New Brunswick’s services division has been working to roll out new spatial data infrastructure in an effort to more easily deliver geographic data to its citizens and staff.
The province announced a piece of its plan on Wednesday, teaming up with ESRI Canada to launch GeoNB Map Viewer, a free Web-based application for viewing maps and aerial photos of New Brunswick. The tool is just one part of a larger spatial data infrastructure project that looks to encourage collaboration within government and to make specialized digital maps more accessible to the public.
Bernie Connors, spatial data infrastructure manager at Service New Brunswick, said his organization recognized the need to centralize data such as property registries, land and property assessments, and other data in one spot.
With the GeoNB tool specifically, New Brunswick citizens can access high-quality aerial photos along with a variety of topographic information over the Web without having to purchase special software or deal with the province in person.
“We offer a data download service for a lot of that data, so you can download air photos, digital topographic maps, property maps, and civic address databases,” Connors said, referring to the way in which citizens can get their hands on this information.
The problem has historically been these files were only available in specialized GIS file formats and not the more public-friendly Microsoft Word or PDF documents, he added.
With the new Web-based tool, the ability to print custom maps will be easily available for all users, Connors said.
Other features of GeoNB Map Viewer include a colour scheme which distinguishes government-owned land from private land, data from the New Brunswick Department of Transportation road network, real-time weather information, and the boundaries for the more than 527,000 properties in New Brunswick.
To keep the maps and topographic information up-to-date, Service New Brunswick is creating relationships between various municipalities within the province and sharing imagery wherever possible. The City of Fredericton, for instance, had high-resolution imagery taken in 2008 which was sharper and more updated than what the province was using, Connors said.
For other public sector organizations that haven’t rolled out a similar GIS tool or a spatial data infrastructure in general, Connors suggests IT staff go out and speak to other jurisdictions about their projects and try to learn from their mistakes.
“Probably the best advice I can give is to spend more time in the planning and design phase and less on the implementation phase,” he said.
Eric Melanson, director of ESRI Canada’s Atlantic region, said a common mistake for organizations rolling out GIS technology is adopting a one-size-fits-all mentality.
“It’s important to build specialized, targeted applications that deliver value from the outset, not just reflections of the vast data maintained by government,” he said.
IT staff must understand who the end user of their application is going to be and build useful, simple and functional tools that address their needs, Melanson added.