June 28, 2011 By Colin Wood
For decades, GIS has been an indispensable tool in many state and local government agencies, and now that it’s being more widely adopted, governments are finding new, unexpected uses. Even with reduced budgets, leaders are discovering that an investment in GIS is not just a means to reach short-term project goals and reap budgetary benefits, it also can be a stepping stone toward the future of public-sector technology infrastructure.
Emerging technologies like cloud computing and next-generation 911 will be most readily utilized by those who have thoroughly prepared their GIS. And other technologies teetering on the horizon, like real-time sensor data integration, will also require a well equipped GIS. A reservoir of GIS data will be crucial for governments that don’t want to be crushed by the incoming technology waves.
Perhaps what’s most important, experts say, is the need to educate officials on how they think of data. Foremost, GIS shouldn’t be thought of as a mapping tool. Rather, it’s the starting point for a data-sharing platform that can flatten government silos and bring information to life.
There has been a move over the last seven or eight years toward [data] centralization, said Jeff Vining, vice president of research at IT research company Gartner. What was once a cumbersome tool, used only occasionally by a handful of agencies, is now being used in a more sophisticated way and shared across most agencies, Vining said.
“It’s a recognition that GIS is an enterprisewide application. In my opinion, having a GIS data clearinghouse, that’s kind of the holy grail or objective,” he said.
Christian Carlson, director of state and local government for GIS vendor Esri, agreed that a well established GIS will ready cities for new technology, particularly cloud computing. Still, despite the widespread use, most cities have a long way to go, Carlson said. “For a lot of people, GIS is simply a technology that’s used to map their infrastructure. GIS is really about the analytical capability of the technology. Maps have become the context to manage the entire workflow,” Carlson said.
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All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.