California on the go: From apps to geoportals

Nearly 31,000 households relocated to California last year, according to recent figures from moving companies Allied, United and Atlas. That’s practically a 6 percent uptick over the previous year and the highest number of newcomers via major van lines since 2008.

Now the California Technology Agency (CTA) is hoping to encourage even more families and businesses to relocate, not with burly moving men and 18-wheelers, but with a powerful combination of mobile apps and geospatial data.

According to research firm Berg Insight, the number of mobile application downloads worldwide doubled last year to 60.1 billion. At the same time, location-centric apps like Foursquare and Yelp are only increasing in popularity. To tap into these trends, and drive business development in the state, the CTA has launched a number of initiatives around mobile and GIS (geographic information systems) technologies that aim to serve residents and lure newcomers.

“The mobility environment for us here is huge,” says Paul Benedetto, undersecretary of operations at the CTA. “We look at mobility as our best way of pushing out applications that serve the citizens of California.”

To date, the CTA has developed more than 70 apps – a feat that has involved the collaboration of nearly 40 departments across the state. One such app is CalVets which provides information on everything from health services to housing options to Californians who have served in the U.S. military.

While the CTA could have outsourced its apps development activities to vendors such as Google and Esri, the agency instead opted to create its own platform or “framework that all of our departments can use no matter what type of technology they’re deploying, whether for an iPad or iPhone, Android or Microsoft system,” says Benedetto.

Creating a proprietary platform for developing apps required training state staff but it also spared the agency from having to “spend $500,000, or $1 million, or $2 million [on external systems],” says Benedetto.

Unfettered access and collaboration are also key features of the CTA’s latest project: a geoportal that grants the public access to geospatial data resources through key partnerships with government agencies, as well as tribal nations, academia and the private sector. The geoportal consists of 2,600 state records and will be linked to the Federal GeoPortal to access approximately 9,000 data layers.

By pooling all types of geographical data, the CTA’s geoportal hopes to help businesses establish deep roots in California. For example, Benedetto says a Maserati car dealership that is planning to relocate from New York to California can mine the geoportal for data on automotive sales, population by gender and  socio-economic factors to select the best location.

“The demographics of people buying Maseratis might be different in Elk Grove than someplace in Pasadena or Palm Springs,” says Benedetto. “The geoportal provides an opportunity to show businesses great places they can live, work and build their businesses in California.”

This article was featured in the spring issue of Techwire Magazine.

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About Cindy Waxer

Cindy Waxer is a journalist whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, Fortune Small Business, CNNMoney.com, CIO, Computerworld and Government Technology.

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