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Cloud Computing: An Interview with GIS Executive & Cloud Computing Expert, Bob Bates

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By: Paige Parker, VP of Sales

 

We all know change can be difficult, but more often than not change is good, especially when it involves technology. In today’s world, technology advancements are happening everywhere. Thanks to new products and services people can benefit from what it can bring.

Here at ControlCam people are raving about our new mobile application technology that is allowing local county governments to convert their old paper tax appraisal forms into a digital documents that can easily be updated on their phones or tablet PCs. Letting them cut time and cost with their workflows and field work management.

    When, I heard Mr. Bob Bates (an executive director of GIS) was a proponent for pushing the envelope with bringing cloud based technology to local governments, I was very impressed. It is this type of inspiration that lies at the heart of ControlCam. We believe in promoting the latest and greatest in products and services for local county governments. I was honored to get the chance to interview, Mr. Bob Bates a legend in the industry on his career and thoughts involving the cloud. It is interesting to hear what he has to say about his achievements and the beauty of the cloud computing within government agencies.

Can you tell me a little more about you? Where are you from?

I was born in Gainesville, Florida and lived there all (62 years) of my life. I am the Executive Director of GIS, Technology and Support Services for the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office where I have served our community for over 41 years.  I attended Santa Fe College and the University of Florida

Organizations:

GIS/CAMA Conference Committee Member & Past Chair

IAAO

URISA

Current President – The Alachua County GIS Users Group

Past President – The Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers

Certifications:

Certified Florida Evaluator (CFE) form the Department of Revenue

Certified Cadastral of Florida (CCF) – Florida Department of Revenue

Master Cadastral of Florida (MCF) – Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers

Florida Real Estate Salesman License

How did you get into the GIS industry?

When I first started working in the Property Appraiser’s office in May, 1973 we were using ink and Leroy lettering on mylar. In the mid 80’s we starting looking at automating and moving all of our hand drawn maps into a digital GIS environment. That started a new beginning for me that led into a wonderful career.

Since then the Property Appraiser’s office has implemented three different GIS systems in Alachua County. The first GIS system was IBM GFIS back in the late 80’s running on an IBM 4381 mainframe. Alachua County held the first IBM GFIS users group in Gainesville. Then in the early 90’s we implemented a GIS software called MacGraphix that ran on Mac’s. MapGraphix was a GIS application developed by ComGraphix out of Clearwater, Florida. The software was very user friendly. I use to joke that “we had windows before windows”. In the late 90’s Ed Crapo the Alachua County Property Appraiser told me that he wanted GIS on every workstation in his office and then the decision was made to go to PC’s and the ESRI platform. GIS has been part of most of the staff in the Property Appraiser’s office for over 17 years.

Today I oversee the Alachua County GIS Service Center providing GIS services for approx. 300 users in multi departments from the City of Gainesville, Alachua County departments, Sheriff, E-911, EOC and several small cities.

Have you won any awards throughout your career?

Yes.

Distinguished Service Award – Alachua County Board of County Commissioners

Past President of the Florida Association of Cadastral Mappers and received the Outstanding Achievement Award in 1999

Many from other civic organizations that I have been involved in.

Have you been featured in any other articles?

Yes.

Geo Info Systems October 1994 – “A History of Implementing an Urban GIS”

Government Technology, August 2014 “How the CLOUD is Changing Everything for Government IT”

ESRI News for State & Local Government Fall 2014, “Alachua County is Thriving with ArcGIS in the Amazon Cloud”

What sparked your interest on cloud computing?

We needed a good offsite back-up solution for our GIS data and the Amazon Cloud met our needs. Two years later we keep running into issues with many of the departments that we support using different versions of ESRI’s ArcGIS software and since they need our data we could not upgrade until they did. We also had to deal with power interruptions and hardware failure that started to compromise our ability to provide reliable GIS support to our users. Every time a server was rebooted it took services down for other external GIS users. After looking at all of the tools that Amazon EC2 services has to offer we decided to make the move to the cloud and we have been very pleased with the decision that we made.

What have you done to promote cloud computing in your industry?

We have done several articles and presentations this year which has generated a lot of interest, phone calls and emails on how we configured our network and inter-structure. We are always willing to share our trials and tribulations with others and their organizations. Our GIS software provider ESRI is continually using us as a reference when they receive cloud questions from their users.

Where do you see cloud computing going within the next 10 years?

In the future cloud computing will be even more mainstream than it is today.  It will be more of a default for many systems.  Just as buying and collecting music, CDs are phasing out, books, movies (DVDs), and software will no longer be a disk in your hand but rather a link on the internet. Local cable providers and newspapers will slowly disappear and services will be provided through the cloud. It will not take offices full of specialized professionals sitting in front of high-end computers to get jobs done.  They will work from home or in the field on their mobile devices, entering and analyzing data remotely into the organizations’ cloud.  Meetings will also take place remotely, i.e. Meetup.com.  Without the brick-and-mortar walls that separate professionals from different organizations, collaboration will enhance the products and services from these organizations.  Most importantly, however, in ten years we should be able to expect that everyone will understand that the “cloud” is not a mysterious space vortex but a service they’ve been using in many facets of their lives for many years.

Do you think it is important for local governments to invest and switch to cloud computing? If so, why?

Yes.

Cloud computing offers a wide range of environments that is scalable and much different from traditional IT environments. It also offers the opportunity to immediately install hardware and software much faster to deploy services for a new implementation. Many times in local government we find ourselves requesting bid proposals or going through a RFP process for expensive hardware, software etc. With the cloud providers you pay as you go for what you use. Using Amazon EC2 services we were able to get going quickly and let them worry about hardware, software, network infrastructure, UPS, maintenance fees and other related expenses so we could focus on our business processes. If you wanted more resources you just check a box.  It really can’t get any simpler than that.

I think that it is important for local governments to take a good look at what level of services that Cloud providers are offering. We have a small IT shop with limited funding and by taking a hybrid approach with the cloud we were able to take all of our GIS, Disaster Assessment applications and our website and move all of the internet traffic off of our internal servers to the cloud all within budget. The level of services that we are receiving from AWS has exceeded our expectations and we are currently evaluating and testing other business processes to move to the cloud.

How do you use cloud computing now?

Two years ago we started out just putting our monthly data backups online in the cloud; now we use it for everyday transactions.  We host our data in a combination of Amazon Server and ESRI ArcGIS Online making it available for our users to download or access through our many maps and apps.  ESRI’s Open Data has streamlined our processes by enabling users to handle their own downloads of our data.  Previously we would export our GIS layers to various databases, excel spreadsheets and shapefiles.  Now we handle one export or replication job and Open Data handles the user’s requested file type and creation of that.  When a layer is updated from us to the cloud, all maps, apps and downloads are updated instantly.  There are no more questions as to why one system doesn’t show the change yet.

We host our aerial imagery in the cloud and have been able to host many more years’ worth of them as local server space is not an issue.  We have also empowered our other GIS departments to manage their own updates and we link to their managed data.  Our users are able to pull our data out and put it into their desktop product or chose from one of our predefined maps and apps to view the data.  They have the tools available to do their own analysis and filters and do not have to request special exports from us.

We have moved our FTP site to the cloud along with over 7,000 custom pdf’s for display and download. Another unique thing that we have done is to host ESRI’s ArcServer 10.2.2 and ESRI’s license manager to provide a license pool in the AWS cloud.  By doing this we have eliminated the need to jump through many hoops (firewalls) as our other departments are within other organizations’ networks.  As with our data, our GIS licenses are available even if our local network is down.

Another application that we have moved to the cloud is the ARM360 Viewer, which is a Disaster Assessment application developed by GeoCove for data collection after a hurricane or other emergency events. It ties directly to the Property Appraiser’s database and creates level of damage reports on the fly for FEMA in their format.

We have found that new applications that we create and test are much faster in the cloud. Things that use to take us three weeks we can now be done in two days.

What is your definition of cloud computing?

Cloud computing is Internet-based computing that involves delivering hosted subscription-based or pay as you go services with configurable computing architecture and resources over the Internet on-demand.

Seeing cloud computing is growing and advancing every day, ControlCam has starting offering cloud storage options for our aerial imagery data. If you would like to learn more, please send me an email at sales@controlcam.com.

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Open Source GIS Software

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By: David Lundeen, CTO

GIS development has received considerable support from the open source community.  It’s not unusual to find fully functional GIS stacks developed entirely with open source software.

A basic GIS stack consists of:

1.  Datastore

In this context, datastore refers to any source of data that will be served to GIS clients.  For example, the datastore may be a traditional database, a shapefile or set of shapefiles, a set of georeferenced raster files, or a virtual raster table pointing to raster data.

2.  Map Server

The map server is an application that accesses data in the datastore, optionally transforms the data, and serves the data to the client.  The map server typically responds to http requests.

3.  Client

The client consumes the data, typically displaying it in a user interface.  In many cases, the operator can interact with the client by panning, zooming, and querying.

Some of the more popular open source applications used in a GIS stack are listed below:

Datastores

PostGIS – http://postgis.net/

Postgres http://www.postgresql.org/
Postgres is a relational database used by a wide variety of applications. PostGIS adds support for spatial objects to the PostgreSQL database.

MySQL – http://www.mysql.com/
MySQL is a scalable high performance database that includes GIS extensions.

ESRI Shapefiles – http://www.esri.com/library/whitepapers/pdfs/shapefile.pdf
ESRI Shapefiles are not technically open source, but they are the de facto standard for storing vector data.  Shapefiles can contain a variety of vector structures, such as polygons, points, multipoints, etc.  Shapefiles can be read by most open source and proprietary tools.

Raster Data
Geo-referenced image files (jpeg, tiff, etc) can be read by GDAL (www.gdal.org) and served to the client.

Map Servers

Mapserver – http://mapserver.org/
Mapserver is a cross-platform spatial data rendering engine.  It supports a number of OGC protocols (WMS, WFS, GML and others), works with standard vector (Shapefiles, PostGIS, ArcSDE, etc) and raster (TIFF, JPEG etc) data.   Mapserver uses the Proj4

Mapnik – http://mapnik.org/
Mapnik is a cross-platform open source toolkit for developing mapping applications. It has Python bindings which facilitate rapid development in Python environments. Mapnik is extensively used by OpenStreetMaps.

Geoserver – http://geoserver.org/
Geoserver is a Java map server that supports the OGC protocols and supports editing of WFS data.

Web Servers (not strictly GIS, but frequently needed in a GIS stack).

Apache – http://httpd.apache.org/
Apache is an open source HTTP server. It runs in both Unix and Windows environments. It is the most widely used web server in the world.

Mongrel2 – http://mongrel2.org/
Mongrel2 is a language agnostic open source web server that supports modern web browser technology such as WebSockets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebSocket) that enable two way communication between the browser and server. It works with ZeroMQ (http://zeromq.org/) to facilitate distributed processing of requests.

Clients

OpenLayers – http://openlayers.org/
OpenLayers is an open source Javascript library used to display GIS data in browsers.

OpenScales – http://openscales.org/
OpenScales is a Flex/Actionscript framework used to display GIS data.  It has similar functionality to OpenLayers.

Development Tools

Many high quality open source GIS development tools are available too.

QGIS – http://www.qgis.org/en/site/
QGIS is a cross-platform open source application used to analyze and edit GIS data.  It can access most popular vector and raster data formats.  It has functions for data transformation and sophisticated data analysis.  Dozens of plugins are available to provide additional support.

uDig – http://udig.refractions.net/
uDig is a cross platform (Java) open source application for viewing, editing, and analyzing GIS data.  It can access standard OGC data formats.

libTiff – http://www.remotesensing.org/libtiff/
libTiff is a cross platform open source library for reading and modifying tiff files.

GDAL – http://www.gdal.org/
GDAL is a cross platform open source library for reading and generating raster data.  It includes support for most raster formats.

The tools and components listed above can be used to develop robust, high performance GIS stacks and applications.  A web search will identify dozens of other high quality, open source products useful for GIS development. With all of these open source applications available it has become much easier to customize solutions to meet customer’s ever changing needs. The best part about that is that it can be done at a low cost.

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What Makes A Successful CEO?

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by: Nissrine Hajbane, Marketing and Customer Engagement Specialist

I had the pleasure to sit down with our C.E.O. here at ControlCam Mr. David Freedman where I was able to ask him a few questions for our newsletter. The interview was both informative and intriguing as it allows you to understand the many layers of a CEO and what lead to his success. As an employee, his answers shed light on recognizing the many skills and thought processes that produce such a CEO.  Furthermore, Mr. Freedman shares his background as well as his plans for the future growth of the company.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you came into your role as CEO of ControlCam?

Going back to kindergarten? For the last 20 or so years, I was CFO for several very large companies, one of whom did Directory Assistance on a global scale, and another was an affiliate of T-Mobile who built out their network in the Midwest. The last job directly before this was with an Indian company that did software for mobile phones and had 11,000 employees. That company was located partially in New Jersey and partially in India. I actually thought I was coming to Jacksonville to retire. However, when I got here, a friend of mine said he knew a company that needed some assistance. So, I joined the company to just oversee their financials and after being here a few months, the board asked me to become the CEO.

Q: What lesson/s have you learned throughout your career that you keep with you today?

The most important thing I learned was probably before my career started. When I was growing up my father worked as a book binder in a factory. Every night he’d come home and complain about the people that ran the company; about how they didn’t really understand what was happening and how the business could have been much better but no one ever listened. It became engrained in me that the people actually doing the work, know about the work more than the people who are supervising them. And so I’ve tried throughout my career to make an extra effort to listen to the people who are actually working first hand and to truly understand what their issues are. That’s also one of the reasons we have a weekly staff meeting, because I’m a big believer in everyone hearing what everybody is thinking. I believe that it allows them to think more like an owner rather than just an expert in their specialized area.

Q: Who inspires you in your personal or professional life?

I don’t really have anybody like that. Throughout my career there were people that I admired for specific things but not somebody that I can actually say was my role model…. I’m not into role models. I just try to do the best I can and the thing I try to do the most is help people. I enjoy developing people to see their full potential. When my kids were younger, the thing that I enjoyed most was to coach, so I coached all of their soccer teams. It’s a very good feeling when you take somebody who is missing a skill or who has a lot of potential but hasn’t quite learned everything yet and help them discover their true talents. That to me is the fun part of the job.

Q: What keeps you enthused about your career?

I like to build things. The jobs that I’ve liked best in my career were companies that were growing. Earlier in my career I worked for CSX for 14 years. It was a great company to work for; they had 11 billion dollars in revenue and 75,000 employees when I started there. It’s still a great company to this day, although I haven’t worked for them in a long time. But every year they shrunk. They went from 75,000 to 35,000 employees when I left. And while it was a great job and I made good money combined with the prestige that comes from working for a big railroad company, every year they got smaller and smaller and every year I would have to go to my department and buy people out or offer them early retirement. Over time that got really depressing. On the other hand, some of the other companies I worked for, such as the Directory Assistance Company, when I started they had 1,000 employees and when I left they had 17,000 employees. So starting with something small and turning it into something substantial to me is very interesting and exciting. And I think ControlCam, while it is on a much smaller scale, has the potential to grow to that level and to me that’s fun and interesting.

The nice thing about working for a small company as opposed to a large company is that, in a large company, even if you are a very high level employee it’s very hard for you to actually change anything. But here, anybody with a good idea and who’s willing to work hard can actually change stuff. You can look at people like Megan Goeckel and Lauren Kane who have both been here a while and you can see things in the company that they did. You can see that they made a difference and to me that’s really more fun than just going someplace that’s really secure where you know you will be doing the same thing every day.

Q: What is the best advice you never took?

Okay, so when I worked for CSX after I had been there a while, I started to look for a different job. I wanted to do other things. I got a job offer to go work for a company called Drexel Brunham and Lambert. They were a very large New York stock exchange company. They offered me a lot more money and it was a very good job but my family was younger at the time. I also didn’t really feel like moving. So they kept making the offer better and after much hesitation, I said ‘No’. Finally the guy said: “you really don’t want this job, do you?” Then a few years later, I met the guy who actually got the job that I turned down and found out he was making a ton of money. At that point, I thought to myself: “Well you really missed that opportunity” and I regretted not taking one of their many offers. I did end up learning years down the road that the government shut them down. It was one of the biggest fraud cases at that time in Wall Street history and I was glad I didn’t take the job. I turned it down for probably all of the wrong reasons but it actually ended up okay.

Q: What is the number one skill or practice that has contributed to your success?

I think one of the things I do well is I keep a list of what needs to be done and I don’t wait around to do them. There is a sense of urgency. I believe that not making a decision is actually a decision in itself. One of the people that was a mentor to me when I was younger gave me a stone in a plaque that said “Don’t put off doing today what you need to do because there will be a tax on it tomorrow.” I can see that other people have a hard time making a decision and moving ahead and I think you always end up losing when you do that. Even if you end up making mistake, you can’t make progress without mistakes. When you think about tennis, you can sometimes go for a winning shot and it may be a bad choice when you’re better off rallying but if you never go for a winning shot, you always end up losing. I think you have to not be afraid to make mistakes.

Q: Where will the most significant growth occur in the next two to five years?

It’s definitely the imaging business that will see the most growth, the rest of the company will grow but it’s relatively stable and there aren’t many opportunities for growth. But I do believe that the imaging side of the business really has unlimited potential to grow. Some of it will grow organically through new customers that we will bring on our own. But I also think we have an opportunity to acquire other companies that do what we do and develop a much bigger presence. I think we have a good strategy; we have the beginnings of a good team of people however our biggest challenge is going to be not just adding more people but adding the right people.

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Northeast Florida Aircraft Maintenance – A Safe Flight Every Time

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by: Phil Feldner, Director of Maintenance

I know that many individuals are familiar with ControlCam and their incredible products. But a lesser known aspect of the business lies about a quarter of a mile south of the ControlCam headquarters in a historical Jacksonville location. Northeast Florida Aircraft Maintenance, Inc. joined the ControlCam family back in 2011; as the aircraft maintenance end of  ControlCam’s fleet of planes, it is our responsibility to keep the business airborne for our growing list of clients as we grow into the future.

Behind every ControlCam mission, there is a staff of hardworking, committed, aviation professionals keeping those planes in the air.  It is the job of all of us at Northeast Florida Aircraft Maintenance, Inc. to make sure that those planes run safely, and are always ready to meet the challenges of flying for ControlCam flights all over the continental US, in all types of conditions. It is a responsibility we take very seriously, every day. So our mission is to make every flight safe, every time.

With ten aircraft in our fleet, we certainly keep busy, but did you know that Northeast also services a growing and busy roster of business clientele who rely on us for their day to day aircraft maintenance duties? Or that our hangar location happens to be one of the oldest historical aircraft service locations in the city of Jacksonville, having done business with the US Army Air Corps and private clients as far back as 1938.

In addition to maintenance, our team is also involved in specialized aircraft alterations to meet the special needs of ControlCam camera planes; this may include creating adaptations of aircraft parts, body or systems in order to accommodate camera equipment required to complete missions. Many times this also includes obtaining FAA approvals and certifications to move forward with these projects that are so vital for ControlCam’s business.

Northeast also focuses on increasing productivity. Our location may be historical, but our methods are not! One major change that we have implemented is partnering with ARS systems to develop a software system that will enable us to run and track all maintenance activities, from parts ordering, work order inception, inspections, down to release of planes for final inspection and flight for ControlCam missions, on one integrated software system.  Our maintenance crew uses tablets on the hangar floor to enter real time data as they perform maintenance and inspections, making our flight turn-around time that much quicker. All of this is done to ultimately provide increased efficiency with the customer in mind.

Our increased growth has also resulted in the hire of four new staff members – three certified airframe and powerplant mechanics, one with inspection authorization, and a new stock room manager to keep ControlCam’s projects running smoothly.

As you can see while Northeast may not be as well known as ControlCam, it is a vital part of the integrated company, and while it may be one of the oldest parts of the company there is a lot of new and innovative activity taking place.

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Updated CLI Reports

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by: Richard Willis, CLI Reports Manager

Mar-Tech, a division of ControlCam, recently conducted a series of webinars attended by more than 200 people from the cable industry. These webinars were intended to provide engineering personnel an overview of the CLI process and to solicit feedback from the cable industry on what Mar-Tech can do to improve its services. One of the suggestions coming out of the webinar was for improvements to our maps used in the CLI reports.

After reviewing options to improve our reports, we decided that system upgrades were necessary. As a result, we recently purchased the newest version of AutoCAD Map, AutoCAD Map 3D 2015. This version of AutoCAD is greatly improved. In recent years, Autodesk has made moves towards geolocation and the ability to use live maps and with AutoCAD Map 2014 and 2015 giant steps were made in that direction. Using this new version of AutoCAD, the maps provided in the CLI reports will offer a more detailed look at leak locations.

Using this new system is requiring us to reprogram much of the software used to produce the CLI reports. It is our hope that this reprogramming can be completed over the next few months and at that time we will introduce the improved reporting to our customers throughout the United States.

Early next year Mar-Tech will be able to use these and other available live maps in our CLI reports to give a much improved option for finding and repairing cable leaks. We also plan on integrating ControlCam’s aerial imaging with the CLI reports early in 2015. When this work is completed, we believe the reports will be the best available in the industry.

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