Geo-programming comes down to Earth

Developers once required specialized training and tools to incorporate geographic and geospatial programming into their applications and Web sites, but common standards and the move to XML are bringing geographic programming into the mainstream.

The GeoWeb is that part of the Internet that deals with the real-time or near-real-time sharing of geographic information across jurisdictions and providing access to that information, and the ability to manipulate it, to end users.

Ron Lake, chairman and CEO of Galdos Systems Inc., a Vancouver-based spatial data infrastructure developer, said municipal governments in particular are deriving strong benefits from the GeoWeb.

Take the typical municipality. City hall is responsible for property information, street signs, traffic accidents and the like. Other groups, either public or private, have responsibility for the delivery of water, gas, hydro and so on.

Each group, said Lake, needs to know where the other groups’ infrastructure is located and stay up to date with any changes. Today, that would typically be mapped on paper.

“In the context of the GeoWeb, each organization would only be contributing the data it’s responsible for and obtaining data from other members of the community,” said Lake.

Lake added that significant costs can be incurred by not having access to timely, accurate information. He gives the example of a highway construction project in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia. The city was building a highway underpass and discovered a hydro distribution cable on the site that supplied a nearby subdivision. It couldn’t be cut on site without disrupting the hydro service, and the re-routing process caused a three-month construction delay.

Lake and Galdos have been involved with the creation of a standard in this space, Geographic Markup Language (GML), that is helping to address these issues. Programming geographic information, because it’s concerned with the shapes of things and how they’re connected, may require some knowledge of geometry, and even topology. However, Lake said that with the adoption of standards like GML and a move to XML-based technologies, geographic information has become commoditized at the data level.

“People are using very standard XML tools and editors, where before they might have used very specialized GIS software,” said Lake. “It has opened things to a broader class of developers.”

It has also opened geospatial systems to a broader class of applications. In the United Kingdom, a government department responsible for weather forecasting known as the Met Office worked with Galdos to see how the technology could help it provide better data to its clients and stakeholders. Graham Mallin, head of IT architecture at the Met Office, said weather forecasting is, by its very nature, geospatial.

“When forecasting the weather, you need to know when and where a particular event is going to happen,” said Mallin. “Therefore, geographic data and the ability to geo-reference forecast model output with geographic features is extremely important.”

Meteorologists at the Met Office have been using geographic data for many years, but Mallin said it was done in a customized, siloed manner. As the organization moves to a service oriented architecture-based model relying on common standards, Mallin said the Met Office wanted to see how geospatial programming could help to ensure the best possible delivery channels for its customers.

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