opportunity. According to Ramm, most said the biggest business opportunity on the horizon is in mapping and GIS. "It reinforces the trends we've been seeing," Ramm contends. "A key consideration is that the data has to stay in a format that can maintain engineering accuracy throughout the process and remain in a format that can then be published."

Think Like Businesses

"One of the main trends we are seeing, is that local and state governments are starting to think more like businesses," said Sabby Nayar, marketing manager of Energy and Government Sectors at MapInfo. "Increasingly, we are seeing our municipal clients using GIS applications to make life easier for their constituents. They want to provide answers for people who need answers, and they are working to be user-friendly, more efficient, and more cost-effective. GIS helps do that as a component of other systems. Since about 80 percent of local government data is location based, it makes a great deal of sense to work with GIS data."

As an example of government's emerging business focus, Nayar refers to a site finder application for the state of New York. "Any business looking for a place to locate can go to a map, click on a site and ask questions about size, highway access, distance from exit and so on," Nayar explained. Map information also includes aerial or satellite imagery, so the user can see topography, buildings and surroundings. The application has been designed so anyone can use it, just by clicking with an industry-standard browser. "The beauty of it is that you don't have to be a GIS specialist to use it," Nayar said. "You can see what's available and pick your site from your office, using your desktop computer."

Simplifying, Standardizing, Sharing

"GIS technology is not as widely used as it might be," said John Antenucci, president and CEO of PlanGraphics. "There is a growing trend to enable access to GIS data repositories via the Internet, using industry-standard browsers."

Oregon has a virtual warehouse of GIS data, which PlanGraphics is helping to convert into a "virtually unified" databank for the Department of Health Services. "An individual can find where any health clinic in the state is located, and how best to get there, using a desktop computer and an industry-standard browser," Antenucci said. "Multiple databases will be queried, but the user won't have to know what comes from what. They'll just have data online for quick answers."

The push to simplify and move to standard browsers is expected to benefit many thousands of users with routine requests for information.

Sense of Innovation

There is a vigorous and healthy sense of innovation in the industry as GIS finds its way into an increasing number of applications -- from property tax issues to land-use planning to emergency services and disaster planning. The migration of GIS technology into the mainstream is creating new opportunities for government agencies to streamline their operations, while providing better access to services for constituents. At the same time, broader use of GIS data by non-specialists is offering new opportunities for companies to develop user-friendly, standardized GIS products that respond to the growth of the marketplace.