What is the role of open data in SDIs?

January 14, 2019 Gordon Plunkett

Continuous improvement of your organization’s geospatial services is contingent on the increased availability and effective use of open data. This blog post makes the argument that SDIs are an essential component of your open data strategy and that open data without a supportive SDI framework is impractical. Read further to find out why SDIs are essential to the efficient use of open data including how open data can be published in an SDI environment and how some world-class Canadian web sites provide open data.

As you are probably aware, open geospatial data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. Many governments at all levels provide the bulk of their geospatial data holdings as open data. Canada as a nation has a very good track record of providing open data. According to the latest edition of the Open Data Barometer (based on 2016 information), Canada ranks 2nd, behind only the UK, in terms of open data provision.

Why is open data important for SDI development?

According to Canada’s Open Data Portal, open data has many benefits such as helping develop consumer and commercial products, increasing innovation, supporting research and promoting informed decision-making by data consumers. While open data is an important component of producing these benefits, I would argue that it’s not just the open data, but the entire SDI framework that helps produce these benefits.

The European SDI (INSPIRE) has defined the FAIR data principles, which are a set of guiding principles to help make open data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. From my perspective, it’s not the data that makes itself findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable, it’s the SDI framework within which the data is supplied that makes that data meet the FAIR data principles.

Europe’s INSPIRE project has developed the FAIR open data framework for making sure that your open data is ready to use.

So, my previous question should really have been worded: Why is SDI so important for open data use development? Don’t get me wrong, open data is very important for an SDI, but open geospatial data without a supporting SDI framework is literally quite useless.

Hence, if you have spatial data that you can provide or are considering providing as open data, look to your current SDI as the base technology that will allow your clients to put your open data to good use. In terms of the time and technology required, it’s fast and easy to get started.

For example, by using your ArcGIS Online subscription and identifying ArcGIS Online groups for sharing, you can quickly set up public-facing websites for people to easily find and download your data in a variety of open formats.

It’s easy to search your organization or the world for open data maps, apps and data that may be useful to you.

If you want more services and capabilities in providing open data, you can look at ArcGIS Hub, which is an interactive platform to organize people, processes and technology. ArcGIS Hub comes with built-in event creation and sharing directly to Hub websites and to your Hub mobile app. It also allows you to gather feedback from inside and outside your organization to find or create new solutions to existing problems.

While the federal government and most provincial governments have open data available, it is the municipal government level that is working hard to make their geospatial data available as open data for their clients and citizens. Most municipalities already collect and maintain data for their internal business operations, but they are finding it very useful to also provide this data as open data for other useful purposes.

The Community Map of Canada, which is the Canadian component of the Esri World topographic map, is a cost-effective and efficient basemap for organizations to use online for finding places and for displaying their spatial data. The Community Map of Canada is made in part from open data that is contributed by governments and other organizations across Canada.

The City of Brampton, for example, has developed their GeoHub as a way of allowing users to leverage Brampton’s investment in their geospatial data. GeoHub provides six ways of leveraging their open data. These include:

  1. Exploring the data (explore, filter and download the data)
  2. Visualizing the data (view the map)
  3. Performing analysis (show spatial patterns, produce data mash-ups)
  4. Collaborating (connect with other citizens)
  5. Building cool apps (build new apps with no code such as Story Maps)
  6. Sharing (embed data, maps or analysis on your website or social network)

The home page of the Brampton GeoHub site showing some of the capabilities and the open data that’s available.

There are better ways to make your open data more useable and useful, than just posting it to some dusty FTP site. Your organization has made a significant investment in its geospatial data, so why not allow users to leverage this investment and maximize the use of your data.

Whether you are new to open data or a seasoned veteran of open data, it’s important for you to take a fresh look at your open data provision framework to see if you can also leverage your SDI investments to get the most out of your organization’s open data. You should make this your principal project for 2019.

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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