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two people comparing paper maps to digital maps

From Paper to Digital Maps: Preparing for the Future

May 18, 2023

Early in my career as a GIS Technician, I worked on a project to locate and GPS a city's water and sewer assets, partnering with a city employee, we’ll call “Greg”, who was set to retire in less than a year. 

Following a review of the city’s paper maps, I was about to head over to where I thought the main valve was located when Greg said, “That valve is no longer there. We moved it about a decade ago.” He then proceeded to show me where the valve was actually located. 

This happened a few more times throughout the project and I had a stark realization: all that irreplaceable knowledge was in Greg’s head. What will happen to all of that information once he retires? 

Cities across the country face the same situation: veteran workers hold all of the knowledge because paper maps haven’t been updated in years. 

Public work departments play a crucial role in maintaining the infrastructure that serves the public. Efficient management of this infrastructure requires up-to-date maps. For many years, paper maps were the primary tool used to manage public works operations. However, with the progress of digital technology, more and more departments are switching to effective digital mapping solutions.

Here are the top 7 reasons making the switch from paper maps to digital maps is crucial for public works teams:

  1. Efficiency

Digital maps can be accessed and updated in real-time, allowing agencies to make better, faster decisions. Digital maps allow you to update an asset’s location with the click of a button, removing the need to draw and make handwritten notes on paper maps. Notes can often be inaccurate or hard to understand.

2. Cost Savings

How many times have you had to reach out to an engineering or consulting firm to have them create updated maps? How much did that cost your department? 

Switching from paper maps to digital can lead to cost savings for public work departments. With digital maps, departments can reduce the need for paper maps to be recreated, which can be costly to produce and distribute. In addition, digital maps can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, reducing the cost of physical storage.

3. Collaboration

How often are you reaching out to other departments for them to send you copies of their paper maps? How often is one of your field users having to wait on someone else to finish their project so you can use the big book of paper maps that is in their truck? 

With paper maps, it can be difficult to share information between team members and other departments or agencies. With digital maps, information can be shared in real time, allowing greater collaboration. By adding employees as users to your digital mapping software, everyone can access and update the maps together at the same time, speeding up project time.

4. Accessibility

With public work projects, residents want to be updated on what is going on in their community. We all know the one resident who is going to stand on their porch, waving you over to ask what you’re doing and when you’ll be done. 

Digital mapping provides greater accessibility to the public. Digitally, you can share view-only maps that can be embedded into the city’s website. Thus, allowing residents, town councils, or third-party contractors and developers to track and follow along with what’s going on in their neighborhoods without the need to hound you for the information. 

Digital maps can also be shared with other departments and local agencies, keeping everyone up to date on the specifics of your system. And the best part? You can choose which aspects of your data are shared with the public!

5. Sustainability

As cities shift towards sustainability, switching from paper maps to digital can have environmental benefits. Paper map production and distribution require a lot of paper and other resources. Digital maps only need a computer, phone, or tablet, allowing trees to thrive and public works departments to be environmentally friendly.

6. Easy Reporting and Meeting Governmental Regulations

Digital maps are a convenient way to generate reports, submit initial inventories, and update future inventories in compliance with the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule. With digital maps, you can easily create the required fields, including location information, system, and customer-owned service line material classification, and any additional information that needs to be included in the reports.

7. Workforce planning

As a new generation of public workers joins the workforce and veteran employees move into retirement, digital maps can allow for a smooth transition. New team members can quickly get up to speed on historical changes and update assets at the touch of a button. 

Cities across the country face the same situation: veteran workers hold all of the knowledge because paper maps haven’t been updated in years.


Digital maps provide greater efficiency, cost savings, collaboration, accessibility, and sustainability. By making the switch to digital mapping solutions, public work departments can improve their operations and provide better service to the public.


Take the first step towards a digital future by reaching out to us.