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The Advantages of Using Free GIS Mapping Online for Urban Planning

Urban planning plays a crucial role in the development and management of cities. It involves analyzing, designing, and implementing strategies to ensure sustainable growth and improve the quality of life for residents. One tool that has revolutionized the field of urban planning is Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. With advancements in technology, free GIS mapping online has become an invaluable resource for urban planners. In this article, we will explore the advantages of using free GIS mapping online for urban planning.

Access to a Wealth of Data

One of the primary advantages of utilizing free GIS mapping online for urban planning is the access to a wealth of data. Traditional methods relied on physical maps and manual data collection, which could be time-consuming and costly. With free GIS mapping tools available online, planners now have access to a vast amount of spatial data at their fingertips. This data includes information on demographics, land use patterns, transportation networks, and much more.

By integrating various datasets into their maps, planners can gain valuable insights into the existing conditions within a city or region. They can identify areas with high population density or areas prone to flooding or other natural hazards. This information helps in making informed decisions about zoning regulations, infrastructure development, and resource allocation.

Visualization and Analysis

Another advantage offered by free GIS mapping online is the ability to visualize and analyze spatial data effectively. Maps created using GIS software are not only visually appealing but also provide valuable information that can be easily understood by stakeholders.

Planners can overlay different layers on their maps to analyze relationships between various elements such as land use patterns and transportation networks or identify potential locations for new infrastructure projects like schools or hospitals. By visualizing these relationships spatially, planners can make better-informed decisions about future developments.

Collaboration and Communication

Free GIS mapping tools facilitate collaboration among different stakeholders involved in urban planning projects. Traditionally, planners had to rely on physical maps or printed reports to share information with other team members or decision-makers. This process was not only time-consuming but also prone to errors and miscommunication.

With free GIS mapping online, planners can easily share their interactive maps with others, allowing for real-time collaboration. Multiple team members can work on the same map simultaneously, making updates and sharing their insights. This streamlines the planning process and ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page.

Cost-Effective Solution

Implementing a GIS mapping system can be expensive, especially for smaller municipalities or organizations with limited budgets. However, free GIS mapping online offers a cost-effective solution for urban planners. These tools provide access to powerful mapping capabilities without the need for expensive software licenses or hardware investments.

By utilizing free GIS mapping online, urban planners can save on upfront costs while still benefiting from the advantages offered by GIS technology. This makes it accessible to a wider range of organizations and allows them to allocate resources more efficiently.

In conclusion, free GIS mapping online has become an essential tool in urban planning due to its numerous advantages. It provides access to a wealth of data, facilitates visualization and analysis of spatial information, enables collaboration among stakeholders, and offers a cost-effective solution. By leveraging these advantages, urban planners can make more informed decisions and develop sustainable strategies for the betterment of our cities.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


gis strategic plan


  • Dennis Wuthrich

What is a GIS Strategic Plan and Template

It allows me to research the latest technologies, review what we’ve done for other clients and then weave that into an optimized, tailored solution for the new client.  That kind of thinking forms the foundation for everything else we do.

What is a GIS Strategic Plan? 

Strategic Plans provide GIS Managers and their colleagues with a document that defines the technical and business objectives of a GIS Program. This provides a guidepost by which to assess whether individual tactical initiatives are consistent with the overall strategy of what the organization is trying to accomplish with geospatial technology.  A good  GIS strategic plan tells a story .

GIS Strategic Plan Template

While no one template fits every case, a  typical process for developing a GIS Strategic Plan at Farallon includes:

  • Identify the business problem being solved
  • Identify the target users
  • Identify necessary/desired integration with other systems
  • Identify short- and long-term criteria for success
  • Develop a business case
  • Define scope of work
  • Recommend optimal implementation technologies and tactics
  • Develop a project management plan
  • Develop  schedules and staffing
  • Develop a quality assurance plan
  • Develop a communication plan
  • Develop a risk management plan

Many GIS Managers may have an innate sense for much of this and do a good job at directing their staff accordingly. However, most GIS Managers also tend to have significant day-to-day operational responsibilities that prevent them from taking a month away to research, analyze, and reflect on business objectives, technology, data, and workflow and then document that thinking in an easily digestible GIS Strategic Plan.

That’s where I and my Farallon teammates come in. We are technical geeks at heart who also have an  understanding of and appreciation for the business processes that rely on application of GIS.  We thrive on determining the optimal and the most forward-looking technologies and workflows for the job. Basically we like to solve problems, reduce confusion, tell a story and build the roadmap that an organization can use to lead their GIS efforts into the future.  That is why, to me,  a GIS strategic planning is so fulfilling.

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Making Room for Innovation with GIS Strategic Planning

Managing gis, a column from members of the urban and regional information systems association.

With 2017 already a quarter of the way over, has your organization started planning for 2018 yet?

Strong organizations—especially ones that use an ever-evolving technology such as GIS—continually plan for future developments and updates to their current product offerings. Furthermore, strategic planning like this is essential to making sure a GIS department has a single vision, where products and innovation come together to produce a sustainable future.

Developing a GIS-specific strategic plan ensures that departmental and corporate leadership are on the same page when it comes to identifying how GIS empowers internal staff, as well as clients and external stakeholders. When making a strategic plan for GIS, staff skills, other technologies, and internal and external processes and communication all need to be taken into consideration so they can be optimized. But current resources and staff skill levels shouldn’t restrict a strategy. Instead, improvements and desired outcomes should be built directly into the strategic plan. This demonstrates to senior leadership how the department will accomplish its goals.

Below is a step-by-step guide to developing a GIS-specific strategic plan, based on lessons learned recently at Connected Nation, an organization that helps communities and states plan broadband service.

1. Perform a Self-Assessment

The first step to preparing a GIS strategic plan is to conduct a self-assessment. Ask questions such as, Where are we now? Where do we want to be? and What resources are going to help us get there? The purpose is to acknowledge weaknesses in the GIS department and around the organization and turn them into opportunities.

A great resource that can serve as a guide for performing self-assessments is the GIS Capability Maturity Model from the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association’s (URISA) GIS Management Institute. This evaluation tool can help organizations identify areas of improvement in enterprise GIS management and implement changes to make their work more effective and gain better returns on investment.

2. Read, Read, Read

After completing the self-assessment, look for ideas about how to innovate, make enhancements to current product offerings, and become more efficient with GIS. Seeking out and reading articles, case studies, and professional newsletters about GIS is an excellent way to discover how others have tackled similar issues. How have other organizations transformed comparable challenges into solutions? Which solution trends are appearing in print more frequently, and how could they alleviate specific pain points?

3. Incorporate the Organization’s Mission

All organizations—whether they are nonprofits, government agencies, or private firms—have an overarching foundation that connects what they do with how they do it and, most importantly, why they do it. Figure out why your organization exists and incorporate that mission into the GIS strategic plan. This is an effective way to ensure that, as the GIS department plans for innovation and sustainability, there’s collaboration across the organization—at the corporate, departmental, and individual levels—to establish meaningful goals and objectives.

If an organization doesn’t currently have a visible, deliberate vision that is widely understood by all staff, however, then the GIS strategic planning exercise can serve as a motivator to senior leadership to establish one.

4. Set Goals at Various Levels

Setting goals at multiple levels within the organization increases accountability and lets each staff member know how his or her contributions fit into a project, program, or core competency. It also provides an opportunity to address individual skill gaps and resource needs while contributing to overarching departmental and corporate objectives.

Set an individual goal to increase training in a specific area. Set a departmental goal to migrate or upgrade an essential system or process. Set a corporate goal to release a new product that helps stakeholders make more informed decisions.

Some questions to consider when setting interconnected goals include the following:

  • What motivates the organization’s work?
  • Why do stakeholders seek out the organization’s products and expertise?
  • Which processes and products align with the organization’s vision?
  • Do planned innovations on the GIS team fit the organization’s present and future strategies?

5. Don’t Innovate in a Vacuum

Don’t take on the entire strategic planning process solo. Work with and seek feedback from GIS analysts, as well as non-GIS staff and senior leadership. To do this effectively, consider some of the following feedback questions:

  • Do staff outside the GIS department know everything that the team does and is capable of doing?
  • Which products do non-GIS staff and their clients or stakeholders use most?
  • How do staff members throughout the organization use GIS products?
  • What tools and functionality do non-GIS staff wish their GIS products had?
  • What frustrates non-GIS staff when they use current products?
  • What questions are people trying to answer when using GIS tools?

Pending initial feedback, it is also beneficial to have technical meetings with select clients and stakeholders who frequently use the GIS department’s products. It is ideal to keep the number of meeting attendees small, but do include project managers and main points of contact, in addition to one or two GIS staff members who work on a project that these stakeholders are involved in. This gives the stakeholders and internal staff an opportunity to feel more connected to the strategic plan and have a vested interest in its success.

6. Revisit and Reassess

Once the strategic plan is created, don’t just print it out and let it sit on a shelf in the office. It should be treated as a living document—one that the GIS department revisits often to ensure that its goals are still attainable and relevant. Consider it a road map that provides short- and long-term objectives, forecasts the resources that will be needed, and improves accountability with the department.

Consistently revisiting and updating the plan also shows senior leadership that the continuous evolution of GIS—by frequently improving and enhancing GIS products—is vital to the organization’s success. This allows the GIS team to identify current and potential risks and mitigate them before they become impediments to the organization’s success.

Empowering as Many People as Possible

Devising GIS innovations through strategic planning doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process each time. Once the GIS manager establishes a cycle of research, planning, and feedback, the GIS department will be able to effectively collaborate with everyone in the organization to ensure that the products and processes put in place directly contribute to the overarching vision and empower as many people—internally and externally—as possible.

About the Author

Ashley Hitt, GISP, is the director of GIS services for  Connected Nation , a national leader in broadband expansion programs. She uses GIS to develop strategies for providing data visualization solutions that impact broadband Internet policy, economic development, and the digital divide. Hitt is a recent URISA board member (2013–2016) and was selected as URISA’s Young GIS Professional of the Year in 2011.

Read other articles in the “ Managing GIS ” series.

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GIS unveils 2023-2029 Strategic Plan

GIS achieves another significant milestone with the launch of its 2023 2029 Strategic Plan, with the Minister for the Interior gracing the occasion. The four main components of the Strategic Plan are Border Management, Transnational Crime Prevention, Organizational Drivers and Enforcement.

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Strategic planning is an activity used to set priorities and focus energy and resources for an organization.  The effort produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful.  The result of the effort is a strategic plan used to communicate the organizations goals, the actions needed to achieve those goals and all of the other critical elements developed during the planning exercise.

The GIS Colorado Board developed a strategic plan in 2021 to document the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.  The Plan also includes key objectives to accomplish the goals.  Each year the GIS Colorado Board reviews the Plan and develops concrete actions that moves GIS Colorado toward our goals and objectives.


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State-level GIS Strategic Planning

  • The Big Picture

The Details

Key results, how to do it, what to expect, montana state library, indiana geographic information office, state of utah geospatial resource center, georgia geospatial information office, the challenge.

State GIS offices have a huge responsibility to provision spatial data, software, and technology, to meet the needs of a diverse community of GIS users across the state. Common challenges include: coordinating stakeholders, building better data pipelines from local sources, guiding legislation and policies governing the state’s investments in GIS, demonstrating the ROI of GIS investments, responding to federal initiatives and mandates, and keeping the operation funded.

The Outcome

AppGeo has developed a successful GIS strategic planning process for states that is flexible and adaptable to the circumstances of each state. The two-part process starts with a strategy that defines the vision, goals, and strategic objectives, followed by a series of business plans (one for each strategic objective) that lay out the activities, milestones, costs, and benefits. As shown for Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and Utah, state strategic plans provide recommendations tailored to state-specific concerns and priorities.

In this portfolio entry, we highlight four recent strategic planning projects completed by AppGeo for four different states: Georgia , Indiana , Montana , and Utah .

More than ever, every state needs a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) strategic plan to meet state needs as diverse as NG911, broadband, environmental planning, public health, economic development, and transportation. Probably most important, a state GIS strategic plan creates alignment among stakeholders – state agencies, county and municipal governments, federal agencies, as well as the private sector. A state GIS strategic plan addresses critical concerns such as sustainable funding, setting priorities, and providing a framework for action.

Since its founding in 1991, AppGeo has been pioneering GIS strategic planning at the municipal and state levels. So far, 30 states have chosen to work with AppGeo on their statewide strategic and business plans. Over the years, AppGeo has helped these states revisit and revise their plans to keep their strategy up to date or to go into more detail on strategic objectives, such as governance or Return on Investment studies for specific data layers. In recognition of its experience, the FGDC hired AppGeo to author state GIS Strategic and Business Planning Guidelines, which were put to use by more than 30 states during the USGS CAP program (Cooperative Agreement Program) from approximately 2005 to 2009.

Some of these strategic planning projects were spurred on by efforts to reinvigorate Geospatial Advisory Councils and leadership. Some strategic planning projects were efforts to remove barriers to progress. In all cases, the states recognized that an outside team with strategic planning expertise could help improve coordination among stakeholders, come up with new ideas for effective communications and strategies for data governance and exchange, establish the ROI of planned investments to justify funding, and most importantly, provide a new perspective and objective recommendations.

In all cases, AppGeo provided targeted strategic planning tailored to the state. In all cases, AppGeo used a variety of strategic planning methods, including: documentation of current conditions, practices, policies, and activity; workshops and facilitated sessions with small and large groups of stakeholders and GIS leaders; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis; review of legislation and policy; evaluation of data holdings and data programs; and review of GIS program organizational structure, goals and objectives, among other activities.

gis strategic plan

Georgia Geospatial Information Office

Georgia’s state strategic plan provided the GIO an opportunity to restart and look forward from the present, providing goals and recommendations to grow the GIO and Georgia towards a robust and mature state government geospatial program. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis determined that although the GIO’s previous efforts to coordinate were well respected and noticed, reliable funding for the GIO was lacking. As a response to this, it was recommended to engage the Geospatial Advisory Council in coordination and outreach efforts and to demonstrate the Office’s value to partners and stakeholders. AppGeo’s experts explained how funding for GIS work often comes in the form of funding for broader initiatives such as broadband and Next Generation 911. Georgia’s GIS strategic plan also focused on facilitated collaboration, a comprehensive living repository of foundational state geospatial data, and establishing a best-in-class geospatial hub application that is maintained and monitored through web analytics.


Indiana Geographic Information Office

Indiana had a mature GIS program before undertaking its GIS strategic plan with AppGeo in 2021. In the 2021 National States Geographic Information Council Maturity Assessment, the Indiana Geographic Information Office was given an “A” grade – the highest in the country. Like the other strategic plans on this portfolio, the process began with a survey, online workshop, and interviews, where stakeholders voiced priorities and outlined the current state of GIS.

The plan also encourages Indiana to find ways to articulate the business value and problem-solving capabilities of geospatial data, especially to decision makers and policy leaders. A recommendation was made to find stable funding for staff, infrastructure, licensing, and data resources such as statewide imagery , LiDAR, and addresses.

IGIO workshop

Montana State Library

Starting in 2005, Montana started creating a Spatial Data Infrastructure under the Montana Land Information Act. In this recent planning effort, a survey was conducted for both technical and non-technical users of GIS data. From there, a technical and non-technical workshop was held, followed by interviews with key stakeholders. AppGeo then performed a SWOT analysis, leading to the ultimate deliverable of goals and recommendations.

The GIS strategic plan empowers Montana to integrate geospatial policy, products, and information into business processes. Many state departments will directly and immediately benefit from the plan including: Public Health and Human Services (COVID-19 response and planning), Disaster and Emergency Services (Next Generation 9-1-1), Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (through high-resolution data like LiDAR), Bureau of Land Management, Labor and Industry (e.g. Building Standards Division), and Architecture & Engineering (through the Real Time Network of high-resolution survey stations).

Montana state strategic plan

Utah Geospatial Resource Center (UGRC)

The Utah Geospatial Resource Center (UGRC) re-engaged with AppGeo as a follow-up to its 2008 GIS Strategic Plan, which was also authored by AppGeo. This 2020 plan assessed UGRC and looked ahead to define manageable targets that could drive UGRC’s priorities for the next five years. The planning process was conducted as a series of in-depth conversations with key program leaders, detailed interviews with UGRC staff, meetings with prospective new UGRC “customers” to understand how UGRC could meet their needs, an online survey, and brainstorming sessions with UGRC managers. During the planning process, several state organizations (i.e., DEM, Health, DEQ) suggested that they would benefit from UGRC’s help with geospatial planning and implementation efforts, to help with technology adoption guidance, data management and best practices. Using intensive, client-focused, research allowed AppGeo to make recommendations for practical, actionable steps to guide UGRC to a fresh strategy for the next 5 years.

GIS usage by local and state agencies

Utah AGRC State and Local GIS Strategic Planning Survey Results

GIO Funding

Wherever your state is in the development and operation of its GIS program, it is our experience that a GIS strategic plan is an essential tool for growth, funding and enrichment of the program. These detailed key results from AppGeo strategic planning with four different states exemplify the different ways that a strategic plan can be responsive to the needs and circumstances of each state.

Georgia was able to move towards four key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their GIS statewide strategic plan:

  • Lead geospatial coordination and outreach by understanding the needs of constituents, identifying common needs, developing a communication plan, communicating the purpose and work of the GIO, sharing value through GIO success stories, establishing partnerships, serving as a liaison between federal government and other states on GIS matters, providing communication channels, making effective use of regional councils to provide a bridge between locals and state, and defining and activating workgroups to work on these recommendations.
  • Facilitate and promote the creation of high-quality framework data by actively pursuing the creation of high-quality framework data, while promoting successes and building credibility.
  • Re-establish the Georgia Geospatial Clearinghouse to improve data discovery and access by redefining the clearinghouse, establishing a geospatial clearinghouse committee, planning for and executing ongoing maintenance of the clearinghouse, arranging appropriate data-sharing agreements, considering partnerships, and constructing a pilot project that gains support from the geospatial community.
  • Lead the development of policies, standards, and best practices by leveraging lessons learned in the NG911 standards development process, leading the creation of formal data governance policies for geospatial data, forming working groups, and collaborating with the Georgia Technology Authority.

GIO Job State Strategic Planning GIS

Indiana Geographic Information Office (IGIO)

IGIO was able to move towards four key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their strategic plan:

  • Lead Indiana’s state government geospatial data community by creating an advisory workgroup as a governance structure to address the complex policies and logistics inherent in the GIO’s mission, finding ways to articulate the business value and problem-solving capabilities of geospatial data and solutions to decision-makers and policy leaders, finding stable funding for the IGIO, leading data governance for enterprise geospatial data, and finding opportunities to assert national leadership on geospatial data issues.
  • Strengthen IGIO partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders by developing a sustainable communication and outreach strategy that conveys the GIO’s purpose, establishing an ecosystem of engaged and enthusiastic partners to extend the IGIO’s reach, preparing for the cost of emerging challenges, using partnerships to build federated data frameworks, establishing continuous funding programs for local governments to support their geospatial capabilities, and developing ideas for evolving Data Harvest over time.
  • Improve IGIO delivery by improving data discovery and access, making web services a primary mechanism for data access, developing and implementing business plans for framework layers and enterprise data themes, creating and publishing guidance on GIO services, and considering the varying needs of a given group of stakeholders with different technical capabilities.
  • Increase IGIO operational efficiency and sustainability by aligning areas of responsibility and roles to support recommendations made in the plan, adopting time management, project management, and project/initiative prioritization framework/processes, and reducing reliance on a “fee for a service” or “service bureau” project model.

Goals Montana strategic plan

Montana was able to move towards five key goals and recommendations within the 5-year strategic planning project:

  • Improve GIS Coordination within the Montana State Library by clarifying roles and responsibilities for MSL Work Group Areas as they pertain to geospatial activities
  • Improve Communication with Geospatial Stakeholders by creating and executing a formal communications plan for GIS activities within the library, reorganizing the library GIS web content to make it easier to discover and use, and defining incoming communication pathways for support requests and public inquiries.
  • Develop policies and best practices for geospatial data by leading the creation of formal data governance policies for state geospatial data, coalescing policy and practice-specific working groups with partners and peers, publicizing GIS best practices while educating the geospatial community on them, and promoting policies that foster the use of authoritative datasets to ensure efficiency and cost savings.
  • Expand on the collection, maintenance, and dissemination of authoritative land information by defining and implementing a state agency archive for geospatial data, improving data collection by defining and/or documenting existing update processes, improving data maintenance by making it easy for users to report issues with services and data, and improving data dissemination as a whole.
  • Strengthen partnerships by creating a business plan defining how to assist other government entities to become GIS-enabled through enhanced coordination services, exploring models for regional collaboration, demonstrating leadership and expertise to national peers using national and statewide initiatives, and defining partnerships that are easy for the Library to maintain.

Utah Strategic Plan

Utah is focusing on three key goals and recommendations within a five-year timeline in their GIS statewide strategic plan:

  • Continue to serve Utah by providing representation for all constituents, introducing portfolio management techniques to manage inefficiencies and discontinue outdated offerings, developing geospatial planning and facilitation skills with UGRC, evolving and streamlining data workflow support, best practices, and guidance, and focusing on education/training to elevate the capabilities of the entire Utah GIS community.
  • Prepare for change by developing models that do not rely on project-based Fee-For-Service (FFS) funding, implementing a web services model for organizing UGRC data and service offerings, developing ongoing process feedback mechanisms that refine constituent needs, exploring and adopting new technology for applicability to UGRC offerings and goals, applying a continuous improvement approach for all UGRC processes, and encouraging all UGRC to continuously learn and explore new technologies.
  • Engage constituents by unifying the UGRC brand to further unite the organization and its offering, using the Council to assist and drive the outreach planning process, and building feedback analysis mechanisms into every UGRC constituent process.

of state stakeholders have participated in the GIS strategic planning process through workshops, surveys, and interviews. Their insights and opinions help shape the process and the recommendations.

AppGeo has worked with over 30 states and completed dozens of GIS strategic and business plans; in addition to over one hundred municipal or regional GIS planning projects.

Each statewide strategic plan or business plan creates a detailed roadmap that everyone can follow.

We held an in-depth webinar, “The Operational Realities of State GIS Programs” , with our Chief Operating Officer Kate Hickey along with Carpe Geo Evangelist Bill Johnson, detailing how every state has different, yet common challenges.

Webinar highlights and soundbites

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  1. GIS Strategic Planning: A Plan for Excellence

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  2. GIS Strategic Plan Final

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  3. GIS Strategic Planning: A Plan for Excellence

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  4. What is a GIS Strategic Plan and Template?

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  5. GIS Strategic Plan Final

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  6. GIS Strategic Planning: A GIS Master Plan for the Public Works Agency of Qatar

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  1. How to Create a Geospatial Strategy

  2. GIS Strategic Planning Course Overview

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  4. The steps of the strategic planning process in under 15 minutes

  5. What Is GIS? A Guide to Geographic Information Systems

  6. What is Strategic Planning? How to Develop a Process


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