There are people who like their jobs. There are even people who love their jobs.
Then there are people who got out of their way—and out of their own pockets—to learn a new skill and make their jobs easier for their colleagues.
Kelsey Ciarrocca, a cartographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District’s real estate division, is the latter.
Ciarrocca was recently named the Galveston District’s “Innovator of the Year” and USACE's "Real Estate Professional of the Year" for masterminding a way to make the maps her real estate team uses more interactive and resourceful.
A cartographer by trade—that’s a person who makes maps—Ciarrocca’s job has evolved quite a bit since arriving at USACE Galveston in 2018. Most of her job involved making geospatial products—like maps—for the real estate division whenever they acquired new land. In time, a growing need for more complex maps became apparent.
Ciarrocca saw the trend and wanted to keep her real estate team ahead of the curve. She realized how remotely accessible, real-time maps could make life for her colleagues easier, especially in their work on the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay (S2G) Program.
‘Smarter, not harder’
“My favorite phrase is ‘[work] smarter, not harder’,” Ciarrocca said.
The project delivery teams (PDT) Ciarrocca supports for the S2G program employ a number of USACE staff and contractors doing work out in the field. This often involves the Real Estate team going door-to-door to secure rights-of-entry (ROE) from landowners in order to access property. The ROEs are critical to the Corps’ work in conducting surveys and cultural and geotechnical investigations. These, in turn, help bring a project from conceptual design to construction.
“It’s important for my team and contractors to know which properties they do and don’t have access to,” Ciarrocca said. “That way, our real estate team isn't duplicating efforts, and our contractors can be accurate and strategic when conducting work in the field.”
It was this need for efficiency that got Ciarrocca thinking. She began to see the need for real time and detailed maps; ones that could give her team a range of useful data and other details about the property to help maximize their time and resources.
Ciarrocca began researching programs she could integrate into USACE Galveston’s geospatial information systems (GIS)—the mainframe for maps—that would help keep track of the real estate division’s 2,000-plus ROEs.
But that wasn’t enough. She needed something that could also give the realty specialists detailed notes—that could be updated in real-time—giving them more context and insight about the specific properties they were standing on.
What she found was an off the shelf, cloud-based program with a variety of functionalities that fit the bill perfectly: Smartsheet.
From gatekeeper to innovator
After her team members Nichole Schlund and Haley Tucker worked to setup an ROE data intake process and get all the ROE data into Smartsheet, there was still one hurdle Ciarrocca had to overcome. The process of updating the ROE GIS data was still a long, tedious, and manual process. A process she was the only one working on. She found herself being the gatekeep for the ROE GIS data and maps.
Ciarrocca needed to figure out how to get the notes and insight updated in real-time to the Corps’ GIS data. She also had to solve for how she was going to get the different data sets between Smartsheet and the GIS to ‘talk’ to each other.
How was she going to get Smartsheet to do the work for her on the GIS, where all the Corps’ data is hosted?
It became clear to Ciarrocca that she was going to have to learn a new skill.
Ciarrocca got tutored once a week for six months on application programming interface (API). Not an easy feat when you’re already working long hours to implement an enterprise-wide program.
As she began to learn the intricacies of API and got better at it, the transition to interactive, real-time maps began to take place.
“Now, we have live data in Smartsheets and in our GIS,” Ciarrocca said. “It’s been a natural progression.”
Transparency for all
Putting all that data into Smartsheet and incorporating it into GIS made the real estate team’s efforts more effective and collaborative, Ciarrocca said.
“We were able to report in a way we weren’t able to before,” she said about the breakthrough in real-time, comprehensive maps.
There was an added benefit to the innovation as well.
All members working on the project—USACE personnel, to contractors—were now able to see the pertinent information and access it from wherever they were without having to go through a middleman—or woman.
Without a gatekeeper controlling the flow of information, there was more transparency with everyone involved in the projects, Ciarrocca said.
A prime example of this transparency, Ciarrocca recalled, involved a 12-foot alligator encountered on a property.
“It’s details like that we were now able to make sure the contractors could see,” she said. “Details that can ensure their safety.”
On top of implementing a better process, Ciarrocca’s innovations with API also lead to the development of web interfaces for the PDT members to interact with GIS. These interfaces are also being used as a way for USACE Galveston to communicate with non-federal sponsors.
Furthermore, Ciarrocca’s work has inspired other real estate teams across USACE to implement and expand upon the process she developed within Smartsheet and GIS. So much so, that she has now become USACE’s ‘go-to’ on all things Smartsheet and real estate data management.
“We really do have world-class leadership that lets us run with an idea,” Ciarrocca said about her supervisors and Galveston chain of command.
While the work with mapping keeps evolving, and more high-profile projects keep coming in, Ciarrocca feels the Corps of Engineers’ spirit of innovation will continue to lead the way.
“It’s really helping position us for the future.”