There’s Never Been a Better Time to be a State GIO!
Bill Johnson, Carpe Geo Evangelist, AppGeo
Photo Credit: Bill Johnson, Restorer of Antique Clocks
Some of you may have attended a webinar we held on December 7 where I was interviewing Sanborn CEO John Copple along with VP of Business Development and Sales Jason Caldwell and AppGeo COO Kate Hickey. The purpose of that webinar was to explain how the new combination of Sanborn + AppGeo (Sanborn acquired AppGeo in September) is an excellent fit for meeting the unique needs of state geospatial leaders. The main theme of our conversation, however, was centered on the incredible opportunities starting to happen now for state geospatial leaders. In this blog post, I will share my thoughts on why this is the best opportunity space for state GIOs that I have ever seen. My perspective on this goes back 38 years to the very early years of state geospatial programs.
What we are seeing right now is the beginning of a vast wave of new federal spending on a wide range of programs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both passed in 2022, are truly massive national investments. And those are not the only sources of new federal spending. My aim here is not to provide a compendium of the new funding, but simply to pause and put it into perspective. The numbers are so large that they are hard to appreciate without some context. I can clearly recall from my days as GIO for the state of New York when we issued a $2 million contract for address data development. At the time (it was about a decade ago), I felt an immense sense of responsibility for a contract that large.
Today, states are ramping up their broadband mapping efforts to prepare for the new $42 billion Broadband Equity And Deployment (BEAD) program where every state will receive a minimum of $100 million, and at least 15 states are expected to receive more than $1 billion. For comparison, the broadband mapping that was conducted by states under grants administered by NTIA from 2009-2014 as part of the State Broadband Initiatives (SBI) program had a nationwide budget, spread over five years, of $350 million, and NTIA actually gave unspent money back to the US Treasury at the end of it. So, yeah, we’re talking about a LOT of money beginning to flow now, and that’s just for broadband.
There are several important things to understand about the new levels of funding. First, virtually none of it specifically calls out geospatial data or geoanalytics, and none of it is targeted directly to state geospatial offices. That said, the requirements for the funding lean heavily on data to determine funding eligibility, assess community or regional impacts, track progress, measure results, and on and on. We are in an era where problems are not defined in purely local terms, but also in their broader contexts. And, we are in an era where data plays a more prominent role than ever before. And beyond that, there is a growing awareness that geospatial data and geospatial analyses are the best way to model and understand how all of these factors interplay. There is no doubt in my mind – none – that geospatial data and analytics will be in greater demand as a result of the new federal funding.
Second, the mechanism for spending the federal monies is largely through the states. This is how transportation funding has been working for many decades, to cite just one example. It is how the new broadband funding is working right now and it is also the mechanism for many of the programs funded in the Inflation Reduction Act. This strategy has many advantages and enables the states to fit the national programs to align with local needs. States have embedded agencies that can lead the work in their footprint and coordinate the involvement of local governments and other partners.
State geospatial offices and their leaders are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the emerging situation. The whole point of a state geospatial office is to share reusable geospatial data and resources and help other state agencies deliver their missions more efficiently and effectively. These offices are already in the business of looking at similarities among the data needs of multiple agencies and figuring out how to meet the broadest range of uses with quality, standardized data.
State geospatial offices can and should take the lead on statewide geospatial data investments that support a wide range of uses. In some cases, the work involves gathering and harmonizing data generated at the local government level, such as for parcels and addresses. In other cases, it involves coordination across multiple state agencies, such as for boundaries, hydrography, and transportation features. Sometimes it involves contracting for the creation of data, such as for LiDAR. And in a growing number of cases, it involves negotiating licensing agreements for new data sources from the commercial sector. And finally, we are entering the age of blended geospatial data where needs are often best met by combining both public and commercial data. These geospatial data strategies are at the very center of a state GIO’s responsibilities and they are more important now than ever before.
A common lament among state geospatial leaders in the past (before the title of GIO was in use) was the lack of funding to create sharable data. The challenge today is not lack of funding. Instead, the key challenge is to figure out how to tap into the new sources of funding that are available to the states. Those funds are flowing to other agencies in state government such as broadband offices, DOTs, 911/public safety, and others, and are unlikely to extend to state geospatial offices on their own. It may not be obvious to those other agencies that directing a portion of the funds toward the geospatial data “commons” is in their interest. This means that GIOs must be entrepreneurial in their approach to “making the case” to those other agencies for investing in the geospatial commons. It may also require some homework on how you can help those agencies satisfy their requirements for “resilience”, or “prevention”, or “equity” in their applications with geospatial data.
This is where everything we’ve learned about successful state geospatial programs can be brought to bear. It’s all about having an active focus on coordination so that it is possible to connect the dots, find those common requirements, and position the state geospatial office to do what it does best. The state GIO who is prepared, who has those connections and relationships, who works collaboratively with stakeholders, who has a relentless strategic focus on enterprise data – that is the GIO who will be among the winners.
It really is the start of a new age for state geospatial programs. It’s stunning, actually, to see how far the needle has moved over the course of my career. The future has never looked brighter for GIOs than it looks right now. Go forth and seize it – carpe geo!