Orleans and Alabama, and to plan recovery services.

"Government needs to think about geospatial in a massive way, for bringing together services, large and small, mashed up, used via applications with free and open APIs [application programming interfaces]. Let's put up content that can be integrated to create a host of new services," he said.

Maps as Government Portals

Another representative of how private companies are mashing maps and government data together and forming new applications comes from Virginia-based FortiusOne. The company's CTO Andrew Turner, put it aptly, "Geography allows citizens to have one common view of government."

Rather than look at a government Web site with menus and channels, citizens should enter the public sector through a map that visually shows everything from transit and crime information to locations for social services or election information. "People care about place," Turner observed. They don't care about agencies or programs.

While Turner's goal is far from a reality, FortiusOne has created a number of intriguing applications using open government data. One application, appropriately named "StumbleSafety" mashed together the location of crimes and alcohol, providing would-be imbibers with a map of the less crime-prone bars and liquor stores in Washington, D.C. More serious maps provided important local information for locating crime-infested neighborhoods and crisis response information.

Perhaps the most significant, geospatial solution came from Virtual Alabama, the integrated public safety, emergency management solution, born in the wake of Katrina.

Robert Greenberg, CEO of G&H International Services, called Virtual Alabama one of those breakthrough moments in government technology. Built as a reaction to failed attempts at sharing critical information during a crisis, Virtual Alabama broke through the insular culture of local government and created a massive aggregate of local geospatial data sets based on an open architecture.

So successful was Virtual Alabama, it has led to plans to create Virtual USA based on the same premise of local government buy-in to share geospatial data openly. "Virtual USA will expand how our country can respond to catastrophic events, by creating a virtual platform that makes emergency data seamless," Greenberg said.

Greenberg admits that the challenge of convincing thousands of local governments to share their data sets won't be easy. But the days when different layers of government sank billions of dollars into GIS systems that couldn't share the data with other governments is over.

Government now has the platforms to make open, geospatial data and map-based public services, a reality.

Tod Newcombe, Editor  |  Editor, Public CIO