Maryland Open Data

The most recent meeting of the Maryland Council on Open Data was held on 12 June 2015 at the headquarters of the Maryland Department of Transportation in Hanover, Maryland. I attended in my role as a member of the council. The meetings are now being held quarterly, down from monthly during its first year, so the agenda was very aggressive. There were a number of items of potential interest to the GIS community:

  1. The Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) has purchased a license of FME server with which to process data from state agencies for publication in Maryland’s open data portals.
  2. There were several updates to Maryland’s ELA with Esri:
    • The ELA now includes 1500 named users of ArcGIS Pro.
    • The ELA now includes 500 named users of ArcGIS Pro extensions
    • The state’s ArcGIS Online organization (state employees, supporting contractors, etc.) has been upgraded to unlimited named users and 62,500 annual service credits.
    • The ELA now includes a second ArcGIS Online Organization with 250 named users and 37,500 annual service credits for use by counties, municipalities, other localities, and supporting contractors who need to share data and applications with the state. (During natural disasters, for example.)
  3. Central Maryland Regional Transit has completed importing transit data for central Maryland into the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format, and has received a grant to do the same for the rest of the state.
  4. SB094 was signed into law by the Governor, banning the practice of charging for overhead costs for the distribution of GIS data. Also, it eliminates the need to enter into a contract with a jurisdiction to request its GIS data. Old legislation permitted these practices for GIS data. The new legislation removes this obvious conflict with Maryland’s Open Data Act.
  5. DoIT is engaged in the creation of a statewide real property data set for distribution through the open data portals. It will be scrubbed of property owner information and will only include point geometry. The more detailed parcel data sets may still be requested through the Maryland Department of Planning.

I’ve been impressed with the progress of the Council so far. There has been good support from the participating agencies toward getting additional data into the portals. The new administration seems committed to open data, though they are still trying to get their footing.

The fact that the state has two open data portals is still something of a problem as it requires users to know which portal they need to use for which type of data. The “open data portal” is a Socrata platform that has limited spatial data capabilities (https://data.maryland.gov/), whereas spatial data is available on an instances of Esri’s Open Data product, which has richer spatial data capability. The Esri portal suffers from the fact that it is served from a much less intutive address (http://data.imap.maryland.gov/) and that it is much less feature-rich for non-spatial data. As a result, the state is still in need of a single platform that combines the features of both current portals, while providing a unified search.

The next meeting of the council is in September so the one-year anniversary of its first meeting will fall between meetings. As a result, I’ll consider this past meeting the anniversary of sorts. The accomplishments the state has made in a short amount of time speak well of the state’s commitment to open data as well as the energy of GIO Barney Krucoff and his staff.

  • kazari

    Interesting – there’s a dogma here that open data requires open source, which doesn’t seem to have applied in Maryland at all. I’d love to hear your thoughts around whether there were credible open source alternatives.

    • There were credible open-source alternatives, CKAN being the most obvious. The Esri Open Data portal is itself open source, though it has back-end dependencies that may not be. There is an important distinction to be made between open data and open source, as they are indeed two separate issues.

      I like the Maryland Open Data Act for a lot of reasons, but a key one is that it forms a baseline set of requirements for opening data in Maryland. I could implement a system that complies with the full text of the law using a number of commercial technologies, up to and including Sharepoint backed by a full Microsoft stack. I wouldn’t do that for considerations too numerous to expound upon here, but it would be feasible.

      In Maryland’s case, the state already had a significant existing infrastructure based on Esri and Socrata. The portals that are currently serving out data already existed because of previous requirements. A rip-and-replace in the name of simply using open source wasn’t really justifiable, given that the current technologies could meet the state’s needs.