Last week, a few of us here at Boundless attended the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) Annual Conference in beautiful Charleston, SC. NSGIC's mission is to promote statewide spatial coordination activities in all states and to be an effective advocate for states on national policy and initiatives. It’s an important mission and we were proud to be Gold Sponsors this year.
What I Presented
I had the privilege to deliver a well-received keynote presentation on Monday evening entitled "Open Source Geospatial Software: Current adoptions and future technologies solving today’s and tomorrow's challenges". While that sounds long and complicated, I basically went over the opportunities unlocked by adopting open source spatial technology and how organizations at the local, state or federal level can take advantage of them. The spatial software industry is one of the few where the open source tsunami hasn't yet fully revolutionized the way we work. However, it is happening and I'm glad to finally see increasing diversity in our ecosystem of available tools. As with most ecosystems, this will bring about a healthier long-term outcome.
What I Learned
Instead of talking about what I said, I would like to share a bit of what I heard. NSGIC puts on a great program and one of the best things about this conference is seeing first-hand the challenges that states face. They are usually strikingly similar across states, both in concept and timing, which is a testament to the level of coordination that happens among states, local governments and, in many instances, the Federal Government (which was represented by agencies such as NOAA and USDOT).
“No single source of truth.”
Throughout all the high-quality presentations, I was very interested to see how most states have what I call the "data roll-up problem," where different jurisdictions (i.e. counties) often produce and maintain the data but states collect it as part of the "authoritative" source of information. The biggest challenges to producing statewide data that is complete and comprehensive are usually non-technical, and we heard great stories about how states are breaking down barriers when it comes to accessing data. Guess what? Charging for data usually ends up being more expensive than implementing an open data policy! When it comes to the technical details, I believe Boundless will have a lot to say in the next year with the work we have been doing on distributed versioning of spatial data to help address some of these challenges.
“Don’t fight the web.”
I was also pleasantly surprised to see how most states have a very modern approach to their services. They realize the importance of the web, and have an IT approach for delivering content and services to their users (which thanks to some very advanced open data policies, in many cases includes just about everybody). We even got to hear novel approaches to geocoding, like using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to extract places from documents so they can be placed on a map (with open source libraries, of course). Imagine having a map of all your legislation!
See you in Annapolis!
At a time when budgets are tight, it's refreshing to witness local, state and federal agencies resort to innovative and imaginative approaches to solving problems. At Boundless, we are big proponents of efficiency through the use of open source spatial software and we are happy to bring our point of view into the conversation while realizing that every organization is at a different stage in adopting open source models and software. We hope to further this discussion at the NSGIC mid-year conference in Annapolis in February of 2015.