10 Questions: Dale Morris

Dale Morris is one of New York State’s most recognized and senior GIS statesmen.  With a distinguished civil service career spanning 38 years, he has contributed significantly to the NYS GIS community in many capacities to say the least of directing one of the most established GIS programs in the state at Erie County – and its far reaching influence in western New York.  Ten questions seemed like a slight to an individual with such a body of professional work, so the eSpatiallyNewYork editorial team gave him permission to push it to 15 questions. Or something like that.  Enjoy.

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with Erie County?

Morris:  I’ve been in the Department of Environment and Planning since 1981. Prior to this I worked as a Planner for the Town of Amherst, NY and before that the Erie and Niagara Counties Regional Planning Board. I graduated from Cornell University with a Master’s Degree in Regional Planning in 1977.

eSpatiallynewyork:  When did you start doing GIS work?

Morris:   Working initially as a Planner for Erie County presented  many opportunities for making and using maps. In the 1980s we were still using Mylar, zipatone, and Leroy Lettering Sets for making maps, which is tedious, time consuming, and not easy to change. I began to investigate the world of digital mapping, which was still in its beginnings as a desktop product. I started with the DOS version of MapInfo. I recall how amazed we all were that we could do something as simple as draw the County and municipal boundaries on-screen. Looking back on it now it all seems so rudimentary!  Regardless of how basic it was, my Division became known for our ability to make computer drawn maps. At that time there wasn’t much concern about the database behind the maps- it was enough to be able to draw and edit maps digitally rather than by hand.

As desktop mapping grew in popularity through the 1990s a number of County departments began independently looking into it. This usually resulted in them calling me to ask for advice or data. Of course, this also meant that everyone was using different systems, and at that time it made exchanging data between systems very difficult or impossible. It was a classic case of disjointed silos of data and applications.

A change in County administration in the late 1990s brought new management in our department, and I was challenged to prepare a white paper for moving the County further forward into the digital mapping world. I proposed creating a new County Division that would be empowered to centralize decisions relating to geospatial technology (by then we could use terms like “geospatial” without getting blank stares!). The Office of Geographic Information Services (OGIS) was born in 2001, and I have been the Director since then. So for me personally, my career started with both feet in the urban planning field, then a gradual shift to one foot in planning and one in digital mapping, and then finally both feet in GIS. I do very little “typical” planning anymore, even though OGIS is part of the Planning Division.

While OGIS is an Office within the Department of Environment and Planning, only a portion of our work is related to this department. We work very closely with our IT shop to maintain and operate the County’s GIS technology infrastructure, and with other departments and outside agencies who either use our enterprise GIS technology or who need direct assistance with their mapping needs.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s the relationship between your office and Niagara County?

Morris:  We have a formal Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) with Niagara County for GIS Services. The agreement is for a five year period and we are well into the second of these five-year agreements. Erie County hosts Niagara County’s geospatial data and provides on-line mapping services to Niagara County. The two counties are connected by a high-speed microwave link, which operates very well. In essence, Niagara County is simply like any other Erie County department that taps into the Erie County enterprise GIS network. In addition to providing Niagara County this service for a fee, the IMA provides a framework for backup of GIS data between the two counties, and as well defines a GIS “mutual aid” protocol for sharing of GIS resources and staff in the event of an emergency.
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Reflections on NYGeoCon 2013

The 2013 New York State GIS conference was held November 12-13, 2013 in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Organized by the NYS GIS Association, this is the first year the state conference has been rebranded as NYGeoCon which will be held alternating years with the Geospatial Summit.  With conference registration topping 300, including students, single day attendees, and vendors, the two-day event included a wide range of topics including nearly 30 individual presentations and a dozen workshops/panel discussions.    Among the many topics offered –  mobile technology, shared services, and open data themes – were common conversation points throughout the conference.  The conference also included special efforts to involve college students and contained an Education Tract highlighting statewide higher education GIS instructors.  Conference vendor support was equally impressive with 19 companies exhibiting during the course of the conference.

Beyond the normal opening day conference welcome by out-going NYS GIS Association President Al Leidner and the usual “State of the State” presentation by NYS GIO Bill Johnson, the conference began in earnest with an impressive keynote presentation by Jack Levis who is known to many as “the United Parcel Service (UPS) guy” in the Penn State Public Broadcasting production The Geospatial Revolution.  Levis has keynoted at other GIS/location-based conferences over the past several months presenting the company business message about how UPS used to be a trucking company that used technology, but is now a technology company that happens to use trucks.  His presentation focused on how UPS uses data (much of which is mobile gathered) to support enterprise descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics in helping build and refine the UPS delivery model.  Interestingly, Levis feels, in general, much of the available digital street center line files (public/commercial) still need updating and improvement.  It was an excellent presentation which had a major underlying geospatial component.  Levis fielded several questions from the audience after the presentation.  Both the conference welcome and Levis presentation are available for viewing on the conference homepage.

The annual business meeting of the NYS GIS Association, which was held at lunch on the second day of the conference, demonstrated the tremendous growth of the Association as an independent, professional voice and presence in statewide geospatial programs.  The nearly hour-long meeting included several committee reports (Membership, Communications, Conference, Legislative, Private Sector, Education, Regional Groups, and Professional Development) as well as general discussion on issues such as GISP certification, types of membership (professional/associate, etc.) and collective efforts for continued growth and influence across the state.  One of the more impressive statistics taken from the meeting was that nearly one-third of the nearly 500 members of the Association are from the private sector.  A very encouraging number which suggests, for now, that New York State geospatial business and industry representatives are  supporting the underlying efforts and long-term goals of the Association.  The business meeting also included the introduction of incoming President Julie Tolar (Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority) and President-Elect Susan Nixson (City of Ithaca), as well as three new Board members:  Rich Quodomine (NYS DOT), Julia O’Brien (FEMA Region 2) and Mickey Dietrich (Tug Hill Commission).

Looking forward, the Association will hopefully continue to align its professional and conference efforts with like-minded statewide professional organizations which leverage geospatial technologies.  Overall, the 2013 event should be considered a success given ongoing struggles in attendance at similar geospatial conferences in the Northeast.  One of the few speed bumps the conference hit was placing the ESRI Sponsor Workshop – against other ongoing presentations – in the very last time slot of the conference which resulted in woefully poor attendance.  As a conference Platinum Sponsor, ESRI was deserving of much better placement on the agenda.

Kudos to the NYS GIS Association conference committee in organizing the successful 2013 NYGeoCon.  We look forward to the 2014 Geospatial Summit.