John Ellison

The California State Information Technology Strategic Plan contains the following lines: "The Governor will appoint a Geospatial Information Officer ("GIO") to lead and coordinate the development, licensing and sharing of geospatial data by state government agencies. The GIO will work with the California GIS Council to sponsor an integrated State Geospatial Data Service that will define the data architecture, systems, standards, processes and coordinate the availability of geospatial data used by state agencies."

A session at GTC West yesterday addressed the possibilities and the challenges of such an initiative. And while the GIO Web site is up, the GIS strategic Plan is officially under construction. However, according to John Ellison -- agency technology officer for the California Resources Agency, and the California coordinator for the National States Geographic Information Council -- a draft of the strategic plan is circulating.

While coordinated GIS information will be useful for a multitude of applications, said Ellison, Homeland Security applications cover the most ground and funding is more readily available to build a business case for coordination of GIS systems.

And the case should not be difficult to make, he said. Conservation uses GIS to map earthquake faults, landslide areas, farmland, etc. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Office of Emergency Services, Employment Development Department, Water Resources and others all use geospatial data for mission-critical applications.

The problem, said Ellison, is that developing and maintaining high-quality data is expensive, and heretofore, there has been no statewide process to coordinate the access, capture, maintenance and enterprise licensing and sharing of quality geospatial data. Currently, for example, three state agencies are making major investments in licensing and improving roads data.

Success factors for the initiative, he said, include the following:

  • A full-time paid GIO, who has a relationship with the CIO
  • A politician who will act as a sponsor
  • The state works with local and federal governments.
A number of organizations already exist which can facilitate the process, such as the CERES Program, the California GIS Council, The California Mapping Coordinating Committee, and others.

Ellison said the state is pursuing a collaborative purchase of one-meter resolution color imagery, and he expects that dataset to be obtained by next year.

"We are right on the cusp of a quantum leap forward in our utilization of GIS," said Ellison. "The strategic plan states that there will be a GIO to work with the California GIS Council to sponsor an integrated GIS plan." While voluntary efforts have made gains so far, the voluntary effort is at its limits, and needs authority such as legislation or an executive order to take it further.

Wayne Hanson  | 

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.