What the Future Holds for GIS
A look at the evolution of the role GIS plays in Irish society and how OSi are adapting its service offerings to meet continued demand in this space
Over its 65-year history, geographic information systems (GIS) has evolved to become one of the most fundamental resources for planning and development across the world. Its origins trace back to the United States, where education and technology specifically geared toward GIS started to develop in the late 1950s.
However, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the world started to recognise its true power. This is when software- based GIS came into practice, and foundations of the GIS services available today started to form.
For the last number of years Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi), has been upgrading its infrastructure to create future-proofed services that can evolve in parallel with the rapidly changing GIS industry.
Building for The Future
As a technology driven sector, the future of GIS is particularly difficult to predict. Technology is always changing, so new and existing services that OSi delivers need to live on a system that can easily be adapted, with minimal friction, in accordance with technology trends.
For a long time, the norm would have been for OSi to provide its customers with disks or hard drives containing mapping data. Today OSi’s web portals such as MapGenie and GeoHive are charting a new direction in service delivery for the organisation. The GeoHive service launched in 2015 and provides access, through a data catalogue and a map viewer, to a range of authoritative Irish spatial data.
In a response to its public and private sector customers who demand access to data and related updates more quickly, and in different formats, OSi has completely re-engineered itself. Its main output has evolved from (but still includes) cartography and maps to an accessible object orientated database.
As Lorraine McNerney, General Manager for Geospatial Systems OSi, explains, the key to this is building scalable and adaptable systems:
“The biggest shift is from silo data stores to a single data repository. We’ve re-engineered our databases and put them all into a single data store. We’re now in a position to develop and launch products and services on the back of that.”
The expectation of providing a more on-demand level of service can also be met through these systems.
“It also allows us to prosper in a 24/7 industry even in a traditionally 9-5 business like ours, because we can take advantage of the latest technologies, including cloud-based systems, to handle the customer demand. If, for example, a client launched something public that relies on our data, we can handle customer demand in a much more agile way,” says Lorraine.
Role of Automation
In the very near future, automation of new products and services will play an integral role in the capturing, management and delivery of GIS related products. Currently OSi are in the middle of a two-year project, the ultimate goal of which is to harness the power of the single data store and adapt it to create products and services automatically. When this project is complete, these deliverables will be available for release much quicker than before.
Automation will also revolutionise a number of data collection and mapping processes which use conflict management and rules-based automation. Using the latest technologies that facilitate an orchestrated rules-based flow line, OSi has more than 400 rules in place that means data can only be captured the right way the first time. An example of which could be, ‘two lines must connect at the end of a mapped road’.
When the captured data is entered into the database, other rules will kick in to ensure it is being saved and stored correctly. A practical example would be if two OSi surveyors were out marking features on the same road, the system can allow them to both input data at the same time, managing any conflict of data that might occur in captured data.
Central to all future GIS strategy for OSi will be the Prime2 framework. PRIME2 is a standardised authoritative digital referencing framework that enables the consistent referencing and integration of national data relating to a location.
PRIME2 equips decision makers with the ability to integrate and use multiple data sources to provide for better analysis, optimising resources and delivering efficiencies. An example of integrating data in this way would be using the underlying mapping data from OSi and then integrating data from another source that plotted all of the public amenities in the same area. Because both data sets adhere to a common set of standards, they can be integrated effectively.
Part of OSi’s philosophy is that “Everything happens somewhere” and that the true value of information is realised when it is combined, or overlaid with other relevant information for the purposes of a better understanding of where an object lies geographically. PRIME2 allows this idea to be applied in the real world.
PRIME2 can also support 3D information. This means that 3D representation of multi-storey buildings, street infrastructure and underground car parks can be supported.
One critical element to the Prime2 framework is the mapping of each feature on a map with a GUID (Globally unique identifier). A GUID is managed during the complete object life cycle. For example, each section of a river has its own GUID against which additional information or attribution can be mapped.
Importance of Linked Data
A future focus for OSi and anyone working in GIS is the area of ‘linked data’. Linked data is about connecting data to other pieces of data on the Web and contextualising and adding value to the information that already exists. For OSi, linked data will play a role in connecting to new collaborators and customers.
“Given the vast amount of data being generated, particularly through the use of the Web, and the need to make sense of this data, the ability to link information on the Web will be increasingly important in the coming years,” says Lorraine.
The organisation plans to make some of its data available and readable in formats that are useful for coders or app developers so they can build rich map-based products. This is a group of stakeholders which OSi sees as potential future collaborators in the area of GIS.