May 06 2010

Geospatial Data: Know Your Place

Geo data is about to take on a much more important role in agency management. Here are eight ways your IT shop can lead the way.

Although geospatial information systems are used in many agencies, even extensively at some, GIS is generally underutilized.

Delivering a spatial dimension to federal data makes it much more valuable in many cases. It defines place and, by doing so, increases understanding. GIS data is an often overlooked and potentially hidden jewel — a technology that can help CIOs effectively broker information, incorporate place and turn data into knowledge.

The challenge of getting the right information to support decisions in an understandable form, at the right time, is a hallmark of where CIOs can add value through GIS.

These systems bring together spatial and associated tabular data, such as demographic, socioeconomic, financial, environmental, health and other information. They combine information in layers for visualization and let users manipulate and query data using powerful analytical tools.

Here are eight ways your agency can use geospatial data to add value to the information food chain:

1.Support Sound Decision-Making

Situational awareness is critical for making wise decisions.

Issues and events that impact agency missions do not occur in a vacuum; they affect surrounding areas, resources and populations. Understanding the context for a decision is critical to selecting the optimal course of action.

Geospatial data offers visual and analytical frameworks for understanding where issues and events occur. These tools support analysis of complex interrelationships from a local, regional or national perspective to help agency leaders understand the implications of policies and actions.

2.Track Agency Assets and Mission Initiatives

Many agencies have operations distributed across the United States, with regional and field offices, laboratories, and numerous projects and initiatives. Agencies rely on facilities, partnerships with state and local organizations, and their own staffs to accomplish their missions.

A major challenge is organizing and managing these assets efficiently and allocating resources to deliver serv­ices effectively to meet mission needs. GIS offers an organizing framework (geography) and tools (maps, models and analytics) to access and make sense of information from multiple sources.

3.Enhance and Visualize Agency Performance Information

In addition to visualizing geographic information, GIS can combine programmatic data, such as regulatory, social, economic and other indicators from an array of sources into one intuitive and visual interface.

Sophisticated analytical tools have the potential to illuminate relationships, patterns and trends that are not apparent in a spreadsheet or set of tables. Geospatial capabilities can enhance and visualize agency performance information and be integrated into executive dashboards, performance scorecards and other milestone metrics.

Using GIS, managers can visually track and compare performance across locations and assess trends over time.

4.Improve Accountability and Transparency

Agencies can use geospatial technologies as effective platforms to increase transparency and accountability, not only by visually presenting information, but also by engaging citizens, evaluating alternatives and explaining complex interactions.

Technically, it’s not difficult to integrate GIS into an e-government environment, offering citizens around-the-clock access to learn about federal activities and to provide feedback.

5. Optimize Agency Investments

The challenge of managing through the worst economy since the Great Depression requires efficient budget planning and spending.

“A place-based management approach lets agencies coordinate across silos of information.

— Paul Wohlleben

President Obama has announced that he will seek to freeze discretionary spending on many domestic programs to trim government deficits. For the CIO, this means agency missions must be accomplished with even fewer resources.

From the budgeting perspective, GIS can provide an agency’s chief financial officer with tools to evaluate departmental budget requests to see how they will affect specific regions based on pre­selected criteria — for instance, by tracking variations in return on investment

through visual comparisons of spending and budget impact.

6. Improve Communications

Geospatial information can enhance communications about complex issues for executives, lawmakers and citizens alike.

Plus, GIS can be used as a customer service tool, providing online access to information via interactive maps that give users and communities direct access to government information.

7. Share Agency Data Resources

Geospatial technologies are used widely today in federal, state and local agencies, providing a technology framework to promote planning and collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries.

A place-based management approach lets agencies coordinate across silos of information, create links among organizations, track resources, and analyze programs and policies in a coordinated framework.

When CIOs ensure the inclusion of geographic fields in program databases, which creates a common frame of reference for sharing knowledge with other organizations, the value of agency-specific information multiplies.

8. Improve Compliance with Administration Priorities

Economic recovery reporting, energy use reduction, healthcare reform, job creation, climate change and open government are all examples of priorities that are inherently place-based. GIS can help CIOs achieve such policy objectives and priorities.

CIOs can use GIS to show the Office of Management and Budget and others how well their agencies are doing on these initiatives. Maps, visual displays and geo-enabled dashboards can play valuable roles in monitoring, evaluating, tracking, reporting and supporting decision-making.

Taking on the Geo Challenge

How can you maximize the value of GIS within your agency?

CIOs know the information systems and databases in their agencies. There is a wealth of existing geospatial data, or readily geo-enabled data, waiting to be exploited. Taking advantage of these GIS capabilities will produce a quantum leap in the value of the knowledge that can be unleashed from federal data.

By unleashing that value, CIOs become even more valuable members of their agencies’ senior leadership teams.