Building the GIS Enterprise; the 21st Century Method

Article Posted by Michael Byrne, Geospatial Information Officer (GIO)

At the recent Government Technology Conference in mid May here in Sacramento, I hosted a GIS Executive session.  The event focused on building GIS technology into the enterprise of State IT, and ensuring that programs, the legislature, and indeed the public have full access to data which informs, directs and advances the State.  We talked about the value of building the enterprise, the importance of geographic trade craft, and developing data as services anyone can attach to.   As we as a state move forward with our collective IT enterprise, I feel it is important to highlight certain steps along the way. 

One that I saw recently needs this kind of highlight.  About 4 weeks ago, the California Environmental Protection Agency released a press release for a new system tracking sewage overflows.  The State Water Resources Control Board developed a new application which is the focus of this press release.  The reason this announcement is important, is the Geographic Information architecture implemented at the State Water Resources Control Board to accomplish the task.  The architecture mirrors the new enterprise notions that we discussed in the GTC event.  In the past, only highly trained expert geospatial staff have had access to complicated GIS data which tells a specific important story about an issue.  While the advent of on-line mapping technologies like Google maps and Virtual Earth  have opened the doors to significant advancement in public use of geographic data, government publication of data which can be quickly digested and used in a simple easy to use format has been limited.  California State government has made liberal use of more bulkier applications which require users to have some knowledge of a GIS.  This new system, however, is excellently designed.  It makes the best use of complex GIS software in the back end to publish the data as a service.  Then a very simple approach to allow any internet user to interact with these important data is designed on top of the data service. 

I imagine this architecture to be the kind of architecture we, as state government will be implementing lots more of.   This architecture publishes data as a service, in this case an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standard web mapping service, which is consumed in a very elegant easy to use front end.  The big value here, is that when data is published as a service like this, then many users can build applications off of that service, rather than just the data steward.  The State Water Resources Control Board has done a terrific job on two fronts; first publishing data as a service and second making the end user application easy and useful.

I applaud the great work at the California State Water Resources Control Board, and look forward to many other State Departments beginning to publish data as a service, thus becoming a more open and transparent government.