Those IT Guys

Dear Management Doctor:
The City's I.T. Department came to the Planning Department to investigate our request for larger computer monitors. To I.T.'s surprise we review 24" X 36" sheets everyday. Based upon this, we would require 42" monitors which are televisions. This is going to be expensive. What size monitors are acceptable to review site plans and subdivisions? Do other communities use two monitors, one for the site plan and a second for word processing or information gathering?

Thank you.

Planning Director

Dear Planning Director,

This is an extremely important question. I believe that every city and county in the country should be underway with the transition to electronic plan submission, electronic plan check and electronic files. Basically the almost paperless office.

There are a number of communities that have dedicated themselves to going this route and over the next year there should be lots of stories and experiments to help along the way. We are currently working with a community that is moving in this direction. We suggest starting with one simple application type, buy one or two large screens and plan check software, find one or two plan checkers who volunteer and want to make the transition to electronic plan check.

As to the equipment, I hope some of our readers can give us their suggestions on this topic. I favor the 42" screens as well as having a secondary screen for related information. The IT people need to look at the cost of equipment as a small fraction of the plan checkers annual salary. Additionally, over time efficiency should go up, things will be easier for the applicant, and think of all those trees that will be saved.

Keep pushing on this.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

This is one of the best uses yet for electronic surface or touch-table technology. ESRI was working on this before Microsoft developed Microsoft Surface. In ten years, today's interns will be telling their interns about having to change plotter paper and use tiny 17" monitors for their work. When this goes mainstream, it will be a real game-changer.

David Andersen

There's a much less expensive alternative to spending a fortune on giant monitors.

It's called a "pan and scan virtual desktop." Not too many people are familiar with it, but it increases the size of your monitor's desktop three or four fold. If I'm losing you, let me explain.

Say you've got a 19" LCD monitor. The area you see on your desktop, technically speaking, is called a "viewport." Normally your desktop and viewport are identical in size. But a pan and scan virtual desktop increases the size of your desktop to twice the width of your viewport and as much as twice the depth. So when you move your cursor to the right edge of your viewport (physically, your monitor), your screen keeps on going two to as much as twice as wide as your monitor/viewport. Similarly when you move your cursor to the bottom of your screen.

This enables users of word processors, spreadsheets, etc. to open their program full size and rarely have to use scroll bars. But it also would give folks who have to review 24" x 36" sheets the ability to view them close to full size on their monitor — you just move your cursor to the edge of the physical screen to see more of the document.

This works with single monitors and dual monitor set ups. And believe me, dual monitors make you incredibly more productive, especially if you need two applications open at once.

The only catch is that you almost always need to use a video card using ATI chips and software (you might be able to achieve this with a NVDIA-based graphics card, but I haven't figured out a consistently reliable way to do it with them). Now ATI has consistently said it does not support pan and scan virtual desktops, but it works. It takes a few paragraphs to explain the fairly straightforward process for configuring your ATI card via the ATI's Catalyst Control Center. So instead of boring everybody here, send me an email at and I'll send you the instructions. If you need to buy an ATI video card, the new ATI Radeon 4850 cards with 512 MB RAM are a performance/cost bargain (in the $160-$200 range) as are the less expensive ATI Radeon 3850 cards.

I've built about 60 or 70 Windows computers for clients and this technique has worked for all of those who choose to use it.

Daniel Lauber