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Back to the Future: USA

A screenshot of FGDC's new website. The NSDI vision plan focusses on Web-based platform that provides access to a suite of geospatial data, services, applications and tools

With the growing value of geospatial data and technology, FGDC has devised a futuristic Strategic Plan for NSDI which can leverage investments in technology and people

The technology landscape has seen tremendous change since the US NSDI was initially conceptualised in the early 1990s. In the years leading up to the 1990s, advances in mapping and geospatial technology were largely driven by the public sector — with Federal agencies playing a major role in the development and coordination of data, products, and services. The origins for many of the current geospatial innovations and operational successes have their roots in past government investment in research and implementation of computing and communication technology, geospatial data standards, NSDI framework data development, the Internet, remote sensors, and the GPS.

In the recent years, remarkable advances in computing power, the emergence of open standards and open systems, and the Internet have reshaped the technology landscape. The availability and usage of geospatial information and products have dramatically expanded as the software industry has matured and high-quality data is available through newly implemented State and Federal clearinghouses and private sector offerings.

Keeping this in mind, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has developed an updated Strategic Plan for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) of the United States. The NSDI Strategic Plan, which covers 2014-2016, was approved by the FGDC Steering Committee in December 2013. The plan describes a broad national vision for the NSDI, and includes goals and objectives for the Federal government's role in continued sustainable development of the NSDI. These define areas of critical importance to the continued development of the NSDI and provide a framework for the Federal geospatial community's responsibilities over the next three years.

What necessitated the Strategic Plan?
The new NSDI plan is important and timely for several reasons. First, while the FGDC community has engaged in a series of strategic initiatives over the past several years, including the Geospatial Line of Business and Geospatial Platform initiatives, the current NSDI strategic plan has not been revised for a number of years. Second, geospatial technologies, industries, and applications have witnessed tremendous growth and change over the past several years, and the strategies need to be modernised to align with and leverage these changes.

According to the NSDI Vision Statement, "The NSDI leverages investments in people, technology, data, and procedures to create and provide the geospatial knowledge required to understand, protect, and promote our national and global interests."

Accordingly, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure extends far beyond data, encompassing the policies, organisational responsibilities, data, information, technologies, standards, services, and financial and human resources necessary to achieve this vision. The NSDI has become a critical vehicle for facilitating seamless data development, information sharing, and collaborative decision-making across multiple sectors of the economy.

The future state
The vision of the NSDI for the future is to provide government, businesses, and citizens with a way to visualise and explore data to derive information and knowledge; to create a network of resources and services for the seamless integration of location-based information into broader information assets; to serve as an enabling resource for discovery, access, integration, and application of location information for a growing body of users and to leverage shared and open standards-based services; and focus on applied information for improved decision making.

The vision also entails use of real-time data feeds and sensor webs for improved monitoring, control, situational awareness, and decision making; to facilitate access to and use of multi-temporal information linked to place; to integrate and use advanced technologies and their associated standards and best practices; and to facilitate use of community– driven open standards with multiple implementations.

The NSDI Plan includes a set of three strategic goals. They include objectives and actions that describe how the goals will be accomplished. While the first strategic goal is to develop capabilities for national shared services, the second goal is to ensure accountability and effective development and management of federal geospatial resources; and the last goal is to convene leadership of the national geospatial community.

  • Develop Capabilities for National Shared Services: Developing shared services is a vital strategy for delivering geospatial solutions faster, for less money, and with fewer resources. These enterprise approaches take advantage of evolving technologies and methodologies to reduce potential duplication, create innovative tools and technology, and leverage agency budgets and expertise to accomplish agency mission and support functions more efficiently, while also improving quality.

    The Geospatial Platform initiative is a critical component for the development of the NSDI. It is a Web-based, first-generation service environment that provides access to a suite of well-managed, highly available, and trusted geospatial data, services, applications, and tools for use by Federal agencies and their State, Tribal, regional, and local partners. In addition, the FGDC community and its partners will utilise the common cloud computing and enterprise acquisition approaches to leverage technology, close productivity gaps, and combine buying power across agencies.

  • Ensure accountability and effective development and management of Federal geospatial resources: Effective management of geospatial investments will enable Federal agencies and their partners to meet mission responsibilities, control costs, streamline services, make decisions on eliminating duplication, save taxpayer's money, and drive efficiency across the Federal Government. This approach will allow identification of data themes and datasets most critical for meeting government and stakeholder needs. FGDC agencies will also apply the framework of the administration's Open Data Policy to manage information as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness. This strategic goal describes the actions the Federal geospatial community will take to implement portfolio management for more effectively planning geospatial data collection efforts, assessing the status of NGDAs, and minimise duplicative investments.
  • Convene leadership of the national geospatial community: The Federal Government is in a unique position to provide a leadership and facilitation role in the national geospatial community. This role includes providing institutional leadership for the development and coordination of national and international geospatial standards and policies, integrating geospatial technology into information technology (IT) management processes, contributing to the development of a legal and policy framework that supports the objectives of the NSDI, and fostering collaboration across sectors. The Federal geospatial community can play an important role in communicating the value of geospatial information and tools to enable informed analysis and decision-making. Stakeholders have identified this strategic goal as a critical responsibility that can be accomplished most effectively by the Federal Government.

A shared vision for the NSDI
The Strategic Plan was developed through consultation with Federal agencies, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee, and with partners and stakeholders across the geospatial community. The FGDC Executive Committee will have the lead responsibility for overseeing and monitoring the implementation of the plan. A designated Federal official, appointed from the FGDC Executive Committee, will serve as the champion for each strategic goal. The champions will report to the FGDC Executive Committee and Steering Committee.

The federal agencies that produce, collect, maintain, or use spatial data will be mandated to either directly or indirectly recognise and manage their data as capital assets; facilitate non-Federal participation in the development of the NSDI; and work together through the FGDC to provide for effective and economical use and management of geospatial data in the digital environment for the benefit of the nation. The agencies also need to ensure that spatial data from multiple sources (Federal, State, Tribal, regional and local governments; academia and the private sector) are available and easily integrated to enhance understanding of the physical, natural, and cultural world.

The future

A number of external factors are driving trends in technology, communications, workforce, and legal/policy issues of importance to a future NSDI, signalling a need to align the national geospatial strategy with both mainstream and emerging IT practices and related trends. Geospatial technologies provide attractive integrative approaches for meeting current requirements to do more with less. New approaches are demanded, supported, and must be implemented quickly for technology, collaboration, workforce development, funding, and other resources. This will include raising awareness of the unique aspects of geolocation from a privacy standpoint.

With the expanded use of geospatial data and services, new challenges are arising for the Federal geospatial community. It has been difficult to express the value and benefit of Federal investments in providing geospatial data and services when the public can readily access a great deal of such information from both public and private sectors through Web-based applications and hand-held devices. In addition, technology adoption and policy development by Federal agencies often cannot keep up with the speed of the innovative changing technology. The role of the Federal sector is evolving and the Federal geospatial community will have to be agile and flexible to accommodate to these changing roles.

Source: FGDC's National Spatial Data Infrastructure Strategic Plan 2014-16