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The totally awesome future of GIS

Federal CTO Todd Park at the 2013 ESRI Federal GIS Conference - photo by Frank Konkel/FCW

Federal CTO Todd Park speaking at the Esri Federal GIS conference. (FCW photo by Frank Konkel)

Federal CTO Todd Park wants mapmakers and geospatial developers to lead a “whole new wave of awesomeness for our country,” in which open-data innovation produces “new products, features, insights to create jobs and [still more] general awesomeness.”

Park’s enthusiastic speech, given Feb. 27 to a large audience at Esri Federal GIS conference in Washington, D.C., closed the three-day event with a mix of infectious optimism, GIS success stories, Star Wars references and a glimpse of the near future.

“As much as we’ve accomplished to date, we all think our best work is ahead of us,” said Park, citing successes like the National Broadband Map, a searchable public database of information on broadband Internet availability across the country. “I actually believe we’re on the cusp of a new open age when it comes to harnessing government data to impact our nation.”

The next efforts, Park said, focus on “liberating” existing raw data, leveraging maps, data visualization and other tools that make it easy for end users to consume the information. He promised new polices to “turbocharge this effort,” and added that the federal government’s fire hose of open data – www.data.gov – is getting “upgrades to plumbing, architectures and end-user interface.”

Yet while Park praised the tools and standards, from GitHub to GeoJSON, that fuel GIS innovation, he stressed the key to making a real difference is human collaboration. A growing number of data jams, datapaloozas and hackathons are showcasing and encouraging innovation in all sectors, he said, and making federal GIS data more widely available brings broad public benefit in the long run.

“Data by itself is useless – and it’s painful for me to say this,” Park said. “You can’t pour data on a broken bone and heal it. You can’t pour data on the street and fix it. Data is only useful if it is applied for useful public benefit.”

So Park praised the attendees for putting in the hard work to wrestle massive datasets into useful information and insights. “Thank you so much for all you’ve already done, thank you even more for what you are about to do,” Park said, before concluding, “May the Force be with you and all of us.”

Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 27, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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