The value of data (even the historical stuff)
Our friends at the Oklahoma County Assessor entered ESRI's GIS in Action video contest. The folks at OK County Assessor are one of our customers that I most admire. They're passionate about what they do, they've got their priorities straight, and they get things done.
Their video reminds me of working with historic map data from where I live. Back in 1998 I was at a map library and found a stack of aerial photos of Victoria from 1928. I got permission to scan them and did some rough georeferencing of them using a recent Victoria ortho. It was absolutely fascinating to see how much Victoria had changed in seventy years. In fact, comparing the landscape between 1928 and 1998 profoundly changed the way I think about growth (especially in our region).
When ArcIMS was released a couple years later, I couldn't get permission from the copyright holder (a government agency) to make them available over the web through an ArcIMS service (on a volunteer basis no less). I guess someone got worried about the massive opportunity cost associated with losing out on licensing revenue associated with sepia aerial photos from 1928. Not that they had any model for licensing them even if someone did want them. I love my country, but our misguided geodata policies have impaired decision-making in the places we live. Things are slowly improving, but we need to be aggressive in changing the geospatial data status quo in cases where it is quietly failing us.
Stepping Back and Looking Back
Steady, gradual change is easy to underestimate when you're up close to something.
While working on my GISWORX (Dubai) keynote for next week, I opened a few of my 2003-2004 PowerPoint presentations that examine the significance/future of web-based GIS technology on society and decision-making. Despite the fact that I don't feel like the fundamentals change all that much day-to-day, I was struck by the fact that most of my forward-looking presentation content from 2003-2004 is now happening. Core aspects of the "road ahead" sections from these presentations have arrived and I can replace my slides with real-world examples that are mainstream (if not yet ubiquitous).
Surprises as I look back? I didn't forsee the incredible shift from Java towards .NET that we've observed, I overestimated the probable future influence of WMS/WFS, and Google entering the spatial realm wasn't on our radar screen (it hadn't happened yet).
Though we sometimes make major strides forward overnight (e.g. leveraging new capabilities possible with ArcGIS Server), as I cobbled together examples of innovative developments from the last couple years I noticed that many of the "breakthroughs" happened incrementally through innovative pilot projects and the addition of relatively minor new capabilities. When examined together, it becomes clear the technology is actually evolving very quickly.
I was parsing through my inbox last week, and was reminded that the topic of access to government-produced geospatial base data continues to challenge society. While it isn’t a sexy issue, it is an important one.
On a separate note, I have an idea… Governments should recover the cost of building local roads by charging citizens a hefty up-front fee if they want to use them. Roads are already built, you say? So? They were costly to build, and putting the burden on taxpayers is unfair to people who are shut-ins and don’t travel on the roads.
Think this is a bad idea? What about charging folks for geospatial base data that taxpayers have already paid for, resulting in that data not being used by people who need quality information to make decisions about the world around us?
Both represent infrastructure investments. Both provide value only when they are used. And the negative long-term economic consequences of withholding either far exceed the revenue we might collect along the way (history has shown such revenues tend to be meager).
I think the main reason the "cost-recovery" model even exists is because geospatial data is abstract enough that policy-makers with noble, fiscally-responsible intentions didn’t understand that the economics of geospatial data are the same as the investments we make in things like roads and elementary schools. They pay off later; and if we try to make them pay off right away, we muck things up. I also presume that they weren’t aware that, even stripping out all the negative long-term impacts on society and the economy, "cost recovery" usually costs far more to implement than the revenues it actually brings in. Unfortunately, this model is very hard to remove once folks realize it probably wasn’t such a swell idea after all (due to inertia, cross-licensing agreements, and the smattering of folks who actually paid for the data who’d be understandably irritated if said data became free).
In the news:
I wonder how long will it be before all commercial vehicles are monitored for compliance by regulatory agencies? To me, it seems almost inevitable. What will be the reaction from individual drivers and organizations like the Teamsters?
Location is revealing
We’re doing lots of work with Automated Vehicle Location these days, and I’m fascinated by the impact of better information about the location of people and things.
The benefits of tracking non-human assets are fairly obvious, but at first the notion of tracking people didn’t sit well with me (it made me think of a radio-collared moose). However, I’ve come to view it as a positive technology provided it is being implemented in good faith as part of the evolution of business systems designed to ensure parties are following the terms of their agreements (and the law).
Here’s an excerpt from a fairly recent case in New York:
"In a precedent-setting case, administrative trial judge Tynia Richard recommended the firing of John Halpin, a veteran supervisor of carpenters, for cutting out before the end of his shift on as many as 83 occasions between March 2 and Aug. 9, 2006. The evidence against Halpin, whose base pay is $300 a day, included time cards that suspiciously appeared stamped on the same machine, even though his duties placed him in different locations each day.
But there was a clincher: data gathered through the GPS system on Halpin's cellphone..."
You can read the whole story here.