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GCN : December 2013
To hear analysts at the Agriculture De- partment talk, geospatial information systems are moving from being merely useful tools to becoming game changers. Thanks to a perfect storm of rapidly en- hanced sensor technologies, more power- ful computers and improvements in GIS applications themselves, GIS is becoming the platform of choice for combining and analyzing huge streams of data. And the ability to analyze those data streams and display results visually on maps has en- gendered a number of new projects and capabilities that have users clamoring for more. "The use of GIS has become recognized as really a core administrative function of the department," said Stephen Lowe, di- rector of the Enterprise Geospatial Man- agement Office at USDA. "That's a signifi- cant shift." The ability of applications such as Esri ArcGIS, the primary GIS program used at USDA, to handle growing streams of data -- from satellite imagery to old-fashioned tabular data --- and then to display the data in a visual geographic fashion, make them ideal portals for coordinating many kinds of department operations. In the event of, say, a major flood, gov- ernment will have many concerns, Lowe said. "We'd be looking at the whole eco- nomic base, obviously, for an area. How does that affect municipal services? How does that impact our policy and program- ming decisions? I think you're getting a much richer set of insights into these kinds of events by having a single plat- form based on a geographic area." By tying together all of the different sets of background data through a GIS ap- plication, teams can gain unprecedented power. "You have the ability to do diagno- sis of problems," Lowe said. "You have the ability to classify problems, do interpre- tation analysis and prediction, forensics --- all of these things that people haven't really thought about in terms of mapping. We're discovering the analytic capacity of these tools for bringing different disci- plines together to solve problems more ef- ficiently. It's a much more collective kind of future that I see for us, and there is an appetite for it." GCN DECEMBER 2013 • GCN.COM 19 2004 2006 2008 2010 The Agriculture Department is amassing geospatial information, including satellite and data-enhanced maps of changes in the U.S. "cropscape," as part of the agency's move toward geographical information systems as an enterprise technology.