A Benchmark in the Early Days of GeoStor

Often, I fail to take a minute and look at back at where we have been as GIS community in Arkansas. Our state’s collective GIS story is pretty fascinating.

I was rummaging through a box at my desk after a recent move and ran across this photo which marks a very important benchmark in the history of GeoStor.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee presenting General Improvement Fund to UofA CAST Jim Farley

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee presenting General Improvement Fund Check to Jim Farley, U of A CAST.

The photo was taken in the Governor’s Conference room and although it was not dated on the back my guess is that it was taken in the summer of 1999.  (Board Meeting Minutes here seem to corroborate with that date.)  I thought I would write down a few memories of the people in the picture and my perspective on the role they played in my personal and professional life. I think it is worth telling.

Back row from left to right Michael Hipp, Dr. Fred Limp, Shelby Johnson, Randy Jones, Cathie Matthews, & Bill Bush

Front row from let to right Suzanne Wiley, Senator Sue Madison, Representative Jan Judy, Governor Mike Huckabee, Jim Farley, & Susan Norton

Michael Hipp became the new Director of the Arkansas Department of Computer Services in 1996 or 1997. He was appointed by Governor Huckabee.  Shortly after he started he began a sweeping makeover of the agency that started with renaming the agency to become the Department of Information Systems. He took another bold step by reforming a substantial part of the enabling legislation that created the agency. One important move included creating the Office of Information Technology. He met with leaders from the Arkansas GIS Users Forum in 1996 prior the 1997 legislative session and took a key step to advocate for including GIS in Act 914 of the 1997 legislation. Michael recruited Susan (Cromwell) Norton (far right) to lead the Office of Information Technology.

Fred Limp was the Chair of the State Mapping and Land Records Modernization Advisory Board. He was also the Director of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) and remains an important mentor in my life. Fred was a principal author of the report to Governor Jim Guy Tucker that led to the creation of the GIS Board we have today. Next year the report will be 20 years old but the key principles written there are still relevant. Fred continues to serve the University of Arkansas and has forgotten more about GIS than most people will ever know. Fred, along with Jim Farley gave me my first GIS job at CAST where I fell in love with this work called GIS. I’ll be forever grateful to them both.  The initial versions of GeoStor were created at CAST, and the system operated there for a few years until we had a stronger footing here at the Capitol.

I’m next in the photo and one lucky guy. I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to play several roles. I served as a GIS outreach staff at CAST and worked under Fred and Jim. That work prepared for me the role I serve now. I was Chair of the Arkansas GIS Users Forum in 1995, and 1996, if my memory is correct. Then, in 1998 Governor Huckabee appointed me to what was titled, the State Land Information Board.  I only served as a Board Member for a very short period of time.  I became acquainted with Susan who encouraged me to tackle the newly created job at the Department of Information Systems, called the State Land Information Coordinator. That position was cited in the 1994 report and was later renamed, State Geographic Information Officer. I was chosen to for the job in 1999 and have been here since.

The next person is Randy Jones. Jones is a long time member of the Arkansas Society of Professional Surveyors. At the time of this photo he was serving as a member of the State Land Information Board. Under his leadership First Electric Cooperative became one of the state’s leading electric power utilities to adopt GIS, and use it in daily operations. He was keen to understand how the technology would benefit Professional Surveyors and many others. Randy was a big fan of the concept of having GIS in a clearinghouse where it could be accessed by everyone. Randy still works at First Electric and when time permits he continues to take on land surveying work.

Next is Cathie Matthews.  Cathie was appointed to the Board by Governor Huckabee.  She served on the Board during the formative years as a state agency appointee.  Cathie remains the Director of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, which includes Historic Preservation, and Natural Heritage.  Historic Preservation, and Natural Heritage are two divisions of Cathie’s agency, whose work is an ongoing beneficiary of GeoStor.

To Cathie’s right is Bill Bush.  Bill served as the State Geologist.  In fact, he was only the 4th Director the Arkansas Geological Survey has ever known.  At the time I believe the agency was called the Arkansas Geological Commission, but today is called the Arkansas Geological Survey.  During these years the State Surveyor’s Office was organized under Bill’s agency as well.  Through both these organizations Bill brought a lot of experience to the table.  Bill had been in state government a good number of years.  He served two terms on the Board, and for a period of time, also as Chair.  He was instrumental in advising the Board on strategy for getting things done within the context of state government.  In those days, every discussion about GIS data revolved around the USGS Topographic Quad Map, and Bill was an expert on that topic.  He also had valuable experience working with the USGS on collaborative projects.  He had a good understanding of the need for a single statewide database of GIS data. Today Bill maintains an active registration as a professional geologist.

On the front row, far left is Suzanne Wiley.  Suzanne was involved in the earliest meetings of the GIS user community in Arkansas.  She was a non-voting member of the State Mapping and Land Records Modernization Advisory Board.   She was then appointed to the Board in 1999 by Governor Huckabee.  During her period of service I believe Suzanne served as Vice-Chair and Chair, headed up numerous sub-committees and authored several documents that were needed by the Board.  One of the most important documents she helped draft was titled, “Technical Objectives of GeoStor the Arkansas Spatial Data Infrastructure.”  The document was a report to the Board that was adopted by the Board in 1998.  Since the state had never had a GIS clearinghouse this document was a blueprint for what GeoStor should be able to do.  It did not layout the technical architecture but instead described in high level terms how the system should function and what services the system should offer to users.  I worked with her on this document and it ultimately guided how GeoStor would work.  Suzanne remains active in the GIS community and is one of my very good friends.

Next is Senator Sue Madison who represented the northwest Arkansas Senate District that included the University of Arkansas. She always had an interest in GIS and later used the technology to support analysis for interests in her district. On occasion I get to see her and she always remembers our work on GIS policy.  She was also interested in the GIS outreach work that was done by CAST.  In those days General Improvement Funding could be directed to projects by members and she was successful in using her office to advocate funding for GeoStor and other GIS projects later.

Representative Jan Judy represented the northwest Arkansas House District that included the Univer sity of Arkansas. She was the House side support for the General Improvement Funding that she and Senator Madison supported for the invention of GeoStor.  I don’t remember for certain but believe she was also the House side sponsor for some other General Improvement Funding projects that came later.  I always enjoyed seeing her, and she always remembered our work in GIS every time I had an occasion to meet her.

Of course next in line is Governor Mike Huckabee.  Although this photo was the seedling event for funding GeoStor it was not the last time our state would benefit from his interest in the technology.  Governor Huckabee was successful in serving out the remainder of Governor Tucker’s term.  He was then successful in serving two more full terms making for one of the only Governor’s in the modern era to serve ten years.  In those years he was able to provide General Improvement Funding to spark a statewide digital-ortho program in 2001 and again in 2006.  He also provided other funding for GeoStor and was an advocate for using GIS in state government.

Governor Huckebee is presenting the check to Jim Farley.  Jim is the “father” of GeoStor, if you will.  It was his brain child that an automated GIS data warehouse and distribution system could be programmed.  The lynch pin in creating a working concept, was of course funding, to figure out the research, and prove the concept.  Jim spent a good number of years at CAST and later spent time working with a number of companies in the geospatial industry.  I think at one time or another he has worked for Oracle, Trimble, Lecia, and  maybe Intergraph, I can’t remember for sure.  Maybe a reader can correct me.   I understand Jim and family still reside in northwest Arkansas.

Last, and definitely not least, is Susan Norton.  As I mentioned earlier, Susan was at the Department of Information Systems, and her challenge was to organize and lead the Office of Information Technology.  At that point in time, every state was investing heavily in technology, but all this activity was seemingly uncoordinated, and with little thought given to standards, policy or reducing duplication through cooperative procurement.  This was my take on the mission of OIT; to identify common technologies that many agencies needed, and then identify a solution.  Of course with GIS data being a share, and share-alike commodity, there was a natural fit with Susan’s mission.  I will always owe a personal thanks to Susan for my job, and helping steer me in the early years of GeoStor, and the infancy of the agency.  Susan also served as Chair of the GIS Board for a year or two.  In 2005 or 2006 she departed state government to head to northwest Arkansas and work in public education.  Today Susan is still active with GIS. She is the Executive Director for Fayettteville Public Schools Technology.  They use GIS every day there.  She’s also heavily involved with  the Mid-America GIS Consortium and I think will be the Chair in 2014-2015.

Here we are, this many years later.  GeoStor started as big research idea, got funded, and has been operational in Little Rock since 2005.   There is no telling how much data has been served through this platform.    In 1999 we never dreamed of using a system like this on our telephones, but that’s the next step in the evolution of the system.  I hope ten years from now I’ll have the chance to look back again and remember where we’ve been.

POSTSCRIPT: My good friend Susan Norton provided a couple of photos shortly after publishing this article.  Susan left the State to work in Fayetteville in 2001.  She had the photo and honorary certificate framed and placed on her wall.  The handwritten text on the napkin reads, “Whereas, this recognition would be incomplete without the agreement of your Geospatial Pals from Kansas… Therefore we certainly do agree and appreciate you.”

Signed Richard D. Miller and Ivan L. Weichert

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