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Q & A about Parcel Data with Digital Map Products' CEO Jim Skurzynski

There's a lot of buzz in the spatial technology blogs about parcel data. What's the big deal?
Five years ago, Google Maps showed the world what only a handful of GIS experts already knew: the ability to "visualize" data in the form of a map is a powerful and exciting tool. Since then, we've all started to take satellite and aerial images for granted. Now everyone is turning spreadsheets into maps and talking about "location-based" technology.

Recently, Google added parcel data to its maps, and that created a great deal of buzz on websites and blogs that follow spatial technology. That's because parcel data represents the second wave of sophistication for the non-expert spatial technology user. When online maps first became available, looking up an address would take you to the street centerline in front of that address. But today, people who are using online applications to search for real estate to buy or looking at the boundaries of their own property expect more. They want to see the exact boundaries of a property; the size, depth and unique features, and the exact outline of the property.

For businesses and governments, having a layer of parcel data also allows for interactivity between parcels and other data sets on maps. It allows users to attach and retrieve additional layers of information tied to parcel boundaries. That's an incredibly powerful tool for forecasting, analyzing and making business decisions.

So if consumers are just starting to see the value of parcel data, who are the "power users" of spatial technology?
There are two sectors that have really seen the value of this data: online real estate and local governments. Look at any of the major online real estate sites like Redfin, Realtor.com or Cyberhomes. They all include parcel data on the property they list. That's because they know that real estate buyers and sellers are growing more sophisticated and demand more powerful tools for assessing property. Local governments have also attested to the effectiveness of being able to "visualize" parcel data and how it can help every department of a city make more effective decisions.

Is that type of parcel boundary data available for all parts of the United States?
Digital Map Products has parcel boundaries available for nearly all major US cities with more than 100,000 residents and we offer our customers over 120 million parcel boundaries nationwide. That's virtually 100 percent of the larger cities in the US.

Where does Digital Map Products get its parcel boundary data?
We go to each county and negotiate a deal that allows us to aggregate their parcel data. Digital Map Products has been doing this since 1999, and we've developed expertise at putting the data into a form that is useful for governments and businesses. Many of the major online real estate sites actually get their parcel data from us, including Redfin, Realtor.com, and Cyberhomes.

Why can't businesses just get parcel boundaries directly from county government?
Acquiring parcel data and keeping it updated can be expensive and time-consuming, especially for a smaller company. There are also varied intellectual property laws and technical quirks in the way the data is delivered. We have to standardize all the parcel boundary data sets we receive and optimize them for display in online applications. At Digital Map Products, we think it makes sense for a company like ours, which has a lot of experience at this, to do it for companies that need the data but who don't want to make the processing of spatial data one of their core activities.

You said earlier that parcel boundary data allows users to add interactivity to mapping applications. How is that useful?
Say you're searching for property using an online real estate site. An aerial or satellite map is just going to plop you down on the street near the property. A map with parcel boundaries will be more precise; it will show you the exact boundaries of the property. And the site can give you even more data by adding interactive layers like school districts, detailed property information, and even specific neighborhood demographics. Once a site has parcel boundary data, all these data sets can be tied together, and the user can access them with a single click on a property.

How did Digital Map Products become an expert in gathering parcel data?
Digital Map Products was initially launched as a joint venture of Thomas Bros. Maps and Psomas, the largest privately-owned survey engineering company in the Western United States. In 1997 Digital Map Products worked with a consortium of California counties to create the legal framework allowing private companies to use parcel data created and maintained by government agencies. That framework has become the basis for many of the licensing agreements used throughout the country today. Since then, Digital Map Products has been gathering county parcel data and making it available to local governments, online real estate sites and other businesses.

It's always been our goal at Digital Map Products to make GIS technology available to everyone in an enterprise, not just the GIS experts. We've always seen ourselves as evangelists for the business uses of spatial visualization tools. It's taken a while for the technology to become advanced enough for everyone to be able to understand it and use it. But we're getting closer to achieving our goal, and we continue to refine our products so that non-experts can use them right from their desktops, and make them part of all their business decisions.

The move to adding parcel boundaries to maps is a great step forward. What's the next step for spatial technology?
Now the general public - not just GIS experts - can begin to understand the powerful future of spatial technology. We've learned from our real estate and government clients that once people begin to use spatial technology on a regular basis, they want more of it. So in the industries that have been the leaders in using this technology, the latest trend is for everyone in every level of the enterprise to have access to spatial visualization tools right on their desktops.

I personally think 2010 will be the year spatial technology becomes easily integrated into a multitude of business applications. In the same way that web designers can now create a site without writing HTML code, new products like DMP's SpatialStream™ allow developers to add spatial features without becoming GIS experts themselves.

In addition, spatial technology is quickly moving into the cloud. With SaaS applications that live in the cloud, users can access, create and analyze enterprise data without the company having to make a huge expenditure in developing applications and hiring GIS staff. Digital Map Products and other companies are developing spatial platforms that include APIs and web services, and our customers are embracing this model. Our customers say it allows them to speed up the development of spatial applications that make them competitive and lets them focus on their core competencies while we handle the spatial side of things. Our sales show us this trend will only become stronger.

For media inquiries
For more information about how real estate and local government industries are using parcel boundaries or about the future of spatial technology, contact:

  • Mary Jo Draper
    Draper Communications for Digital Map Products
    816-753-4429 (office)
    816-516-2446 (cell)
    press@digmap.com