study — which was conducted in 2012 by the NYS OCS with assistance from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government of Albany, New York — surveyed public sector and some private sector users regarding their uses of orthoimagery originating from the Program. The survey was conducted through in-person interviews, electronic surveys, and phone calls. Public sector users in the survey included nine state agencies, fifteen NYS counties, and nine agencies in New York City. Private sector users included representatives of selected industries and occupations expected to use the images, including surveyors, real estate professionals, engineers, and nonprofit land trusts.
The surveys attempted to identify productivity savings by asking users to estimate actual savings (usually labor costs) compared to the counterfactual situation of not having the images. The surveys also sought to understand the values of products with the imagery compared to their value without the imagery. Finally, the surveys sought to determine other benefits to users, with or without dollar savings.
They found that many public and private users felt that they could not carry out their functions without the Program, or if they did, their costs would be much higher or the quality of their services or products would be lower. But they also attempted to estimate productivity savings and compare them to actual costs over the time period, 2006-11. Based on data collected on public sector users alone for this six year period, they estimated that the Program broke even in the first year of the study, 2006. In a sample of fifteen counties and New York City, benefits totaled $24.7 million between 2006 and 2011. In nine state agencies, benefits equaled $17.8 million. During this same period, OCS and its funding partners spent around $13.4 million, for a net benefit of $29.1 million from 2006 to 2011.
In addition to the net benefits calculated from a limited sample of counties, they estimate that a more complete reckoning of public sector users would substantially increase the net benefits, even using very conservative assumptions in extrapolating to other counties. Indeed, a phone survey of all counties in New York found that nearly all counties used the Program, often extensively and in multiple offices. If the average benefits estimated in the study sample of 15 counties is extrapolated to this larger number of counties (35 additional counties) which they know use orthoimagery, estimated net benefits of the Program increase from $29 million to $48-60 million dollars for 2006-11, depending on assumptions. They also found many examples of productivity and strategic savings among private sector users. In sum, it is clear that even a study that is limited in its coverage of all Program users — and limited in its capacity to translate all reported benefits into quantitative terms — shows that the NY Statewide Digital Orthoimagery Program provides extensive net benefits to the state of New York.
Tim Ruhren, Imagery Data Manager
Ray Faught, Orthoimagery Manager
Frank Winters, Director, GIS Program Office