One aspect of the Malaysian government’s move to empower the population through the use of information and communication technology is by promoting the use of the GIS. Although a very powerful tool, awareness of GIS among the public is lacking. This is why the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia (Jupem) has embarked on a programme to make it better known. The government wants to promote its wider usage so that the public can reap the benefits it offers. However, in carrying out its tasks, Jupem is faced with two problems. The first is that the majority of the population is not exposed to spatial data and GIS software- they don’t even bother to view electronic maps on their computers. Secondly, those who are familiar with GIS software know of its prohibitive cost. So, the idea was to provide spatial data sets as well as simple manipulation and display software for a target group of users who have computers, including school children, to help increase awareness of the system. To achieve this objective, Jupem has created interactive electronic maps (e-maps) on CD-ROMs and has sold these on the Internet. The e-maps are delivered together with geographic data of the country as well as integrated, stand alone applications to view the maps. These applications serve as an introductory tool to help potential users take their first steps into the world of GIS. The multimedia applications contain many tools similiar to those found in typical GIS systems, including browsing and navigation tools, zoom functions, selection of map layers, distance measurement, area and bearing locations as well as basic point, line and polygon creation tools. The applications can be used to present and disseminate all types of maps, making it useful to both government bodies and the public alike.
For example, e-maps can make census data from the Department of Statistics more useful and understandable by identifying the boundaries of all administrative areas. Thematic maps can also be created to present the census results, thus allowing the user to visualise the geographical distributions and patterns inherent in the data. E-maps are also more practical compared with paper maps, which can be very large, making it inconvenient to scan a whole sheet to find a certain road or building. With an e-map, a place of interest can be located with a search engine and once found, can be displayed on screen. Potentially, users can have a list of all buildings and street names in the country available for search. Jupem is striving to improve these features. The eventual success of the project may only be seen in the years to come, when GIS is fully utilised in most government departments and all the advantages of the system benefit the everyday lives of the people. But for now, members of the public and government departments must appreciate the power of spatial data that GIS can harness.