Everything is somewhere: Geography as the ultimate disruptive technology

November 25, 2019 Gordon Plunkett

GIS Day events are an annual opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences concerning geographic information systems (GIS) technology; and, perhaps inspire people in the audience to discover and use GIS to facilitate solutions to their geospatial problems. These events help inform audiences about geography and the real-world applications of GIS that are helping users improve decision-making and make the world a better place to live. Read this blog post to see some of the highlights of a GIS Day presentation that covered GIS technology, community Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) and patterns of SDI use in smart cities.

On GIS Day, I gave a presentation at the CENGN (Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks) Summit 2019, entitled “Everything is somewhere: Geography as the ultimate disruptive technology”. Since the audience was largely new to geospatial technology, I thought I would start with the basics. So, the topics I included in my talk included the importance of geography, what are GISs and why we use them and then get into the topic of SDIs and their uses.

In the GIS overview part of the presentation, I mentioned that the first GIS was developed here in Ottawa by Dr. Roger Tomlinson. I asked the audience how many of them knew that GIS was started in Ottawa. To my amazement, there were quite a few people who put up their hands. This was a surprise to me as I thought this fact was not common knowledge outside of the geospatial community.

Dr. Roger Tomlinson (seated) developed the first GIS (Geographic Information System) in Canada within the federal government’s Canada Land Inventory project in the 1960s.

I went on to explain how GIS can be used as a system of record, a system of insight, and a system of engagement for measuring, exploring and communicating geographic information. In addition, I mentioned some of the application areas for GIS such as natural resources, utilities, public safety, smart cities and defence.

The “Everything is Somewhere” slide explains how GIS can be used for measuring, exploring and communicating geographic data in a wide variety of application areas.

An SDI can be used to move geospatial data around on a network. The lifecycle of data within an SDI is that base and thematic data are stored in a database and made available to users by publishing it as a web service. Users of all varieties view, manipulate and integrate their business data within their specific application and area of interest. As the world changes, work items are completed, and objects move around; these changes are noted either by sensors or humans and are loaded back into the database to be republished as updated data within the SDI.

A spatial data infrastructure is used to support both data at rest and data in motion within a data-sharing community. The cycle of data in an SDI is continuous over time as objects and features in the real-world change, move, disappear, appear or are somehow modified and this difference must be noted in the primary data repository and then republished in the SDI as current data.

Some form of data governance must be applied within the SDI community to ensure that the data meets the user needs. A governance regimen requires the support of people and organizations within the community; it requires common processes within the SDI and that SDI technology standards are adhered to. See below some of the governance factors for a successful SDI:

  1. Benefits/Use Cases – The only data that should be included within most SDIs is the data that is actually required by the users. Extra unnecessary data creates more work, but no benefit as the data is not being used.
  2. Stewardship/Management – Each data custodian must have a data stewardship program for collecting, managing and maintaining the spatial data content and metadata of each layer.
  3. Ownership/Accessibility/Security – The IP rights to the data, how it can be accessed and how the data is protected, needs to be clear.
  4. Reliability/Quality – The data content and metadata need workflows and metrics to ensure the data is fit for purpose.
  5. Platform/Architecture/Standards – the technical standards within the SDI need to be adhered to, in order to ensure maximum interoperability among systems.

An SDI requires a data governance framework to ensure that the data content and metadata are fit for use in the SDI.

The summary take-away message that I’d like to share from this session is  “We have shown how geospatial data can be leveraged within an SDI to provide smart community capabilities in diverse applications such as planning, engineering, public safety, delivering services, connecting with the community and using data and analytics to make government, business and citizen decisions.”

And I’ll leave you with the question: When are you going to implement an SDI within your community or Smart City?

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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