State Spotlights


Megan Compton

Indiana Geographic Information Officer, Indiana Geographic Information Office

Interviewed by Robert C. Hoyler | June 18, 2020  

“One challenge we have created is talking too much about GIS, from a technical aspect versus telling the story to better stimulate participation and success. How do we get there? The GIS topic can be overwhelming, so we need to put discussions in a recognizable format and relatable story to achieve a broader project to open the door. I’d like to challenge myself, or anyone, to a meeting and not say “map” or “GIS” - I think it would be difficult,” says Megan Compton, Indiana state Geographic Information Officer (GIO).

Compton became the GIO of Indiana in 2018 and attended her first NSGIC conference in Kentucky the same year. “The first conference was eye opening – I was still relatively green in my job and almost immediately found the NSGIC membership to be all people I have been looking for, who share the understanding of what I’m involved with. With this group, I can step into a conversation without having to explain the background,” says Compton. Learning about opportunities to support advocacy and lead at the national level has helped her implement growth in her own organization. 

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Phillip Henderson

State of Alabama GIO, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) / Director of the Alabama Geographic Information Office (AGIO)

Interviewed by Robert C. Hoyler | May 14, 2020  

For the last 30 years, Alabama State GIO Phillip Henderson has worked in state government with much of that time spent working in the field of GIS. He was appointed as the Geographic Information Officer (GIO) for the State of Alabama by Governor Bentley in September 2014 and the Director of the Alabama Geographic Information Program Office in June 2011. He also serves as the Director for Virtual Alabama at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).

“It was truly significant to see the establishment of the state GIS office in 2011 and to see the creation of a GIO position in 2014’” reflected Henderson. 

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Jim Steil
Director, MARIS (Mississippi Automated Resource Information System)

Interviewed by Scott Bennett | April 13, 2020

MARIS Director Jim Steil has been working in GIS for  26 years and in his current position for 16 years. Steil got his start in cartography from the earlier days of Mylar and technical pens and later on took a GIS class to create maps of his thesis area. He hasn’t looked back. 

Steil says that over the past 20 years, he has seen the change from a few pockets of GIS activity and no real internet access to an incredible web-centric cluster of activities that he could only have dreamed of in the 90’s. Newer generations, he says, see even greater value in the technology. He also reflected on the change of GIS coordination efforts over the years - from purely technical get-togethers to the integration of policy/decision-makers as the main focus.

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Jenna Leveille
Deputy State Cartographer, Arizona State Land Department

Interviewed by Scott Bennett | March 17, 2020

Arizona Deputy State Cartographer Jenna Leveille has been working in GIS for about 20 years with 15 years of that in state government and in her current role for a little over two years. She first learned about GIS as an intern while getting her bachelor’s from Oregon State University. Leveille imagined she would work in wildlife conservation but a chance opportunity brought her to state government. She found a love and passion for GIS that has kept her engaged and committed to serving Arizona.

In the past two years in her role, Leveille has seen a significant increase in collaboration and involvement in the state GIS coordinating council. Partners from all levels of government and the private sector are collaborating to solve common problems. There is a community effort to reduce duplicative efforts, to network to better understand challenges and find solutions, and to volunteer time to benefit each other and the community as a whole. 

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North Carolina

Tim Johnson
Director, NC Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA), NC Department of Information Technology

Interviewed by Scott Bennett | February 18, 2020

North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA) Director Tim Johnson has been working in GIS for 39 years and has been at his current agency in North Carolina for more than three decades.

Johnson’s interest in GIS started from a young age; he’d had an affinity for maps since he was a boy. He majored in geography as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, where he took a couple of programming courses and started looking for ways to combine geography and computing. He found the GIS field through reading at the university library and other places. Johnson then pursued a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was fortunate to have studied with some of the early pioneers in the GIS field.

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Joanne Markert
State GIS Coordinator, WaTech, Office of the Chief Information Officer / Geospatial Program Office

Interviewed by Sheila Steffenson | August 14, 2019

Washington State GIS Coordinator Joanne Markert has been working in GIS for almost 25 years. Markert got her start in natural resources and planning and fell in love with GIS when she realized it helped figure out where the resources were. She hasn’t looked back since. 

Markert has been in her current position with Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech), Office of the Chief Information Officer / Geospatial Program Office for a little over two years now. She says “GIS is always evolving. Even in my very short time with the state, we have streamlined data sharing by consolidating individual agency sites into a single statewide open data site.  Our next project will be sharing data among agencies using portal-to-portal technologies. Anything that reduces redundancy is a priority.”

When asked to share about the greatest success story related to GIS in Washington, Markert said there are too many to count. WAGIC (Washington Geographic Information Council) Executive Committee identifies the accomplishments for the past year.  For 2018-2019, the top success is Washington’s collaborative leadership approach and increased communication among state GIS organizations. 

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Tracy Schloss
GIS | Office of Geospatial Information, MO Office of Administration

Tony Spicci
Resources Science GIS Supervisor, MO Department of Conservation (MDC)

Interviewed by Tim Bohn and Tim Donze | July 8, 2019

A move by Missouri a few years ago to consolidate GIS professionals into a single office has been a game changer for the state, says Tracy Schloss, who heads up the Geospatial Information office. Her office is within the Information Technology Services Division, which is part of the Office of Administration that manages all the ‘business of government’ like human resources, facilities management, and budget and planning. With Missouri’s consolidated IT structure, her office supports 14 of 16 executive agencies.

“Looking at GIS work through the lens of an IT project has changed how we approach our work,” Schloss says. “Requests now come to us in the form of a business request for a state agency, complete with funding to pay for our time. We have learned a lot about defining the scope of a project, and getting the requests in writing and starting to think about return on investment. This approach has saved us many times from the ‘scope creep’ that used to occur in the past when we started doing any GIS for someone. It means we don’t work on projects, though, just because they are ‘good for the state.’ We have to have that business partner with funding before beginning anything.”

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Ekaterina Fitos
State Geospatial Information Officer

Interviewed by Tim Bohn | November 13, 2018

Florida is a big, complex state, said GIO Ekaterina Fitos, and the key to coordinating GIS across the state is through a collaborative enterprise approach with GIS focused work groups and engagement of stakeholders.

Just ten months into the job as Florida’s first GIO, Fitos said she is continuing to assess Florida’s statewide spatial data infrastructure. There are plenty of success stories, she said, citing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s mobile applications one of which assists with notifying the public about state park closures during disasters (Figure 1), the GATOR web application by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) (Figure 2), and an online system to monitor sea turtles developed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) (Figure 3) .

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Kent Anness
GIS Manager, Kentucky Office of Technology

Interviewed by Sheila Steffenson | April 3, 2019

Kentucky GIS Manager Kent Anness has been working in GIS for 30 years and state government for 20 years. Anness got his start in cartography and initially used a scribe tool and darkroom methods for producing map compilations.

Anness says that over the past 20 years, not only has the technology grown, but the accessibility of enterprise GIS has grown as well, allowing for an increased number of users within state government. According to Anness, newer generations see even greater value in the technology.

The biggest success related to GIS in Kentucky, says Anness, is the completion of statewide LiDAR coverage via the KyFromAbove program.

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Neil MacGaffey
Director, MassGIS

Interviewed by Sheila Steffenson | January 16, 2019

In his 18 years of working in state government, Massachusetts’ GIS Director Neil MacGaffey said he has seen the “steady push to a larger and larger scale of mapping. Resolution of all data has improved. Statewide mapping of parcels, addresses, and structures now exists and is a game changer.”

The state completed standardized statewide parcel mapping in 2013. 

“The availability of this information statewide has had an extraordinary impact across a broad spectrum of uses,” MacGaffey said. “There are terrific stories on what the availability of this data has enabled. Parcel data is the single most popular data set, whether accessed via download from the MassGIS website or through web mapping services.”

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Dan Ross
GIO, Chief Business Technical Officer and CIO, Pollution Control

Interviewed by Tim Bohn and Tim Donze | October 22, 2018

Minnesota GIO Dan Ross has spent 23 years in state government if you include the three years he spent as a system administrator and adjunct professor teaching GIS at St. Cloud State. In that time, he has seen GIS go from highly collaborative to falling off, and now in resurgence with both data sharing and a standards development.

Five years ago, said Ross, there were no statewide parcels, centerlines with address ranges, addresses or standards to support those data layers. The state “is in much better shape now,” he said. “The community has come together and renewed the collaboration.”

In that time, Ross spearheaded an effort to convince the Minnesota legislature that taxpayers were paying for data three to five times over because of the tremendous duplication of efforts. The efforts resulted in a law that mandated government-to-government sharing of data at no cost. In addition, the Minnesota Geospatial Commons was established. The Geospatial Commons - a collaborative place for users and publishers of geospatial resources about Minnesota - has won multiple national awards. The state’s spatial data infrastructure currently contains more than 750 layers, with about 194 web services available for access.

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New Jersey

Andy Rowan
Geographic Information Officer, NJ Office of Information Technology

Interviewed by Sheila Steffenson | March 1, 2019

New Jersey Geographic Information Officer Andy Rowan says that after 13 years in state government, “the biggest challenge remains a gap in awareness outside of the state’s GIS community regarding the capabilities of GIS technology.” Awareness and education can be obstacles in taking any state GIS program to the next level.

Rowan’s career in GIS started when he was a junior staff member at a small environmental consulting firm. When one of the firm’s senior scientists became convinced GIS should be brought in, earth scientist Rowan -- with the most bandwidth -- was tapped to take it on. The firm sent him to training and he never looked back.

In addition to his role as the state’s GIO, Rowan recently served two years as Deputy Chief Technology Officer. During his time in state government, he has witnessed a shift in focus from building new GIS data to maintaining the data that exists. “There is a relentless march towards accuracy improvement,” says Rowan.

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Matt Peters
Automated Geographic Reference Center Director

Interviewed by Tim Bohn | November 28, 2018

For Utah GIO Matt Peters, successful statewide GIS coordination is all about communicating a vision and helping everyone speak the same language. It takes strategy and finesse, he said, to “make sure the tide raises all boats.”

Helping stakeholders embrace that vision means focusing on the data rather than getting caught up in the technology. “Data is the foundation and is fundamental to analysis,” he said. “For example, address ranges affect geocoding, so if the quality is not there, nothing moves forward. Today … improved, polished data [is available] for use in web services. Point-in-polygon matching is also more accurate.”

In fact, said Peters, the goal is that “the map is an afterthought [because] it’s all about the data. Used data gets better.”

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