Managing Geospatial Data
by Alison Weiss, November 2008
Increasingly, organizations across all sectors and industries are depending on geospatial data to make better business decisions—from retail companies using maps to determine the best location for new stores to insurance companies using cartographic intelligence to improve risk management. The challenge for enterprises is how to effectively manage geospatial data and plan for its uses now and in the future.
“Handling this ever-growing tsunami of ‘torrents of terabytes’ is moving mainstream enterprise IT infrastructures away from the traditional geographic information system [GIS] silos,” says Graham Stickler, product marketing director for 1Spatial, an Oracle Certified Partner. 1Spatial provides Oracle-based data integration and data quality software and services to help organizations maximize value from geospatial information. Its open, standards-based, GIS-neutral software accesses geospatial data of any form and makes it accessible, meaningful, and usable across and between organizations’ business processes.
“The advent of spatially aware databases, which were pioneered by Oracle, and the collaborative internet with Web services and mashups has simplified what used to be a complex problem of processing and integrating geospatial data with core business processes,” Stickler says. “Web 2.0 applications have also made geospatial technologies more prevalent on the Web.”
Over the last three decades, commercial and public organizations around the globe have used a diverse range of methods to collect vast quantities of two-dimensional and three-dimensional mapping information that is worth billions of dollars. While the data banks are huge, the accuracy and usefulness of the data must be reassessed continually due to the advent of global positioning system (GPS) technology. “Sometimes data has been collected with insufficient precision relative to now-established GPS accuracy,” Stickler explains. In addition, organizations are grappling with how to manage different types of geospatial data and how to integrate the different types in a meaningful way.
Mike Turnill, senior principal product manager, Oracle spatial technologies, believes that what makes spatial data so valuable today is not only that it is readily available, but that it is much more accurate than in the past—and can involve integrating both two-dimensional and three-dimensional spatial datatypes. “It’s now possible to store aerial photos and satellite information and combine that with maps about the state of the ground,” Turnill says. “You can show the two together, integrate them together.”
Oracle has established the industry’s leading standards-based platform for quality geospatial data and application integration with Oracle Locator, Oracle Spatial, and Oracle Application Server MapViewer. “Oracle Locator, which is a subset of Oracle Spatial, is included at no cost in every Oracle Database that we ship,” says Turnill. “Oracle Spatial is unique because it also provides major additional features such as integrated support for raster data, support for network models, and 3-D support for city models.”
Oracle has recently integrated its spatial and location software with Oracle Business Intelligence Suite, Enterprise Edition Plus. The business intelligence (BI) dashboard now features maps, along with the more-familiar tables and graphic charts. The map is treated as another report form and is part of the user interface. Now, users can easily analyze map data to pinpoint transactional phenomena and trends that would not be obvious from graphs or tabular reports.
1Spatial’s Radius family of products all use Oracle Spatial as their database repository and underlying architecture. Among the company’s offerings are Radius Topology, which cleans existing data and only allows clean data to enter Oracle Database, and Radius Studio, which is a spatial processing, analysis, and compliance engine.
Land and Property Services (LPS) of Northern Ireland uses a number of 1Spatial products in GeoHub NI: an internet-based system that provides a repository for place-related data, a search tool that allows users to see what types of data are available for any area, and tools that allow the combination and analysis of data. GeoHub NI offers public employees a range of geographic information that they can use in their work as naturally as they use word-processing tools.
For organizations just beginning to recognize the value of spatial data, LPS Chief Survey Officer Iain Greenway suggests there are ways for enterprises to prepare for the increasing demand for spatial data. “Users need to recognize, throughout the business, the power of the information and be prepared to take the time needed to match their data holdings onto the base data (such as mapping),” he says.
1Spatial’s Stickler supports the idea of conducting an audit of existing geospatial holdings that addresses the purpose for the data collection. “I like to use the term ‘Geo Business Process Re-engineering (GeoBPR)’ because the needs assessment shouldn’t be anything different from what organizations are familiar with in principle,” he says. “Geospatial is just another datatype after all, albeit a specialized one.” He emphasizes that organizations need to look at existing business processes and fit geospatial data into them—not the other way around. “A map is not necessarily always the answer,” he adds.
Organizations should evaluate applications that may be improved by including location information, suggests Oracle’s Turnill. “This can be call center applications, case management, asset management, sales territory management, and field and customer service applications,” he says. “But it is important to make sure that address and location information exists for customers, assets, and resources —and that it is correct.”
Stickler offers this final advice: “In terms of systems, it is critical that geospatial data is truly open and accessible and that knowledge does not remain locked in system logic but is also available and transportable. Oracle provides an excellent option here.”
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is a business/technology writer based in Northern California.