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I Have Google Earth, Does My Community Need GIS?

by Kevin G. on January 27, 2015

I was recently sitting at a conference and the speaker made a very interesting statement. You know, one of those statements which seem so very obvious, but one that you have never heard out loud. Attending the conference were several local government officials, and the speaker told them you have the single most accurate source of GIS data in the world for your community. Simultaneously, I was thinking DUH and WOW!  I knew that all along, but I’ve never heard someone say it so bluntly. This blog will examine how statement is an underlying reason as to why communities need to invest in their GIS and not rely on free data.
As I began to think about that statement I heard at the conference and the need for communities to invest in GIS even when they have access to so much free data, I developed a list of 3 reasons why free data doesn’t work for communities.
  1. Accuracy
  2. Speed
  3. Information
As the statement said, communities have the most accurate data in the world. So much so, that state, federal, and private entities like Google are constantly trying to harvest that data to improve their own accuracy.
Think about it.  If I get on Beacon™ and find a mistake on my property, I won’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call the county to have it fixed. If I find that same mistake on Google Earth, who do I call? As a public employee or an elected official, you are out in the community every day. You are living in YOUR community. You know your community better than anyone else. There is absolutely no way a corporate conglomerate could provide better data than you are able to when you partner with a GIS firm like Schneider Geospatial.
Why is that so important? How about in case of an emergency when speed and accuracy are crucial to saving lives or reporting damage for federal assistance. Do you want to rely on a GIS and data set that your community maintains or a free data set you can download from the internet? In the end, accuracy can save lives and save thousands of dollars.
Speed is paramount like never before in our society. So much so that I have heard it said that future generations will lose the ability to wonder. My kids never have to wonder because any question they have can be answered in seconds by using their smartphones.

What other movie did I see that actor in....Google it?
How old is that pro athlete....Google it?
Where are the next Summer Olympics....Google it?

Future generations are not going to learn how to wonder; and they are also not going to patiently wait for community wide updates and implementations to be made. Think about it.  You have all the data in your community and are able to instantaneously update your GIS with the newest and best data available. There is not better source and there is not quicker way than when you have your own GIS.
To rely on free data is to rely on limited data. State, federal, and private entities do not care about the same information that you care about. Sure you will have access to nice aerial photography and very basic information like road centerlines and even soils from the NRCS. However, the data that you need to maintain in your GIS isn’t available online.

Everyday communities are finding new information to include in their GIS from utilities to cemeteries and gravestones. Additionally, we are assisting communities with new and exciting ways to take all the data they already have, and create map views in their GIS to constantly improve on their ability to benefit from GIS. The information that communities really need and rely on is information that comes from the community, not the Internet.
So, does your community need GIS or should you simply rely on what data is available for free.  This is ultimately your decision, but as you can see, if accuracy, speed, and information are of high importance, than you need to either begin to invest or continue to invest in your GIS.