GIS and open data: Complementary or competitive?

GIS and open data: Complementary or competitive?

One of the biggest public sector technology trends today is GIS. Another is open data. Governments exploring one should take advantage of their synergies to exploit both, according to Chris Thomas, director of government markets for GIS software company Esri.

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“Everybody is excited about open data right now, and the most commonly downloaded data is spatial,” he said.

Government software company Accela is fusing GIS and open data at CivicData.com, an open data portal that it offers free of charge to any government agency that needs a platform through which to offer data to citizens.

“Open data has a lot of momentum right now, and when we have these huge data sets we immediately start looking for ways to visualize the information,” explained Mitch Bradley, Accela’s vice president of sales programs. “If I’m looking at all of the maintenance work orders that were done by a city over a period of time, for example, I can look at what the city has spent, what the maintenance costs are, what assets were impacted, etc. But I can also put all that information on a map that shows me where in the city we’re spending our maintenance dollars on infrastructure versus not. That’s really, really powerful, and it’s something I never could have gotten from a spreadsheet.”

And in the hands of citizens and app developers, the opportunities for open geospatial data are equally significant. Before opportunities can be fully leveraged, however, governments must answer some fundamental governance questions, according to Barney Krucoff, geographic information officer for the State of Maryland.

“When you’re setting up this new open data function you have to ask how it relates to your older GIS function,” he advised. “Is it going to be merged with your GIS, for instance? Or are they going to be separate units using different systems and technology? There's a lot of data that could be on one side or the other,” Krucoff said. “They overlap a great deal, so although I favor relatively a few of them, I think you need to set boundaries.”

About the Author

Matt Alderton is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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