Monday, August 07, 2006

Hanging Around with Geographers

I'm at the annual ESRI conference in San Diego. That's the formal description of hanging around with a bunch of geography geeks that would love to make the world a better place, and are actually chipping away that quite nicely.

Remember the old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words?

In my life as a CIO, I've learned that's basically true. Only maybe the number should be even higher than a thousand.

We used to search after the ever-elusive "decision support system," or 'way to help managers and leaders and the government and even regular people make better decisions.' I'm responsible for both traditional information systems (think payroll and finance and office and the like) and for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Both are important, and often critical. But GIS is the best decision support system I've ever seen.

A visual neighborhood plan on a single piece of paper conveys more visceral information than a twenty-page text document. Or a two-page text document. Or a hundred-page text document.

There are maps here about Katrina's fury, about global warming, about the unequal distribution of wealth, about the past, about various ecosystems and habitats, about disease and species recovery and depletion.

The maps tell stories.

Stories worth listening to. We're going to need tools to make important decisions in the near future. The population bust is on the horizon, but the boom hasn't peaked. Peak oil is in the past. Global warming is real.

All of these are international issues that demand information to help support good decisions. All of them are about life and death, about economics, and about quality of life. Global warming may be about whether or not we live at all as a species.

GIS should be able to help. I'm probably hanging around with the right people this week.

Go on, look at some maps. You might be surprised what you learn.


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