Rivals Look to Seed Technology in State and Local Agencies

Intergraph Corp. and the National Association of Counties have joined forces to help smaller county governments launch their own geographic information systems. At NACo's annual conference in Portland, Ore., last month, executives unveiled a free GIS "Starter Kit" to sell the benefits of the technology to county administrators.

Not to be outdone, Intergraph rival Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. launched a $2.4 million grant program to help seed GIS projects at local agencies. The Intergraph/NACo kit includes the latest version of Intergraph's GeoMedia GIS software as well as basic GIS data specific to the various counties that apply for the kit, initial software training and ongoing service support. GeoMedia is Microsoft Corp. Windows-based GIS software that provides access to spatial database management systems.

In exchange for the kits, Intergraph is asking local governments to designate high-level officials to attend GeoMedia training sessions. Intergraph believes both the kits and the training may help implant the technology at the local level.Speaking at the NACo conference, outgoing NACo president Randy Johnson said there is some awareness of GIS among technical people in county governments but little among county administrators and other executives-the very people who might find the technology most useful in their decision-making.

The kit is seen as a way of getting these people "over the hump" of starting with GIS, Johnson said.

"If they can see report information graphically on a map, it's so much easier for them to see what is going on and to see trends occurring over time," Johnson said. "[GIS] is also a good way to make raw information available to the public."Tom Clemons, Intergraph's director of industry sales, said, "We are trying to overcome some of the hesitance among the counties in their use of GIS." Clemons spoke from URISA, the annual conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, taking place at the same time in Charlotte, N.C.

The kits will contain data specific to each county that qualifies for the program. "The local data will be able to support three to four applications aimed at problem-solving in areas such as economic development, redistricting of political boundaries and emergency management," he said.

Intergraph, based in Huntsville, Ala., estimated the kits are worth $10,000 each and could reach more than 1,700 counties, for a total value of more than $17 million.

Under ESRI's program, which the company is calling a "Local Government Start-up Grant," cities and counties will be provided copies of its Arc/Info, ArcView GIS and MapObjects Internet Starter, including templates to generate local applications. "In return, we are asking local governments to build and share three datasets," according to Christopher Thomas, ESRI's state and local government solutions manager, who also spoke at URISA.

Through the program, ESRI will push local governments to generate and exchange datasets that are compliant with Framework, a federal program designed to help develop a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (see related story, Page 24).

Nestled within ESRI's URISA booth was LizardTech Inc., a Seattle-based company that has attracted a lot of state and local interest for its MrSID image-compression software. MrSID-for Multi-Resolution Seamless Image Database-is based on wavelet-compression technology and offers users an alternative to JPEG compression for viewing, exchanging and using large files of raster data. LizardTech and ESRI recently joined forces to offer a new extension to ESRI's ArcView software that will allow GIS users to more rapidly view massive raster images in ArcView, ESRI's most basic GIS visualization tool. MrSID also facilitates file sharing over the Internet. San Diego Data Processing Corp. is an initial user of MrSID technology.

Bentley Systems Inc. used the URISA meeting to debut an upgraded version of its ModelServer Discovery platform that supports Java and enables users to develop Java applets. "The Java interface has been a big push for Bentley," said Tom Haskell, senior product manager for Web and mobile technology. "What Java does in this case is cut down on development time and allow people to build interfaces faster. It also opens up the mobile world by allowing access to field users who are doing things like repairing water mains."

So far Bentley has sold the upgraded product only in the utility market, but it is nearing deals with several local agencies, Haskell said.

- Brian Robinson contributed to this article.

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