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Florida’s First Geographic Information Officer Maps Out a Statewide Strategy

Ekaterina Fitos, who spent time in the public and private sectors, has signed on with the Florida Agency for State Technology as its new geographic information officer.

The state of Florida, believed to have been one of just two states without a central geographic information system (GIS) coordinating authority, hired its first-ever geographic information officer (GIO) late last year and has planned an ambitious first year under her enterprise-level leadership.

Ekaterina Fitos, who worked most recently in the private sector but has more than a decade of state-level public-sector experience, joined the Agency for State Technology (AST) on Dec. 27. AST Spokeswoman Erin Choy said the hope is that the agency will be ready to publish a statewide GIS strategy near the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, June 30.

“Basically I’ve been tasked with a number of items. The first and foremost thing is to look at developing a GIS strategy for the state of Florida; chairing the enterprise GIS working group, developing data standards and basically addressing and identifying general GIS needs for the agencies,” Fitos told Government Technology.

The working group includes representatives from more than a dozen state agencies, including its division of emergency management and department of transportation. Among its accomplishments so far, Choy said the group compiled “a business case for the reasons why the state of Florida should have an enterprise GIO.”

“We’re really excited to have Ekaterina on, and to start to develop that statewide strategy moving forward,” Choy said.

Fitos’ position was one of four, including the chief data officer post, funded by Gov. Rick Scott in his 2018-2019 state budget proposal. Among her duties, Florida’s new chief data officer, Nancy Sampson, is creating an enterprise-level data inventory with the goal of having it, too, ready by June 30.

Fitos, whose work in areas of state GIS spans a decade, said her previous experience has shown her the value of data, and of collaboration.

Her first state-level GIS work came 17 years ago, when from 2001-2005 she was a biological scientist and GIS analyst at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Fitos said the experience gave her a “unique perspective” as she focused mainly on environmental restoration but became familiar with its other data streams and areas of coverage.

More recently, from 2005 to 2011, Fitos served as a GIS analyst for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, a posting she said expanded her skill set in areas of lidar, aerial mapping and photography. Lidar, or light detection and ranging, uses a pulsed laser to measure environments with increased accuracy.

“I just want to stress that I want to forge really positive and productive relationships, so that we can develop an over-arching strategy that works for the state of Florida and successfully implement it,” Fitos said.

“I think in order to do that, you really need to have the buy-in from all these stakeholders and get the right people involved. But I’m positive that we have a really good foundation … and I think people share my passion and my excitement for this position,” she added.

She is also a past president of the Florida Region ASPRS, the Imaging & Geospatial Information Society; and immediately prior to being named GIO, she was a senior GIS specialist at engineering company CH2M in Tampa, Fla.

Florida agencies have utilized GIS for years, including projects from the departments of Revenue and Emergency Management, which began using lidar to map statewide in 2007.

Instituting enterprise-level oversight could drive operational and financial efficiencies, Fitos said, as agencies reduce storage needs by eliminating duplicative data streams and individual licensing agreements are forged.

“I’m hoping that awareness, education, things like that will come out of this also. In addition to the cost savings and more open data sharing and standards … that will hopefully come out of this,” Fitos said.

Improving official access to recent statewide data could also benefit Floridians, some of whom frequently find themselves in the path of hurricanes.

“What we’re hoping is, is to make sure the data is readily and easily accessible … in a consistent manner, so it’s easily shareable between agencies in the event that there is a need,” Fitos said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.