Sharing with others

An Ontario project led by the Ministry of Natural Resources was recently recognized for its efforts to improve geographic information sharing among the various levels of government and other stakeholders.

Land Information Ontario, coordinator of the collection and management of the province’s land data, received a Showcase Ontario Merit Award of Excellence in recognition of its work on an Open Geographic Information System Consortium (OGC) Compliant Web Mapping Service.

While the name sounds complex, the OGC Web mapping service simply allows users to view and manipulate selected geographic information online that has been collected and stored by government agencies and organizations.

“It allows data to remain in a particular location, such as with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the National Forest Information Service and NASA, for example,” said Raphael Sussman, the manager of Land Information Ontario.

“All of these agencies could have a Web site that shows data I want to access, and if they’re using an OGC compliant format, I can combine that information together on one map and do analysis as if all of the information were together on the same site.”

Sussman said there are three main advantages to the OGC Web mapping service.

First, there is a technical benefit,” he said. “By making your data available in this format you no longer have to accommodate all sorts of different data sets to provide what your client needs. You can also provide material and information much quicker – within a matter of minutes rather than months.”

From an organizational perspective, Sussman said the Web mapping service allows agencies to provide data without having to physically turn it over to another party.

“Many times you find that organizations are reluctant to share data because they lose a little bit of their authority in doing so,” he said. “By giving up your data, people no longer have to come to you to get information. They can go elsewhere.”

However, Susman points out that under this system, they can keep their data on their own Web site and people will still come to them for specialized answers.

As for the political advantage, Sussman said the Web mapping service allows people to cross jurisdictions more easily.

“We deal with a lot of municipal, provincial and federal levels of government and they no longer have to actually talk to each other to be able to allow the interchange and comparison of their own data sets.”

Des McKee, a CIO with Ontario’s Land Resource Cluster, said that until the current push towards a cooperative information sharing initiative, the biggest challenge organizations faced came from having to deal with complex geographic information systems (GIS).

“Up until now, you needed to have someone with a lot of knowledge, a very high-end work station and all of the data to do the analysis on,” he said. “It was very limiting in terms of how a large group of people could use [technology] to interact and conduct a lot of spatial-type analysis.

“When you look at the compliant Web mapping service, you can do all of that through the Intrernet. You don’t need a high-end PC, you don’t need expensive GIS software on your desktop.”

In fact, the basic system used by LIO was provided through OGC free of charge. OGC is an international industry consortium of more than 230 companies, government agencies and universities working to develop publicly available geoprocessing specifications.

Of course, the generic version of the system did need some enhancements, Sussman said.

Most of it was related to security,” he said. “Because we have a very large data set and our own site, we can restrict who has access through a number of security arrangements.”

Veteran journalist Blair McQuillan is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review.