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Well-Timed Phone Call Leads to Cover Story

Maryland governor uses GIS to Map Crime, Traffic, Infrastructure, Spending

by / July 31, 2009

As you enjoy another issue of Government Technology, I'd like to share the interesting tale of how our cover story came about and how it mirrors technology's influence in our lives.

In 2007, I wrote several stories examining GIS's role in public-sector IT. At the time my GIS knowledge was cursory at best. But with each story I became more aware of how the seemingly simple act of mapping data could yield fascinating results that could truly be of service to government agencies. I thought it might be worthwhile for our audience to hear about the state of GIS from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and I contacted the Redlands, Calif.-based GIS firm ESRI to try to get an interview with company President Jack Dangermond, a legend in GIS circles. I sort of succeeded. However, Dangermond's schedule in late 2007 permitted only a brief telephone- and e-mail-based Q and A, which we ran in January 2008.

That was that, I thought. I'd helped shed light on why GIS is an important weapon in the public-sector IT arsenal. But then, in late 2008, as we ramped up coverage of President Barack Obama's plan to rejuvenate the economy through an economic stimulus, I received a call from Bob Ruschman, head of ESRI's media relations. Ruschman said Dangermond recalled the Q and A from the year before and wanted to talk more about GIS and how it could help generate the spending transparency Obama was advocating.

So in February of this year, I ventured to Redlands with our video editor and producer extraordinaire Terence Brown to shoot a video interview with Jack Dangermond, which can be seen on During the 90-minute conversation, Dangermond received a phone call he said he had to take. It turned out the caller was Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who wanted to discuss his StateStat application with Dangermond. StateStat is a tool O'Malley developed that uses GIS to map crime, traffic, infrastructure, spending and others areas of concern in Maryland. The Obama administration was eyeing StateStat as a model for tracking stimulus dollars. It also happened to be the very subject Dangermond and I were discussing when the governor called.

As Dangermond fielded the governor's questions, he casually told O'Malley something like, "Hey, Government Technology is here and we're talking about StateStat. How would you like them to come out to Maryland so you could tell them about it yourself?" Suddenly I had the governor of Maryland expecting my visit. So in May, Terence and I went out to Maryland to meet with O'Malley, the result of which is this month's cover story and video segments on our Web site.

The unusual way this story unfolded reminds me of how technology like GIS can give us a clearer picture of how we're all connected and how our everyday actions sometimes produce the unexpected. It's a lesson worth remembering as you engage in, and we report on, the ways technology can be used to improve the business of government and the citizen-government experience.


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Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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