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Infrastructure Impediments


Todd Slind
Spatial Solutions Architect
CH2M HILL Enterprise Management Solutions, USA
[email protected]


Infrastructure projects are being implemented since beginning of humans civilisations started building infrastructure. Spatial data collection, its integration and management also has a long history.

Despite the long history of the usage of geospatial technologies though survey, photogrammetry, CADD and GIS, exploitation of these technologies to continuously service entire infrastructure lifecycle is rarely, if ever, accomplished to available potential. These shortcomings are largely attributable to the historic and arbitrary segmentation of the geospatial world. Surveyors, engineers, geographers and facility operators come from differing backgrounds perspectives and purposes. As each is professionally driven to focus on their segment of the infrastructure lifecycle, none are readily able to see the “big picture” opportunity to integrate across segments and build a spatial value chain. The geospatial marketplace is poised to unlock this unexploited value with the emergence of three primary dynamics: 1) open standards; 2) three dimensional (3-D) viewers; 3) development of geospatial technology at the consumer level. Open, published standards have created a truly interoperable environment in the geospatial industry. XML-based file formats (GML, KML, GeoRSS) and exchange frameworks (FDO) are the foundation for this interoperability. The incorporation of these open standards into commercial products means that the same geospatial data can be read natively by virtually any geospatial technology, be it a GPS data collector, CADD software or GIS web server. Heretofore, 3-D technology has been relegated to niche design tasks and small scale visualization. The current 3-D geospatial phenomenon, driven by the deep pockets of the likes of Google and Microsoft, has thrust this rich visual and geospatial context upon the masses. This, in turn, is driving traditional and new 3- D geospatial applications such as building information modeling (BIM). Concurrent with the introduction of 3-D geospatial to a wide audience is the presentation of consumer interest data on a map using national and global scope datasets including transportation systems, political boundaries and address geocoding. All of these things have led to a new “pull” for geospatial information where it previously did not exist. Consumers want access to information about their world (including the physical infrastructure) in real-time 3-D through their web browser. Citizens and customers have spoken, how does the infrastructure world respond? Where and in what condition is the data? Governments and businesses have invested for years in spatial databases and solutions to operate aspects of their operations (segments of the infrastructure lifecycle) more effectively. Tremendous amounts of spatial data are locked away in proprietary formats and systems making it difficult and costly to distribute. Most organizations maintain data in different formats and storage locations. Locating and distributing this data is a tedious process relying on extensive extract, transform and load procedures. This same data frequently requires spatial operations, classification or rendering as part of the ETL process. Providing the appropriate data in the correct form to the end user requires a holistic approach to geospatial systems development. It also requires an approach that leverages legacy systems without costly refactoring and migration. In the short term, existing data stores must be accessed via ETL and loosely coupled web service interfaces. For the future, the entire spatial data lifecycle must be optimized and each contributing process improved so that all relevant infrastructure data are efficiently and effectively produced, managed and served from planning through construction and on to operation. (see Figure) How and where will the end users interact? As the use of geospatial technology expands, the proportion of users who edit and update spatial geometry and attributes is going down.

Most users are interested in basic spatial queries (e.g. location and proximity) or reading spatial context into other business data. This allows for, and in fact requires, that primary access to geospatial data be provided through light-weight client and web-based integration platforms. When 90 percent of end users do not require access to the powerful geoprocessing capabilities of a full blown GIS, the consumer-level interfaces become the mainstay. With their support for open GIS and web standards, the ability to leverage legacy geospatial and business data is simple and tremendously cost-effective.







The confluence of these three dynamics – open standards, 3-D technologies, and consumer adoption – will bring us closer to achieving the potential of a spatial value chain across the infrastructure lifecycle. It is expected that this will at long last result in geospatial information serving and being enhanced by each segment in the lifecycle from conception to operation.