‘Geospatial applications can benefit significantly from cloud computing and linked data technology’

‘Geospatial applications can benefit significantly from cloud computing and linked data technology’

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Dr. Chih-Hong Sun discusses initiatives to grow the geospatial industry in Taiwan and development of geospatial cloud computing application framework

Dr. Chih-Hong Sun
Dr. Chih-Hong Sun
Chairman
Taiwan Geographic Information System Center

What started as China Data Processing Center has evolved into Taiwan Geographic Information System Center (TGIC) – how has been the journey of TGIC? What is the mandate of TGIC?
China Data Processing Center was originally established as the Data Processing Center of Council of U.S. Aid, Executive Yuan. In 1963, the Council was disbanded, and the Executive Yuan set up the Council for International Economic Cooperation and Development (currently Council for Economic Planning and Development) which funded NTD 1 million (NTD=New Taiwan Dollar) to establish the China Data Processing Center. In 1967, the Center was renamed as “China Computer Center” to meet the demands of information technology development in government agencies and private industries. A non-profit organisation founded with full government fund, China Computer Center had the objectives of compliance with government information development policy, assisting in the elevation of Taiwan’s industries’ management using information technology, industrial automation and its application development. In 2006, the Council for Economic Planning and Development was assigned to take the responsibility to lead the National Geographic Information System Steering Committee, which was originally established in 1990 and led by the Ministry of the Interior. In 2007, CEPD renamed China Computer Center into Taiwan Geographic Information System Center (TGIC) to serve as a geospatial technology think-tank for CEPD. The mandate of TGIC is to improve the application of geospatial information technology at all levels of government agencies and also to further the development of private geospatial information industry in Taiwan.

Adoption of IT is very advanced in Taiwan. Has it impacted the uptake of geospatial technology in the country?
Adoption of information technology started very early in Taiwan government; many government agencies have been applying information technology since 1970s. The Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) published its feasibility study on establishment of National Geographic Information System in 1988. Three years later, in 1990, Ministry of the Interior established the National Geographic Information System Steering Committee to promote geospatial technology among government agencies based on the feasibility study published by CEPD. The National Geographic Information System (NGIS) is the system of geographic information for the whole nation that serves as a comprehensive repository of the geospatial data pertaining to all the provinces of the nation. It integrates different types of digital geographic information and establishes the spatial data infrastructure for information sharing and increases the possible domains of application. From the information technology perspective, NGIS serves as a wide-ranging geographic information system, whose scope includes the entire nation. The nation’s professionals and researchers involved in spatial analysis can retrieve, store, analyse and perform multifarious tasks using the digital spatial data available over the network. Therefore, the establishment of the NGIS is an indispensable infrastructure establishment for a nation like Taiwan, which is moving towards the objective of “Digital Taiwan.”

What are the initiatives to enhance the awareness and use of geospatial technology among the government?
The awareness of geospatial technology in Taiwan government is through the promotion of NGIS. Workshops and conferences are the major activities to increase the awareness of geospatial technology in government agencies. The establishment of NGIS was made possible due to the coordinated efforts among industrial, official and academic circles. In 1992, Ministry of the Interior published the “National Geographic Information System Implementation Plan.” Many pilot projects have been launched since 1992. Geospatial technology has since then become widely accepted in central government and local governments. In 2006, NGIS Steering Committee was upgraded and led by the Council for Economic Planning and Development, Executive Yuan. The new NGIS Steering Committee then drafted the “NGIS Spatial Data Infrastructure Plan for 10 years (2007-2016)” with the vision to become the leading country in Asia applying geospatial information.

How is the uptake of the technology among the private sector in the country?
With the release of phase 1 NGIS database to private geospatial industry in the year 2000, many private sector geospatial applications were established. Among the largest applications is the development of GPS navigation devices. The GPS navigation device industry in Taiwan reached USD 10 billion in 2008, with most of its products being exported to other countries. Meanwhile, many logistic companies are applying GPS fleet tracking system to improve their performance.

Which are the key segments in Taiwan using geospatial technology?
Central government organisations such as Ministry of the Interior, Council of Agriculture, Council for Economic Planning and Development, Ministry of Transportation, Environment Protection Agency, Water Resources Agency, National Fire Agency are the main users of geospatial technology. Local governments such as Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taichun City, Kaoshiung City are also the heavy users of geospatial technology.

A successful spatial data infrastructure (SDI) facilitates exchange and use of geospatial data in any country. What is the status of SDI in Taiwan? What is the role of TGIC in it?
As I mentioned earlier, in 1990, Ministry of the Interior established the “National Geographic Information System Steering Committee (NGISSC).” The Committee is composed of nine working groups from different agencies which have subsequently developed geospatial data and databases. Because the organisations where data is produced are located at different places, end users would find it very difficult to get complete, real-time spatial data from various agencies at one platform. This resulted in redundant data construction, insufficient information gathering and other issues. Furthermore, it also downgraded the strength of comprehensive and diversified geospatial data. Consequently, the NGIS Data Warehouse and Web Service Platform (simply referred to as Taiwan Geospatial One-Stop Portal, or TGOS Portal) were developed by the Information Center, Ministry of The Interior, in 2003 to provide the e-commerce services of processing geospatial data supply. Therefore, TGOS portal not only offers metadata query, geospatial data overlay and free geospatial data download; but also online purchase, payment and online geospatial data download to users.

In addition, in order to provide more solutions for authorisation requirements, TGOS portal combines the PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) feature and respective authentication function into the information security system to validate user identity. Furthermore, since 2007, with the apprehension of the needs for value-added applications among various organisations, the Information Center, Ministry of The Interior, has been advocating the Web service concept and has integrated process technology to expedite the application and development of national geographic information system, with the introduction of SOA (service-oriented architecture) for TGOS portal function enhancement; as well as the utilisation of enterprise Web 2.0 structure and standardised service interface for various sources of integrated service elements to build up the distribution of geospatial data and the application of added values.

In response to the recent expansion of system user interface, information standards and physical operation models as results of information science and GIS technology advancement, the Information Center, Ministry of the Interior, revised and integrated TGOS portal in 2008. It also drafted TWSMP 1.0 metadata standard and developed Web version as well as standard-alone version of metadata editing system in June 2007 so as to incorporate ISO 19139 encoding standards. This system is to be used by NGIS geospatial data suppliers for the purpose of efficient metadata editing and importing to set up complete NGIS metadata database and to establish a sharing environment for NGIS geospatial data distribution.

TGIC serves as a geospatial technology advisor for the Council for Economic Planning and Development. How is geospatial technology being used for economic development in Taiwan?
The Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) is applying geospatial information technology to evaluate the financial feasibility of public work projects proposed by central and local government agencies. The evaluation is based on the geospatial data provided by the NGIS and many evaluation models developed in academia. Spatial decision support system for public works evaluation is developed for CEPD and moves into its second phases.

TGIC has taken several initiatives to further the use of cloud in geospatial technology. Kindly elaborate on them?
TGIC is developing a geospatial cloud computing application framework called Multi-Agents Knowledge Oriented Cyber Infrastructure (MAKOCI), which integrates multi-agents and ontology technology to deal with semantic discovering of geographic information (GI) services and knowledge sharing for geospatial cloud computing applications. Ontologies are used for semantic interoperability and knowledge sharing for geospatial problem solving. Multi-agents can be intelligent to assist users to automatically receive information and answer queries in ontologies, make decisions and communicate with other agents or systems. By applying ontology and multi-agents techniques, MAKOCI framework contains four components to collaborate GI services and knowledge sharing in geospatial applications.

The four components include (1) iApp, a geospatial web applications and mobile app applications portal for geospatial application systems registry and searching; (2) iGIS, a geospatial data and function registry and searching portal; (3) iSDSS, a geospatial application development platform for GIS users and system developers; and (4) iWorkflow, a workflow generation platform for GIS users and developers to build geospatial workflow. Among the components, several agents are developed to simplify the complexity communication between users and ontologies. For example, user agents are designed to receive queries from users, send queries to ontology agents for querying needed GI services and workflow and record users’ activities for analysing users’ preferences. Therefore, by using multi-agents and ontologies in the MAKOCI framework, GI services, domain knowledge and geospatial problems in spatial decision support systems can be collaborated and managed intelligently, which can be a direction towards development of intelligent spatial decision support system.

Recent developments in cloud computing and linked data technology have the potential to transform a large part of the Information Technology (IT) industry, making software even more attractive as a service and shaping the way IT hardware is designed and purchased. Geospatial application is one of the fast growing industries that can benefit significantly from cloud computing and linked data technology. Geospatial applications require large volumes of geospatial data, which are traditionally managed by various government agencies. These large volumes of geospatial data will be moved into cloud computing data centre and will be published as web services and linked data for multiple use in the near future. Many countries are publishing their cloud computing policy in terms of government services. For example, United States of America published Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in 2011. The report indicates that the Federal Government’s current information technology (IT) environment is characterised by low asset utilisation, a fragmented demand for resources, duplicative systems, environments which are difficult to manage and long procurement lead times. These inefficiencies negatively impact the Federal Government’s ability to serve the American public. Cloud computing has the potential to play a major part in addressing these inefficiencies and improving government service delivery. The cloud computing model can significantly help agencies grapple with the need to provide highly reliable, innovative services quickly despite resource constraints. Taiwan government has also published its cloud computing development policy in 2010. In its Five Year development plan, Taiwan government will build government cloud computing data centres to host government cloud computing applications.

What are the challenges in your view in the uptake of geospatial technology in Taiwan?
The semantic discovery of geographic information (GI) services and knowledge sharing for geospatial problems are two critical tasks for a spatial decision support system (SDSS). While discovering suitable GI services in a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) catalog, semantic heterogeneity among GI services, which is used as the main resource for GIS data and SDSS functions, is hampered. Moreover, the knowledge, namely, which GIS data, functions, and workflows are to be used, for building an SDSS for a geospatial problem is not sharable and reusable. Thus, the same GI services (i.e., GIS data and functions) and workflows are duplicated in different SDSSs.

What are the future plans of TGIC to develop and grow the geospatial industry in Taiwan?
A cyberinfrastructure (CI) aims to coordinate information and communication technologies and acts as a computational test bed to deal with the growing volume and heterogeneity of data, information and knowledge. In the geospatial domain, a geospatial cyberinfrastructure (GCI) refers to a CI that supports the management, discovery and coordination of geospatial data, information, knowledge and technologies. Using a semantic Web for geospatial semantic interoperability and geospatial knowledge sharing is one of the steps for achieving a GCI. Therefore, TGIC has proposed MAKOCI that I have mentioned, a problem-solving framework, including a web portal, ontologies engine, SDI ontology registry and service chain, along with a prototype for geospatial semantic interoperability and geospatial knowledge sharing for geospatial decisions by using ontologies, which play essential role in the semantic web. The framework and prototype illustrates the processes needed for geospatial semantic interoperability and geospatial knowledge sharing in an SDSS, along with the cooperation required between Web service providers, domain experts, SDSS developers and decision makers for a GCI.