Find Your Spirit of Innovation on GIS Day

Posted on November 14, 2016 in Thinking

Why do we celebrate GIS Day?  One reason is to show pride in our profession and to promote it to others, which are both worthwhile endeavors. But as a term, GIS is not modern, and is somewhat limited in scope. It was coined by Roger Tomlinson in 1968, which was the same year that the “Harvard Lab for Computer Graphics” added “and Spatial Analysis” to its name.   The computer graphics industry spawned several technology leaders in early GIS, most notably, Intergraph (founded in 1969), who became the market leader in the 1970s and 80s. During the 1990s, the mantle of market leader shifted to Esri (also founded in 1969) – times change, as do market leaders.

The term GIS was adopted by vendors and academics alike during these early decades of the industry.  It was applied to map data and technology that needed a label to differentiate it from other types of data and technology, including computer graphics.  It became a banner under which a fledgling profession could rally and grow, along with the market.  An entire industry grew-up and matured under this label, and the biggest “GIS rally” for many years has been the ESRI User Conference, at which as many as 15,000 people now gather. Based on its success in what became a global market, the almost 50 year-old Esri is often considered synonymous with GIS, as other players came and went on a playing field that the market leader was able to define for everyone — until now.  Today, “GIS” is a label that does not adequately describe what many of us who have grown-up in this industry actually do, nor the data and technology that we often use to solve problems for today’s customers, which now includes many robust open source components as well as proprietary products.  Other blog posts have mentioned Geospatial/IT as an alternative term that is more modern in its genesis than GIS, which emerged when “MIS” was a common term – but how often is MIS used these days to describe information dashboards and analytical tools for the C-Suite and the rest of the enterprise? continue_reading…

Why We Built MapGeo

Posted on September 8, 2015 in Thinking

When you were a student it’s likely your parents and instructors reminded or scolded you to “Pay attention!” They believed that keeping an eye on what’s going on around you is valuable both for learning content and for getting ahead in life. At AppGeo we work hard to pay attention to our clients needs, to technology changes and new software and application licensing and delivery options. These were all part of bringing MapGeo (AppGeo’s hosted local government mapping solution), and now MapGeo 2.0, to market. Other related posts include what’s new in MapGeo 2.0, and a description of the uses and benefits of MapGeo.

Our Clients are the Driving Force behind MapGeo

AppGeo has served local and regional governments for more than 20 years. Our consulting and programming staff listened to customer requests and probed their needs, resulting in dozens of well received custom GIS websites. All that experience revealed some common needs. So, we started a list. Our local government customers needed:


How MapGeo Delivers Value for Cities and Counties

Posted on September 7, 2015 in Thinking

AppGeo created MapGeo (AppGeo’s hosted local government mapping solution, first launched in 2011) to help city and county governments better use and share their geospatial and property data. Now in its second release, MapGeo is putting more data, tools and answers to questions into the hands of local government leaders, staff, businesses and citizens. Below we describe how MapGeo aligns with the expectations of today’s consumers of map-based information. Other related posts include a description of what’s new in MapGeo, and a look back on our motivation for creating MapGeo.

Beyond the Basics

Nearly everyone involved in government, both insiders and constituents, is sold on the need for accurate data, transparency and accountability. These same people are also sold on the value of maps in visualizing those data, sharing information and making decisions. But today’s challenges go beyond just creating and sharing maps. Municipal leaders and those who work for them demand quick access to a wide variety of data and new ways to view, measure and share project outcomes. Citizens are more savvy; they want quick answers to their questions and assurances their concerns are received and addressed.

The maturation of local government mapping systems revolves around performance based management. Municipal leaders and constituents are pushing maps to address performance questions:

  • Are we taking the right actions?
  • Are we effectively communicating what we are doing?
  • Are we meeting our goals in a timely manner?

For example, city leaders might set a goal of improving response to citizen service requests. Maps showing the status of service requests built off the latest data would help leaders determine if the selected strategies were working, help citizens follow progress and provide regular reports on meeting goals. A time series map could show exactly how the status changed weekly, monthly or across the year.

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Merging Geospatial Technology Stacks: Building Hybrid Systems

Posted on June 16, 2015 in Presentations

Michael Terner‘s presentation on today’s leading geospatial technologies makes the case for hybrid (best of breed) approaches, and provides examples, including work for the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), our own MapGeo, which itself is undergoing a hybrid evolution, and Google Imagery.

This slide deck was presented at the May 2015 Utah Geographic Information Council (UGIC) and GeCo West conference held at the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

Michael Terner’s UGIC 2015 Presentation on Hybrid Systems

Breaking up is hard to do…The story of how AppGeo left the Esri BP Program and what it means for our industry and customers

Posted on September 10, 2014 in Thinking

By Michael Terner (@mt_AppGeo), Executive Vice President

Through the lens of having three kids who have been in high school, I’ve heard about “getting dumped by text message” and how that can complicate and deepen the confusion of what is an inherently difficult situation. Well, earlier this year our company went through the business equivalent of such a break up.

In May, after almost 20 years as an Esri Business Partner we were informed that Esri would like to “let our formal partnership retire.” We weren’t informed by text message, but rather we first heard the news from one of our big city customers who apparently was told by Esri before we were. About a week later, on May 12, we received a formal letter from Esri signed by our “Manager of the Regional Partner Team”. Our Regional Manager for the Northeast and Jack Dangermond were CC’ed. The “Manager of the Regional Partner Team”, who we’ve known for over a decade, gave us another name to contact “if you have any questions.” So as of June 25th, 2014, we were out of the club.

But, as with high school romance, sometimes break-ups are necessary, and while they can hurt, they can also lead to new growth and opportunity. Three months after receiving the news I think our team has processed the “message” and has some perspective on what happened as well as a really optimistic outlook on AppGeo’s future. Ultimately, while we’ve broken up, we do want to “remain friends” which Esri also relayed in their letter to us. Indeed, upon reflection, we think this episode says a lot about where our company and our industry are heading, and we believe others may be interested in our assessment.

We weren’t surprised

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Happy GIS Day! Some Quick Thoughts…

Posted on November 20, 2013 in Thinking

Happy GIS Day everyone! Today we celebrate GIS, but what does that really mean? For us, it’s a reminder to take a step back and take pride in the fact that our industry and our profession really do make a daily difference in the lives of billions of people around the world.  From navigation on a smartphone, to finding the closest ATM on your bank’s web site, to looking up the value of a parcel of land, to understanding the logistics and geospatial intelligence it took to get that tube of toothpaste from the factory to the shelf, to having confidence in the fact that the ambulance knows the quickest way to your house, our current, modern lives wouldn’t be the same without GIS. And without GIS, much of the amazing technology we take for granted wouldn’t be nearly as amazing.  AppGeo is a proud partner with you –our clients — in making your citizens and customers more informed, safer, and satisfied. We couldn’t do what we do without your enthusiasm and commitment. So thanks – we hope our passion for GIS shines through not only today, but also every day!

AppGeo’s Own Wins Award

Posted on October 1, 2013 in News
Guido presents his winning concept.

AppGeo’s own Guido Stein, a GIS analyst, recently participated in Hackstock for #LocalGov as part of the 2013 International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Annual Conference held in Boston in late September. And not only did Guido participate; he also won the grand prize! The hack-a-thon challenged participants to use real data provided by local government managers to create new technology applications that would enable cities to better serve their citizens.  Guido’s winning app submission proposed a means to query public spending information by geography: for example, a city manager could use the app to calculate and report the amount spent on signs or road repair in a particular neighborhood or district. In true AppGeo fashion, Guido’s winning entry carried the torch of shared value and maptivism. Congratulations, Guido! 

Be Careful What You Ask For…

Posted on July 17, 2013 in Thinking

By Rich Grady, AppGeo President

“Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it,” as the old saying goes. Is this statement apropos for nationwide IT consolidation efforts that are absorbing independent, mature GIS operations? If you are a State GIS Coordinator or GIO, did you ask to be part of the IT “melting pot”? Maybe you did, or maybe you didn’t, but this has been the trend since the New Millennium. Around 2003, NSGIC leadership articulated the “Nine Criteria [for Successful Statewide GIS],” which were quickly embraced by Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) as part of the Fifty States Initiative to rejuvenate efforts to build the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). A lot has happened since then, and many of the lessons are applicable wherever IT consolidation is taking over existing GIS operations, whether state government or elsewhere.

For reference, criterion #3 of the “Nine Criteria” was: “The statewide coordination office [for GIS] has a formal relationship with the state’s CIO or similar office.”  This was not necessarily to advocate for consolidation of GIS into IT, thereby assimilating it into the mainstream IT world; but rather, the intent was to encourage formalized communication channels and partnering. There are many things GIS can learn from IT, and vice versa. In fact, the advent of GIS as “Spatial IT” is in many ways a result of healthy cross-fertilization. My colleague Michael Terner blogged on the subject of Spatial IT earlier this year.

Let’s look at a few things for additional context. The role of a CIO is considered to be a strategic position in many states, and CIOs are often gubernatorial appointees who outrank the statewide GIS coordinator by at least a notch or two, if not more. In contrast, GIS officials typically emerged from departmental ranks and were almost never gubernatorial appointees (although there are exceptions). More often than not, their backgrounds were in disciplines related to natural resources and the environment, or surveying and cartography. And, their GIS operations typically gained critical mass independent of IT sponsorship or direction, and were driven by the need for geospatial data.  

Regardless of different origins, discipline backgrounds, professional cultures, job titles, funding mechanisms, and value systems, the perception arose in a number of states that GIS was fodder for consolidation – after all, “a big fish” eats “a little fish,” right?  Unfortunately, consolidation has often been a “rocky road” because of these differences, for both GIS and IT — and not always a positive experience with the desired or intended outcomes.

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Shared Value, the Working Cities Challenge, and Maptivism

Posted on May 9, 2013 in Thinking

by Rich Grady, President

A couple of years ago I was doing my regular catch-up on economic news and trends, and I picked-up on a concept that Michael Porter presented as part of a plenary panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I’ve tracked some of his writings over the years on topics like global competition and value chain concepts, and he hit on a theme at Davos that resonated with me, because it expressed what I’ve believed for many years – that creating “shared value” for society is good for business. Although Porter wasn’t speaking specifically about the geospatial industry, he hit on values that I think we embraced a long time ago – values that attracted many of us to the GIS arena in the first place, and now, to the FOSS4G arena. What values am I talking about? Read on!

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (FRB) is currently running a Working Cities Challenge as a campaign for systematic change in older industrial cities in Massachusetts. The potential benefits of the program, “to advance collaborative leadership in Massachusetts smaller cities and to support ambitious work to improve the lives of low-income people in those cities”, is of national interest. The FRB studied a number of cities across the country that are successfully coming out of the recession, and looked for distinguishing characteristics that led to successful economic development initiatives in these “resurgent cities”. What they found is that the primary driver of recovery for successful cities was mutually beneficial public/private partnerships. This is consistent with the IDC prediction that 70% of successful smart cities programs will be driven by joint ventures between the public and private sectors, with city leaders and private sector leaders working together.

When Larry Summers served on the National Economic Council in the first Obama Administration, he had a hand in writing a budget guidance memo to the heads of Federal agencies directing them to coordinate efforts across agencies to concentrate their planned expenditures on “place-based strategies,” to achieve synergistic impacts. Understanding this symbiosis between the critical complements to economic growth and revitalization of urban areas, including public safety, education, transportation, and resource clusters (e.g. land use, capital availability, technology infrastructure, workers, and educational attainment), can help focus local investments where they are most needed. By getting everyone “onto the same map” with regard to the visual representation of a city’s assets and needs, leaders are more likely to see the potential benefits of coordinated place-based strategies. Economic geography and cluster mapping apply analysis and visualization that can be used in order to better understand the business ecosystem, leading to better investment planning and the creation of shared value. Porter also addresses this “next big idea” concept of shared value in articles, as part of the U.S. cluster mapping initiative, and via founding the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.

Cities need specific strategies for growth, and part of the strategic process is making sense of multiple sources of data, to analyze and predict what will work, and what might not – and visualizing it on a map. Once a cross-sector team of leaders in a city is established and they develop a strategy, they then need to make sure they have access to data and tools to perform analysis, and methods to engage local residents. Modern tools and methods like geo-analytics and maptivism can help yield insights for leaders to access and assess data, and for citizens to engage. If collaborative thinking and communication is facilitated among leaders, and the power of citizen participation is harnessed – “crowd sourcing” in Web 2.0-speak – progress will happen.

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Very Large Maps Help Municipal Property Revaluation

Posted on May 24, 2012 in Thinking

During its lastest revaluation in 2010-2011, West Hartford, CT took advantage of GIS to create maps that explained the valuation changes for the benefit of property owners.

In West Hartford, this meant very large maps measuring four feet wide by more than six feet tall that were posted on the wall of the conference room where hearings were held.  One large format map illustrated how the Assessing department mapped its neighborhoods.  A second map of similar size illustrated individual property level valuations (each property colored using a color gradient related to valuation), which made it easy to compare the valuation of properties within and between each  neighborhood.  A third map showed the degree of valuation change from the prior period (percent).

Studying a  neighborhood map can be a revelation.   Residents have different interpretations about which properties constitute a neighborhood.  Some people perceive their neighborhood as the street they live on.  Others might think of it in terms of their association with a local feature or landmark, a hill or pond or park.  Assessors interpret neighborhoods using a number of variables – physical location, adjacency to or proximity to schools, parks, and central business districts, architectural styles, age of development, lot size restrictions, waterfront, and so forth.  The different geographies of neighborhoods imagined by residents and studied by assessors don’t always match up.  For certain situations, the maps helped residents quickly see what constitutes their neighborhood (as defined by the Assessor) and the range of valuations.  These maps helped to resolve questions, provided useful information to residents, and made the process proceed more smoothly.

By Tom Harrington based on discussion with Joseph Dakers Sr, Director of Assessments, West Hartford, CT, and support from Michele Giorgianni, AppGeo Project Manager

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