GIS-powered apps start with clean data

Clean data is the key to building a successful app that uses geographic information systems (GIS) technology, according to ESRI Canada.


The Toronto-based mapping software company said that more organizations today are integrating GIS technology into their internal and customer-facing applications. For example, delivery and transportation companies can overlay road and destination data on a custom mapping app, while a restaurant chain might integrate their store location data onto a Web-based mapping service for their customers.


One criticism of online mapping services, such as those offered by Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., is that the services offer users accurate location-based maps, but fail to provide land usage information and building details.


Alex Miller, president at ESRI Canada, said that designing a GIS-powered mapping app for in-house or external use allows companies and governments to take advantage of the data they already own.


“The organizations that have thought it through have streamlined their back-end operations,” he said. “GIS is an enterprise system. In fact, it goes beyond enterprise because it reaches out to other organizations that may have tracked data of interest.”


The organizations that aren’t doing GIS-related apps well tend to be siloed internally and experience similar problems building any type of corporate system, Miller added.


“For anyone who’s well organized and have their corporate data in good shape, it’s pretty easy to put up,” he said.


The City of Toronto, which recently worked with ESRI Canada to create an online road restrictions map application, is an organization that is using both well-organized and open data to take advantage of GIS. The app, which overlays construction and road closure information on top of a city map, was launched in late spring to deal with Toronto’s busy summer of special events and festivals.


The application was built in six weeks and integrates information from many data sources, including traffic monitoring cameras.


Myles Currie, director of transportation services for the City of Toronto, said his department will continue to work with other areas of the municipality to offer data enhanced maps for both employees and citizens.


“We may be looking at the possibility of putting our capital works plan for the next five years onto a map,” Currie said. This app would give citizens and companies that work with the city ample notice of construction work on an easy-to-understand map.


In addition to having clean data, Currie said the City of Toronto was able to create the road closure app because of teamwork between its project managers, public relations professionals, and IT department. The key was brainstorming a list of requirements at the outset before getting into the development stage.


This is another best practice, according to Miller, as GIS-related projects are often new to organizations. He said while brainstorming on paper can be effective, using free maps and APIs in a planning session can also work.

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