Today, ESRI announced that four states – Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and South Carolina are using its mapping technology to provide the details of broadband coverage statewide. The maps are part of ESRI’s BroadbandStat service, which offers interactive broadband maps. Civsource spoke with Christopher Thomas, government industry solutions manager about ESRI and how state and local governments can leverage their geographic data effectively.
BroadbandStat is an application which utilizes state’s geographic information to show where coverage currently exists as well as where the gaps are, allowing states plan to improve service delivery. BroadbandStat is funded by grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with the goal of providing a national broadband coverage map to the public by February 2011. ESRI also offers world community maps through their ArcGIS service, which allows users to contribute their geographic data or utilize already contributed data to better understand and visualize attributes of their communities.
When asked about how cities and states are realizing the value of this data Thomas pointed to the increased effectiveness of government when data can be visualized, “I’ve found that governments understand the value of integrating their authoritative data into our world base map. Governments really get it when they see the value of connecting the accessibility of the data to their mission and focus. The various government disciplines are driven to become part of a ArcGIS.com community and submit data as they learn that the community enhances their effectiveness.”
He offered public safety as an example of how GIS data can contribute to mission, “this community recognizes the value of using base maps when preparing to respond to a disaster. ArcGIS provides an off-site storage option that can be quickly accessed during emergencies for improved response and mobilization. It also provides an excellent foundation for others to build quality maps and apps. The data drawn from ArcGIS.com provides a common language that everyone can draw from.”
Beyond public safety and disaster response, Thomas highlighted other ways states are using their geographic data including projects like Maryland’s StateStat and a growing number of departments of transportation which are utilizing maps to plan and make service improvements. “We are witnessing the same type of reaction to geo-enabling a business process as we see in the acceptance of the ArcGIS.com community. The geo-enablement of the workflow can be applied to transparency and accountability both holistically and based on the mission of the government agency,” he said.
Thomas also noted several areas that are emerging as hubs for geospatial data including mobile platforms as seen in the growth of location focused applications and social media which continues to include more and more location based data. According to Thomas, by including this data people will be able to add more to their communication and also participate more at a local level. “This geographic context provides deeper understanding of issues. People will analyze situations in a map and weigh in—a great example of effectively improving citizen engagement. ”
Overall, according to Thomas adding a geographic context provides more awareness and understanding of issues as they happen. When governments and citizens effectively utilize this data, transparency and accountability are increased. Additionally, costs to implement are low, many states have already invested in GIS data allowing them to simply leverage existing assets or they can utilize the data already provided on ArcGIS. Thomas noted that ESRI will continue to make adjustments to its offerings as well to ensure that their solutions are both useful and cost effective.
“ESRI offers a community for networking and sharing. At the end of the day we realize that just making world class software is not enough. We must remain part of the community we service and adjust to their needs. We have data models, APIs, documentation – a wide variety of resources that ensure success for our users.”