Takeaways from NEURISA Day 2010

By Adena Schutzberg

On Monday, Oct. 18, New England URISA (NEURISA) hosted its NEURISA Day Conference, a day-long, one-track conference addressing issues of the region. I was honored to be invited to keynote. I spoke about “The Real Issues Facing GIS Professionals in 2010.” My slides, and others, are on the event website.

There were basically four sessions: my keynote, a session on the cloud and Web, the State of the States, and a session on mobile apps.

A speaker in the cloud/Web session addressed cloud security, but the most memorable part of the presentation was a story shared by an audience member. A city hired someone to pretend to be a consultant to that city’s IT department. That individual went around asking employees for access to their computers. And, the “planted worker” got it without question. That supported my contention that while computer security via physical and password and encryption is important, so is preventing social engineering “attacks.”

 Matt Davis from Esri Boston gave an overview of the company’s evolving cloud offerings. Esri continues to help educate the community on the cloud and I was pleased that Davis started with the same basics Esri shared a few years ago. A presentation on the ups and downs of a non-programmer building a Silverlight ArcGIS app rounded out the session. While the end product looked great, there were certainly a lot of bumps in the road that left me pondering the presenter’s very first topic: the decision to build the app in-house versus using a consultant.

The highlight of the day for me was the State of the States Panel where representatives from each state (except Maine; those folks were not available) addressed the highlights of the year and plans for the future. The themes that ran through their discussion will not shock anyone, but do highlight the fact that state level GIS resources should not be taken for granted. I believe every single speaker noted looking into “public-private partnerships” to collect needed data and keep costs down. There were, however, concerns about exactly how that would be done and if restrictive licensing would then become a fact of life, something no one in this group wanted.

Mike Varey of Connecticut was very clear that he was pleased this GIS council still existed, despite budget cuts. The other states echoed the funding challenges and at least one coordinator had to get permission to take a vacation day to attend the event, on his own time, because out-of-state travel was still banned. Perhaps the most promising statement on funding came from Christian Jacqz of Massachusetts. MassGIS had moved as of June 1 from its previous home in the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, to Administration and Finance - as he put it, closer to the money.

All the states were working with partners including other state agencies, universities, councils of governments, regional groups and others such as the federal government and its ARRA money to collect data such as LiDAR and orthoimagery. In at least one case, another entity had to donate server space to make the data publicly available.  All the state GIS groups participated at some level in their state’s broadband mapping, and a few states (Connecticut, Massachusetts) were leveraging that funding, and other funding, to produce statewide parcel maps and/or point address maps.

Several states were looking to actively use crowdsourcing for data collection. In Massachusetts the idea is not to use just anyone, but those already in public service (firemen, for example) to collect data via cell phones. In New Hampshire wildlife sightings will be collected from citizens.

One question that came up during the discussion explored whether the states were considering hosting data for municipalities, at least in part to bring in some money, but also to help out those without resources. One answer was, “We are thinking about it.” That made me think about my comments in the keynote regarding with whom municipalities, non-profits and even private companies might share their data for aggregation and hosting. I didn’t list states; I listed Esri, Google, OpenStreetMap and other similar free offers now on the table. The states would be, at some level, competing with these entities to host, aggregate and serve up local data. Is it possible they are already too late to the game?

The final session of the day was a parade of mobile apps for everything from building inspections, to health inspections, to parking tickets, to tracking leaf and snow equipment, to tracking K-9 officers. I found the Brookline, MA use of bluetooth pens in a non-spatial app to write out hard copy and electronic versions of parking tickets most interesting since it was so “retro.” That is, it was a less digital solution than the one it replaced, which, after data was keyed in, printed out a ticket. The new system has the officers write on actual paper, with a specially hidden grid.

I want to encourage more of these smaller, more focused, accessibly priced (thanks sponsors!) events. There seemed to be some great networking going on and I was pleased to see several students and be challenged by them on my thoughts about distance learning, the job hunt and why GIS is not yet taught in business schools.

Published Monday, November 1st, 2010

Written by Adena Schutzberg

Published in


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