Abu Dhabi Pioneers a Collaborative Approach to Sharing and Utilizing Geospatial Data

Abu Dhabi Pioneers a Collaborative Approach to Sharing and Utilizing Geospatial Data


Mr. Rashed Al Mansoori
Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Committee (ADSIC)

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has embarked on a move to extend the benefits of using geospatial data in its e-Government services by linking, coordinating, and sharing the spatial data that many of its government agencies already generate and use. Building on international standards and best practices, the Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI) is the latest phase of the government’s strategy to stay at the cutting edge of geographic information technology and systems and represents an important step in the government’s efforts to bring the benefits of broad-based electronic access to its service provision activities. This program is a continuation of a process initiated by the UAE Military Survey Department (MSD), the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and others in recent years to establish an Emirate-wide initiative.

The development of an AD-SDI is especially timely for Abu Dhabi Emirate. Many of its agencies are familiar with GIS and several have developed significant internal programs, including significant geospatial database development or updating and expansion efforts.

  • The MSD has initiated a major program to produce basemap data for the entire Emirate and refined mapping for most developed areas.
  • The EAD is developing a soils map for the Emirate, has acquired various satellite imagery for all of the UAE, is developing a substantive and expanded update to the Coastal Sensitivity Atlas, and has initiated an aggressive and proactive program called the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) to increase access and use of quality environmental data for conservation and sustainable development.
  • The Departments of Municipal Affairs (DMA) in both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain have defined major programs to update and extend detailed urban basemap data at more refined scales.
  • The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) has developed and continues to maintain land base and water and electrical transmission and distribution facility information for the entire Emirate. Other utilities and government agencies are likewise developing or considering development of their own GIS capabilities. All these efforts can receive significant benefit from a centrally coordinated and facilitated AD-SDI program.

The idea of coordinating GIS activities across the Emirate is not new. In 2002, users met under the aegis of the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (recently renamed Environment Agency Abu Dhabi) to explore the idea of more formalized data sharing across government. Their response to the idea was positive, but the idea stayed on the drawing board. It was taken up again by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council in 2005 with the formation of a Spatial Data Management Centre establishment committee to study the feasibility of an AD-SDI and explore scenarios. The Committee looked at the options, which included a variety of approaches for data coordination and sharing. In late 2006, the Executive Council activated the Geographic Information Infrastructure Charter (GO-R-026) of the Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Committee (ADSIC) to undertake the refinement and implementation process of the AD-SDI, including the establishment of a Spatial Data Coordination Centre (SDCC) within the e-Government program to facilitate, coordinate and support the first stages of SDI development.
The goals of the AD-SDI are to improve information sharing, reduce redundancy, increase efficiency, and support more effective operations and better informed decision-making in government. The initiative builds on important work already completed by many government agencies, but under its mandate to use a distributed business model, the AD-SDI coordinates vital data-sharing activities while leaving primary responsibility for development and maintenance of framework data with specific custodian agencies.

To this end, the ADSIC has tasked a team of international experts with the design and implementation of the first stage of the AD-SDI to establish the foundation of the initiative. During the second half of 2007, the team will work closely with key agencies to achieve the following goals:

  • To support data sharing and reduce redundancy and costs through geographic data alignment and development among different agencies and authorities.
  • To ensure that government laws, regulations, policies and practices are aligned to support maximum information coordination and exchange.
  • To provide government policy makers with improved geographic information, spatial analyses, and visual tools, enabling them to better evaluate alternatives in their decision-making processes.
  • To foster top-level coordination among partner agencies.
  • To develop an effective SDI model that can be emulated by other emirates and eventually applied across the UAE.

At the center of the AD-SDI are its partner agencies – the agencies that generate and use spatial data. In the foundation stage the AD-SDI, a few key agencies will participate in the initiative. These agencies generate framework data, the Fundamental Geographic Data Sets (FGDS) that form the basis of GIS activity. These agencies are Military Survey Department (MSD), Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), The Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) , the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Department of Planning and Economy (DPE), Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Etisalat (Telecommunications Company), and ADSIC. It is their data that will form the nucleus of the AD-SDI’s data-sharing efforts. Other stakeholders from government, education and research institutions, civil society and the private sector will be added in the future as the SDI is expected to extend into every aspect of Abu Dhabi society as a building block in a larger information infrastructure and e-Services strategy.

A key component of the AD-SDI foundation stage is the Spatial Data Coordination Center (SDCC) to be established within ADSIC. This unit will guide both initiation and operation stages of AD-SDI development. The SDCC facilitates, coordinates, and supports the AD-SDI initiative and provides geographic analysis and decision support to the Executive Council and partner agencies. These agencies will continue to be the custodians of the framework data needed in common by other agencies. All such framework data will be developed and maintained according to content, format and procedural standards agreed by the AD-SDI community, starting in the foundation stage of the initiative.

Encompassing a set of tactical ‘quick wins,’ this foundation stage of the AD-SDI includes the refinement of a stakeholder situation assessment covering GIS activities in all the key agencies; development of an AD-SDI Strategic Plan that details data, technical and institutional targets for future stages; alignment of partner agencies’ data development projects; establishment of a Geospatial Portal and Data Clearinghouse, populated with representative data from all the partner agencies; establishment of a representative Technical Committee to participate in and guide the AD-SDI development process; and design and development of capacity-building programs for partner agencies. It also includes the alignment of ongoing and planned major data development projects to ensure that the outputs of these efforts are in line with the objectives of the AD-SDI.

The long-term goal of the AD-SDI is to provide a network of seamlessly interoperable agency nodes to allow agencies to share their framework data with one another. An effective tool to achieve this goal is a Geospatial Portal. The portal provides a single point of access for all the geospatial information across the entire AD-SDI community, as well as the map services to view and use that information. With input from the partner agencies, detail specifications for the portal will set user interface improvements, graphical and cartographic refinements, and the establishment of direct links between the Geospatial Portal and ADSIC eGovernment and other websites. Partner agencies can use the portal specifications to help them design their own data repositories as well.

The Geospatial Portal will include a data clearinghouse. This will provide a facility for publishing information on behalf of those agencies that are not yet prepared to implement and administer their own distributed node. An associated geospatial metadata catalog will provide a master inventory of all most commonly needed fundamental data available in Abu Dhabi. This will be developed around International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards adapted for use in Abu Dhabi. Geospatial information will be kept current by each of the partner agency data custodians, and the tools for doing so will be provided through the Geospatial Portal. In the next stage, the Geospatial Portal will be fully integrated within a broader e-Government Portal environment where geographic mapping location-aware applications and spatial analysis services will be used to spatially enable government online services.

As well as being data custodians, the partner agencies play a central role in AD-SDI development. Coordinators from each agency attend regular meetings of the AD-SDI Technical Committee, the operational-level interagency group responsible for facilitating the coordination of geospatial activities between, among, and within agencies and representing the interests of their own agency, as well as the common needs and opportunities of the AD-SDI community. The Technical Committee works closely with the SDCC. It develops and promotes common standards and interoperability guidelines and in the formation and analysis of pertinent policy matters of a technical nature; participates in evaluating cross-agency e-Government business processes and applications where spatial information is concerned; participates in the development and promotion of common quality assurance and quality control specifications, methods and tools; and oversees the activities of topical Working Groups.

Much of the technical analysis of the AD-SDI collaborative efforts takes place in the Working Groups. Three Working Group topics have already been identified including a geographically-enabled census data product, a standardized geodetic framework for the Emirate, and coordinated and standardized topographic basemapping at several scales. The Working Groups provide detailed recommendations on methodology and standards to the Technical Committee to assist in coordinated data sharing and decision making.

The Technical Committee and the topical Working Groups will make significant contributions to the drafting of the AD-SDI Strategic Plan to cover the future stages of the initiative. The next stage of the AD-SDI is expected to last approximately 12 months, and will include the expansion and refinement of the AD-SDI infrastructure foundations established in the foundation stage, including the addition of new data and metadata, assistance to selected agencies to develop their own Geospatial Portal nodes, monitoring of data and capacity building projects, continued provision of analyst support to the Executive Council and others partners, and added integration and location-aware applications to the e-Government portal and government agency websites where appropriate.

This third and final stage will ensure that the AD-SDI is integrated into and adopted as an essential function within the Abu Dhabi Emirate government. To an extent, the process of institutionalization will be addressed at each stage of development, but in this final stage all remaining “build” elements will be transitioned to an “operational” status. Depending on decisions made during the development of the AD-SDI Strategic Plan, this will include the final implementation of the chosen business model, recruitment and training of permanent staff, and finalizing of integration within e-Government and government restructuring programs. Over time, the program will expand incrementally to work with the full range of organizations, including other government agencies, educational and research institutions, civil society, and the private sector. To facilitate the collaborative approach and incremental expansion, ADSIC has launched an AD-SDI website , where all interested users of geographic data can find information, resources, and support.

Satellite image of Abu Dhabi Emirate. (Not an authoritative source for international boundaries.) Image courtesy of the Department of Municipal Affairs – Abu Dhabi

The main features of the Abu Dhabi Old Master Plan. Image courtesy of the Department of Municipal Affairs – Abu Dhabi

Aerial photograph of Abu Dhabi Island, including the new Emirates Palace Hotel. Image courtesy of the Department of Municipal Affairs – Abu Dhabi