Wyatt Kash | Seeing is believing
Geospatial information tools have come a long way since 1964, when a Canadian geographer named Roger Tomlinson developed the world's first geographic information system capable of electronically supporting locational information.
His work laid the foundation for an entirely new way to capture, manage and analyze data relating to the Earth we live and work on ' and paved the way for increasingly sophisticated geospatial software tools.
Until recently, those tools mostly empowered the few who were trained to use them. But that's changing ' and quickly.
Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth and Zillow.com have captured mainstream fascination with mapping mash-ups. But it's a new generation of geospatial mapping tools that could have the greatest impact on the workplace. Those tools are giving a vast number of nontechnical workers the ability to map, visualize and share information with the same relative ease as using a spreadsheet.
Indeed, perhaps not since the advent of the spreadsheet have we seen a new software genre that offers so much potential to empower the rank-and-file worker.
The work by the Homeland Security Department in Alabama (see Page 21) is a case in point. State officials needed a better way to plan for emergencies. They began, like many states, with cataloging location data on fire and police stations, hospitals, utility lines and other strategic assets, and with tax parcel and other real estate records.
With much of the data in the hands of cash-strapped counties, it wasn't easy getting many to contribute information. But the more that workers across Alabama's 67 counties saw what was ' and wasn't ' on Virtual Alabama, the more willing they were to share and even upload information.
Alabama now has one of the most comprehensive state geospatial planning databases in the country. What's more, the ability for any government worker to access the site has also made it easier to contribute information ' and show data and sell proposals to other officials. That's helping to land additional state, regional and federal grants.
It may well be that the best thing that could have happened to Roger Tomlinson's brainchild is finally here ' giving geospatial information tools to everyday workers.Wyatt Kash, Editorial director