GIS Summertime Blues

My optimism for 2014-2015 State level GIS program development went south as early as January of this year as part of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address  on January 9th.  I’ve reread the 10-page speech several times looking for something to feel good about while wearing my GIS hat.  Each time though, a big zero.  Nada.  Based on the content of the 2014 Address, as well the previous three years of this administration, even the most optimistic GIS professional would need a wild imagination to think geospatial is on the Governor’s radar screen or that he has given the State Chief Technology Officer (Kishor Bagul) –   who has oversight of the State’s Geographic Information Officer –  the green light in moving forward towards building state level GIS capacity.  And that’s not just State government programs – but statewide – including county, regional, and local governments (cities, towns, and villages).

It would seem all that remains in the hollow geospatial speak of the Office for Information Technology Serivces  (ITS) public relations machine – IT Transformation, Clusters/Governance/consolidations, and an organizational chart that is mind-numbing -are just fragments of a State level geospatial program that was probably better off ten years ago.  One can dig a little deeper and find a copy of the 2014-2017 NYS IT Strategic Plan published last month in which under Goal 2: Strengthening Our Service to Agencies is an initiative itemized as Next Generation Geographic Information Systems (GIS).    The project narrative reads  “ITS is developing a bold new strategy to build on existing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) capabilities within the NYS GIS Clearinghouse ( to create a centralized, state -of-the-art suite of shared resources that can be used by all agencies and members of the public. The enterprise strategy for GIS will create a new tier of technology to harness the network of currently isolated GIS resources using web services that can be widely shared and reused by a whole host of stakeholders”.  Unfortunately the reference to a very out-of-date website as a jumping off point for this proposed initiative makes one wonder how deep the NextGen GIS discussion actually went.  But maybe that’s just me.

So, with little to get excited about in the Governor’s January 2014 speech,  I took a step back over the next several months  to monitor any legislation that might be introduced  by members of the NYS Legislature that would include either direct or indirect funding to support statewide GIS/geospatial program development.  An initial summary and analysis of current NYS legislation which contains a geospatial component was the focus of my February 2014 blog post.   Little has changed since then and beyond current pieces of legislation which contain a “mapping” component  in the areas of Alzheimer’s, autism, and breast cancer research among others,  there is no legislation which will specifically help build and expand geospatial capacity across the state.  With last Legislative session now behind us, here’s an exhaustive summary of what went down.

Of course had any pro-GIS/geospatial legislation been introduced or passed during the 2014 Legislative session it would be more by accident than by design as the NYS geospatial community has no formalized advocacy in the political and legislative arena.  Which goes to show you that GIS legislation/funding in New York is still a game of chance versus a well-choreographed legislative agenda by the statewide GIS constituency.  Maybe outreach and work within the legislative arena might ultimately evolve from the NYS GIS Association?  Maybe.

So what does all this lack of State level government and legislative support mean for GIS programs across the state?   It means that beyond providing the staples of orthophotos and addresses, it’s doubtful that any additional geospatial infrastructure is going to be created at the State level in the foreseeable future.   Which actually may not be all that bad.  One could argue that future statewide funding and legislative support is probably better spent at the local level anyway.   Beyond the old school GIS commodities noted above, most State governments have limited involvement with the primary day-to-day geospatial business needs of county, city, town, and village GIS programs – particularly in the areas of infrastructure management (drinking water, storm and sanitary systems, utilities), permitting, code enforcement, and inspection activities, planning and zoning, land records/tax mapping, and supporting local public safety programs (fire and police).  Yes, there is some overlap in functions and business needs, but not a lot.

Geospatial architecture and infrastructure which supports local programs is much different today.  The Cloud, mobile apps, GIS functionality in COTS business software, a significantly reduced government workforce, mash-ups, content everywhere on the internet, crowdsourcing for everything, and so forth have changed the landscape.  All these factors, both collectively and individually, have significantly changed how local governments use and apply the technology.   And in doing so, it seems to further suggest that the conventional thinking of investing at the State level to support local government GIS programs needs to be revisited?   Or abandoned?  If the State really wants to make a difference in the local geospatial arena, invest in the public health and social services  systems – both of which are State mandated and two of the costliest budgets items in county government.   Across the state.  Any integrated (state-local) geospatial solutions in these program areas will have widespread applicability and impact.

I certainly don’t know what the future looks like for State government GIS program areas, but I do know for the near future most local GIS programs will continue to fend for themselves and require to be self-funded.  Or at least until the day we – as a community and network of statewide GIS programs – are successful in establishing sustaining legislative and financial support for our programs.

It’s said that the Geospatial Summit is a conference designed for out-of-the-box thinkers. Might I suggest that if there is no progress on funding any statewide geospatial initiatives by the next Summit, a spokesperson from Kickstarter be invited as part of 2016 agenda?   Why not?

Hey, you never know.

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