NSGIC Trends

By Adena Schutzberg

[Ed. note: The photos included with this article are courtesy of Mike Mahaffie, State of Delaware. He also contributes extensively to the NSGIC blog. ]

The Arkansas River at sunrise. Photo courtesy of Mike Mahaffie, State of Delaware
Last week's National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) annual meeting, like all the others I've attended, was a whirlwind tour of agencies, states, technologies, visions, suggestions, questions and proposals. The meeting brings together primarily the state GIS coordinators (some are GIOs, some are volunteers…), but also federal and local agencies/municipalities, professional organizations and others who work with geospatial technology in partnership with the states. Here are some of the key themes and ideas I came away with after four days of meetings in Little Rock, Arkansas.

States/State Coordinators are on the map.
It is tough to measure attitude changes, but my sense is that the tension between state GIS bodies and local and federal players seems to be far lower than when I first attended a NSGIC meeting in 2002. Some anecdotal evidence:
  • In DC, when a District police group got a grant and was told to contact DC's coordinating office, it did.
  • When an ESRI rep had the chance to meet with the governor of Arkansas and noted she was involved in GIS, Mr. Huckabee said, "Oh, you must know Shelby [Johnson, GIO]."
Just hosting data is not enough. Enterprise GIS is no longer "just making data available"; constituents and those in government expect, even demand, applications. A demonstration, at one session, of an enterprise system that simply provided layers and layers of data was in my estimation overshadowed by what were described as "ugly, but simple" applications.

NSGIC attendees usually fill the main session room from 8:30-5 and beyond. Photo courtesy of Mike Mahaffie, State of Delaware
Personnel changes at USGS. More than one United States Geological Survey (USGS) stalwart was sporting a private sector company name on a badge. Others at USGS moved out of existing jobs that were likely to end, to take on new ones within the Survey. Still others are "new recruits" to USGS from other agencies and the private sector. Several presenters with USGS badges had just days or weeks on the job before attending the NSGIC event.

"Imagery for the Nation" matters. While there are still many questions about exactly how this initiative will play out, including the roles of public and private sector players, there's a lot of energy aimed at making it happen. Vendors and public sector attendees were weighing "how they could help."

The Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, where we gathered Tuesday evening. Photo courtesy of Mike Mahaffie, State of Delaware
Pushback works. The response to any request of "give us your data" is being met with a gentle response of "ok, but here's what we want from you." There were several examples of this cited by state coordinators in response to federal agencies' and contractors' requests. To my pleasure, NSGIC as an organization responded this way to a private company, with positive results.

GLOB is confusing. The work exploring a potential geospatial line of business (GLOB) is confusing to many. Exactly how the data collection by the Office of Management and Budget is being carried out, if the data collected will be made available to the public, and how such a line of business, if enacted, will impact federal and other agencies is unclear. I hope to gather and share more about how we got to this point and what a change to a line of business may mean in the coming months.

NSGIC-ers are Web savvy. While there are no requirements that state coordinators be techies, they are information sharers, so perhaps it's not surprising that the majority read blogs and many tap into RSS feeds and use wikis. There were several questions about GeoRSS. (GeoRSS release 1.0 is available from GeoRSS.org; it is not an OGC or W3C standard at this time.)

Private players lighten the load. Several coordinators stated they'd made their imagery available to Google or Microsoft for use in their portals. The logic from one state could be summed up this way (I paraphrase): "If I can have those who want to find their house or 'play' hit on someone else's server not contact me for support, and get what they need, it frees our resources (hardware, bandwidth, people) for more analytical work." Another bonus: the link or copyright shown on the imagery is good PR for state GIS programs and coordinators who enabled the data collection and/or sharing.

Legal issues abound. A question about whether the census could provide point locations of addresses got a resounding "no," as it is a privacy matter. One presenter was told by organization lawyers not to speak to some issues. One state can't possibly put up or use blogs or listen to podcasts because the IT folks won't allow it. I hate to say it, but all of us are going to have to pay more attention to legal issues than we'd probably like in the coming months and years.

What I didn't hear. I don't want to draw any conclusions from this short list, but in looking back I was surprised that I didn't hear much, if anything, about: 3D, open source, CAD integration and mashups. Granted NSGIC is not so much a technology event as it is a policy/procedures/idea sharing event. Still, these are hot topics in our industry that I expected might come up.

I continue to be impressed by the energy I see at the NSGIC meeting. It's an energy borne not so much from "cool technology" but from what can be done across a state, and thus a nation, with technology, vision, hard work and collaboration. If you want to learn more about how to "get things done with geospatial," these people can show you the way.

Published Friday, October 13th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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