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GCN : March and April 2016
GCN MARCH/APRIL 2016 • GCN.COM 33 salt and fuel consumption, and in- creased productivity. “During last year’s extraordinary winter, we in the Boston area got seven feet of snow in 21 days,” Nau said. “If we didn’t have maps to make us more efficient and productive with the time we had to clear the roads, we probably would have lost roads and been unable to achieve our goals.” And it’s not just snow removal. If a government service involves a time and place, GIS likely plays a part. At the federal level, for example, the National Park Service uses GIS to man- age the habitats of endangered plants and animals. Bighorn sheep prefer to graze in areas of open vegetation that are 3.2 kilometers from water and slope at an angle of 27 to 85 degrees. Park managers can use GIS to map all those variables and determine whether their park has enough suitable habitat. “There’s something special about a map and the ability to visualize and share information to inform decisions,” Granberg said. “Our approach is trying to use our resources the best we can to produce the most beneficial outcome from this technology.” Another state that’s using GIS in big ways is Maryland, whose MD iMAP website features more than 80 interac- tive maps and dashboards. Geographic Information Officer Barney Krucoff said his most prolific customers include the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, whose OSPREY system pro- vides real-time situational awareness during storms and other emergencies, and the Department of Transportation, which works with the Department of Budget and Management to produce a capital budget map that shows where taxpayer money is being spent on items such as bridges, roads, schools and parks. In Austin, Texas, the fire department and special events office use GIS, said GIS Manager Ross Clark. The former taps the technology to streamline hy- drant maintenance and the latter to more efficiently document and enforce permit rules during the city’s annual South by Southwest festivals. “When people look at maps, they understand problems better, and when they understand problems better, they make better decisions about where to deploy their resources,” Clark said. HOW TO MAKE COMMUNITIES SMARTER For Chris Thomas, the power of GIS lies not in a single application but in a suite of capabilities that give agencies a holis- tic view of the communities they serve. It’s the ability to see from the air instead of the ground. “Take a city like Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.,” said Thomas, director of govern- ment markets at GIS software company Esri. “The city manager there pulls out his iPad every single morning and opens an executive dashboard to make deci- sions in real time based on [geospatial] information in areas like public safety, public works and law enforcement. He Geographic information systems represent one of the biggest public-sector technol- ogy trends today. Open data represents another. Chris Thomas, director of govern- ment markets at GIS software company Esri, said agencies exploring one should take advantage of synergies to exploit both. “Everybody is excited about open data right now, and the most commonly downloaded data is spatial,” he said. Government software com- pany Accela is fusing GIS and open data at CivicData.com, an open-data portal that it offers free to any government agency that needs a platform through which to offer data to citizens. “Open data has a lot of momentum right now, and when we have these huge datasets, we immediately start looking for ways to visu- alize the information,” said Mitch Bradley, Accela’s vice president of sales programs. “If I’m looking at all of the maintenance work orders that were done by a city over a period of time, for example, I can look at what the city has spent, what the maintenance costs are, what assets were impacted, etc. But I can also put all that information on a map that shows me where in the city we’re spending our maintenance dollars on infrastructure versus not. That’s really, really powerful, and it’s something I never could have gotten from a spreadsheet.” In the hands of citizens and app developers, the opportunities for open geospatial data are equally significant. Before opportuni- ties can be fully leveraged, however, agencies must answer some fundamental governance questions, said Barney Krucoff, Maryland’s geographic information officer. “ When you’re setting up this new open-data function, you have to ask how it relates to your older GIS function,” he said. “Is it going to be merged with your GIS, for instance? Or are they going to be separate units using different systems and tech- nology? There’s a lot of data that could be on one side or the other. They overlap a great deal, so although I favor relatively few of them, I think you need to set boundaries.” — Matt Alderton GIS and open data: Complementary or competitive? FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/WIDGETSANDSTONE 0416gcn_030-034.indd 33 3/3/16 1:12 PM
January and February 2016