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How To Fix The GIS Data Mess

Despite thousands of data sources for geographic information systems, there's no universal standard or widespread, non-proprietary way to federate that data. It doesn't have to be this way.
The ultimate solution to the GIS train wreck requires both policy and technology. Policy's hard, but sometimes, good technical solutions make policy easier to formulate. There's a significant opportunity for a smart enterprise architect with GIS leanings to figure out how states, cities, and counties can easily federate their data then provide a reference implementation, ask others to pound on it, make it better, and share the federated love.

Here's a shortlist of needed features:

  • Make it distributed and fault tolerant. One of the beauties of DNS is that one dead DNS server doesn't break the Internet.
  • Include ETL/transformation capabilities. It's unrealistic to think that people will give up their various data formats or convert everything. You've got to be able to transform the data as you federate it.
  • Make it extensible. People will want to store data that you have not even considered. Nobody stored LDAP data in DNS back when I first worked with it, because LDAP didn't exist.
  • Make it easy, and if you can't make it easy, at least make it open. Open will mean that the private sector can fill gaps, create portals, and so on.
  • Above all, remember that just as IT professionals would have never believed that the Internet would grow to the point where your grandmother relied on it for stock tips, geospatial services will continue to blossom in ways we can't imagine.

    In the future, not all useful location data will be entered by GIS professionals with $5,000 accurate-to-within-an-inch GPS units. Some of it will come from people with skin in the game, including those who want to avoid seeing more trails get plowed over.

    Jonathan Feldman is an InformationWeek Analytics contributor. He's incredibly grateful to whichever agency or neighbors reblazed the trails near his house. Write to him at [email protected]



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