Geospatial tools offer killer app for Gov 2.0

If the idea of government 2.0 revolves around using government information as a platform for enabling public discourse, then geospatial technologies are one of the killer apps, Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, said today at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington.

Maps and geospatial information systems are becoming richer, smarter, and more pervasive, Dangermond said, but government agencies still need to do more to convert data into services that can populate mapping applications.

There is still a barrier between FTP data sets and government sites that make data available as a service, he said.

“What’s behind maps are geographic data sets that can be ‘server-ized,' or turned into services," Dangermond said. "That could introduce a whole new wave of applications; where tabular data will be geo-coded, and where the map interface will become what might be the killer app of Gov 2.0.”

During Hurricane Katrina four years ago, “it took weeks to bring all the data together” to assess its impact on property and infrastructure, he said. “Had we had the services we have today, we could have had that information within hours.”

Dangermond said mapping technologies have evolved beyond marrying maps with information. “This isn’t so much about maps but about spatial analysis,” he said.

Adding to the discussion on mapping was Robert Greenberg, chief executive of G&H International Services, who described the evolution of Virtual USA, a geospatial emergency management tool being developed by the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate.

The initiative builds on work pioneered by Virtual Alabama, which aggregates and integrates property and infrastructure data in a visualization tool by using Google Earth Enterprise. The initiative also relies on the work of Virginia’s Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response (VIPER) system, which uses an ESRI geospatial platform.

Plans for the first regional demonstration of Virtual USA, which will weave together data from seven southeastern states, is expected this fall, he said.

A key to this and similar efforts, Greenberg said, is making information actionable. And a key ingredient to that, he said, is designing applications with end users in mind, tapping the ability to use what data those users have, and making sure the collaborative nature of the effort is sustainable.

Another geospatial advocate, Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of FortiusOne, said the evolution of geo-spatial analysis tools offers government a number of opportunities.

“Geography is a common pivot point for providing context for data,” he said, noting that about 74 percent of government services for citizens are tied to specific locations involving geospatial information.

One of the opportunities for governments, he said, is emerging from the way citizens are sharing and collaborating with mapped-based information. It offers a view that “helps government see what needs are arising among citizens and communities,” he said.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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