Developing a platform to facilitate sharing spatial data
Users of positioning and spatial information services and tools require precise spatial information in realtime and real-world objects. Simply an accurate positioning of a future subdivision is no longer accepted, users require it to be visualized as well, in order to take into account outside in?uences. The capacity to meet such user needs and deliver services and tools within the spatial information market has gone beyond the ability of single organisations (Rajabifard, et al, 2005a). There is now a wide range of products and services available for a wide range of IT applications, and hence the development of an enabling platform can facilitate access to data and sharing resources and tools among different practitioners. The creation of an enabling platform for the delivery of these tools and positioning applications will allow users from diverse backgrounds to work together with current technologies to meet the dynamic market place.
Up until now, individual jurisdictions within Australia for example have started utilizing different platforms in attempting to create mechanisms for accessing and delivering spatial data and associated applications and tools in a coordinated fashion. This has been done through the use of hierarchies of information, where jurisdictions utilize information both by those within a jurisdictional level as well as those at a higher or lower jurisdictional level. The benefits of this sharing of information have been documented, however they do not necessarily break down the barriers between jurisdictions. Just because different information can be gained about Victorian state for example from different jurisdictional levels, does not mean that the information will necessarily be compatible (it may not be of the same accuracy or have the same specifications, utilize the same symbology, etc) (Rajabifard, et al, 2005b). There is now a need to create a common rail gauge within Australia to aid in implementing initiatives which solve crossjurisdictional and national issues. In order to meet this need, there is a requirement for an enabling platform.
What is an enabling platform
The development of an enabling platform for a country or a jurisdiction will enhance the capability of government, the private sector and the general community in engaging in systems based, integrated and holistic decision making about the future of that jurisdiction. Applications, tools, and different sorts of information would be available through the platform to build a view of, query and allow decisions to be based on, both the built and natural environments. This platform must also include the administration and institutional aspects of such features, enabling both technical and institutional (eg. policies) aspects to be incorporated into decision-making. This is an aspect of research identi?ed as more challenging than complex technical issues (Rajabifard, et al, 2005a).
The development of an enabling platform is being investigated within Australia by researchers in the Department of Geomatics, at the University of Melbourne. As part of this, an investigation within Australia of various spatial information initiatives has been undertaken in order to identify potential concepts and principles to facilitate the development of an enabling platform such as Virtual Australia. Overall, development of data sharing and access mechanisms for each jurisdiction was the major driving force in the majority of government activity at state and national level in Australia. This aims to reduce duplication of effort and expense occurring in creating data, infrastructure and a framework for data sharing throughout jurisdictions at all levels.
A lack of effective interaction between the traditionally strong land and property information focus of spatial information with management of the natural resources, scientific information and socio-economic information was also an issue. State Governments in particular however are addressing these issues through the creation of whole-of-government spatial information initiatives which, when appropriate jurisdictional and institutional practices in place, would contribute to and link off an enabling platform. The development of National initiatives such as Australia’s Ocean’s Portal and the Australian Disaster Information Network (AusDIN) along with the development of state based land information systems all have similar aims to that of the creation of an enabling platform – making information and applications widely available to users.
As Figure 1 shows, an enabling platform is an infrastructure that supports a knowledge base to access information derived from a model of integrated datasets from different disciplines such as the natural and built environments. It can comprise of individual organizations or partners working as a collaborative network to deliver specialized products and services for various applications such as animal and disease control and counter terrorism, on the basis of common standards (like OGC) and business understanding, creating distributed functions within the organisations (Radwan et al. 2003). It can also support ready access to applications of spatial information to support decision making at different scales for multiple purposes. It could be viewed as an infrastructure linking data users and providers on the basis of the common goal of data sharing across jurisdictions.
The creation of an enabling platform for access to information and technology would help to lower barriers to access and use of spatial information and tools within the spatial information industry. This lowering of barriers will enable industries to concentrate on their core business objectives to greater effect, would reduce duplication of effort, reduce costs and encourage investment in capacity for generating and delivering a wider range of products and applications (CRC, 2005).
Creating an enabling platform
The investigation of current spatial information initiatives undertaken within the various jurisdictions of Australia provides insight into the facets of research needed to create an effective enabling platform. Government entities have identified the need for improved data access and sharing arrangements and have started building their data access platforms and virtual systems for jurisdictions. The development of an enabling platform needs to link with and build on technical and institutional experience and progress made towards the development and utilisation of ICT within jurisdictions.
The technical basis for delivery of whole-of-government on-line systems, investigated within Australian jurisdictions for example, would
The ability to deliver the concept of an enabling platform for the delivery of spatial information and positioning tools and applications however will also require an investigation of the way that data will be stored in the future. The ability to allow massive consolidation of spatial data sets across all jurisdictions may enable the creation of a seamless enabling platform, although there is the need to look closely at the advantages and disadvantages of both a distributed data model verses a consolidated model. It is important to utilise the latest technology in the creation of an enabling platform, with new data base management software and technology promising to change the way in which data is stored. The benefits of such technology are already being seen in the concept of virtual libraries, the emerging GRID computing technologies and super servers throughout the world. However there is general acknowledgement that the major challenges in implementing an enabling platform are not technical, but institutional, legal and administrative in nature (CRC, 2005).
In order to develop an effective enabling platform, it is important that it is developed with the full cooperation of current initiatives within the research field. Currently in Australia, the majority of whole-ofgovernment initiatives based at a state level are being developed through open standards based distributed network architectures. Technically, existing state based initiatives have the potential to contribute to the development of an enabling environment for Australia – however a lot of work needs to be done with respect to institutional practices to make the technology effective. There must have systematic interaction between developers and potential endusers to understand information and positioning needs as a data centric design approach is not desired. An enabling environment for all needs to be created which includes both a top-down and bottom-up approach based on current spatial information and positioning initiatives. To do this effectively depends on the ability to research and implement key institutional arrangements and a governance framework that encourages whole-of-government solutions to major economic, social and environmental issues. A pervasive feature of organisations world-wide, including Australian governments and industry is a reluctance to collaborate with others outside ones immediate work group. Where a strong business driver exists, then collaboration and sharing is possible, however negotiations are generally time-consuming and difficult and at best short-term rather than strategic long-term. This makes multiagency cooperation on long-term projects very difficult to organize. An enabling platform would not only provide ready and seamless access to spatial data, information products and tools, but would also comprise jurisdictional governance & interagency collaborative arrangements for such cross jurisdictions and government-industry collaboration.
An enabling platform aims to link public and private industries, facilitating the sharing of spatial information and positioning data, services and applications. The development of an enabling platform for Australia shows that it will enhance the capability of government, the private sector and the general community to engage in systems based, integrated and holistic decision making about the future of Australia. It will allow decisions to be based on a model where a wide variety of data/information in both vector format and raster format can be accessed to build a view of the nation’s social, environmental and economic management. Development of information and communications technology, as well as developments in the area of computing and database management may begin to provide some other ways of going about the creation of an enabling platform. The research being undertaken within the Department of Geomatics aims to overcome the inherent, lockedin effects that current systems have created over time, providing an enabling environment in which spatial based applications and user communities can grow.
This article is based on a paper titled “Creating an Enabling Platform for the Delivery of Spatial Information” prepared for the Spatial Sciences Conference, September 2005. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, the University of Melbourne, and the members of the Centre for SDIs and Land Administration at the Department of Geomatics, the University of Melbourne, in the preparation of this article and the associated research. However, the views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily re?ect the views of these groups.
CRC (2005), Report on Concepts and Principles for Virtual Australia, Internal Research Publication, CRC-SI, Melbourne, Australia.
Radwan, M., Alvarez, A., Onchaga, R. and Morales, J. (2003), Designing an Integrated Enterprise Model to support Partnerships in the Geo- Information Industry, MapAsia, 2003.
Rajabifard, A., Binns, A and Williamson., I. (2005a), Creating an Enabling Platform for the Delivery of Spatial Information, Proceedings of SSC 2005 Spatial Intelligence, Innovation and Praxis: The national biennial Conference of the Spatial Sciences Institute, September, 2005. Melbourne: Spatial Sciences Institute.
Rajabifard, A., Binns, A and
Utilising an SDI Enabled Platform,
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