Al's Blog


Spatial Data - A Gold Mine

posted Mar 15, 2014, 3:04 PM by Al Douglas   [ updated Mar 17, 2014, 9:57 AM ]

So, you're a property owner, say a hospital. That means land, buildings and utility infrastructure either on one site or more. You need to plan, construct and maintain your real property assets. The ability to relate all these into a single, current spatial source of your portfolio is a challenge. Some will say that is the job of the GIS ( Geographic Information System). Possibly, but how far does that take you with regard to granularity and where is the data that feeds the GIS coming from. If the GIS department is not 'pulling' the information from the source that created it in the first place (i.e., CAD for building footprints and utility information) then you have data duplication and most likely differing attribute values. These applications, moreover the vendors behind them, are fighting for position in the role of managing your spatial data. That is the crux of this blog. You need to take ownership of your data and share it to the tools that need it. Why is this so important?

The Value Proposition

The business side of real property or if you like financial, resource planning, contracting and maintenance use, of course, business tools to do this. It is not the goal of this blog to get deep into that but suffice to say they are not spatial in nature. They do though need information that is derived from spatial systems such as; area and linear values, material types, and age to mention a few. As 'point-of-truth for this information, the value of spatial cannot be understated and should be accessible directly by the business systems so that data duplication and errors are eliminated. At least if there is an error at source, it only has to be corrected once.

Manage Your Spatial Data Separate from the Tools

If this spatial information is kept in many silos in differing formats, integration to the business system is very expensive. This segregation of spatial data is a huge problem and the key here is the data not the software applications. In the Real Property world a convergence of technologies is on the rise within the software vendors. It's about time too. However, trying to manage a real property spatial portfolio using applications alone is fractured in its nature. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are all tools used in this process and each have their own, let's say, reason to live. As an example, a GIS will have building footprints and attribution attached to those objects in the geo-database but only to a certain level. Acquiring building information at a granular level means accessing CAD or BIM data to get room data or component level information. Similarly, utility information such as sewer, water system or gas line also requires access to the data from applications it was created in. Trying to manage spatial information as an integrated data source using a spatial tool will not provide the total integration required. The data must be separated from the tools and managed in a neutral repository.

What defines spatial data? Well, do research and there is no one concise answer to that question. What I will say to this is that spatial goes beyond geometry and is highly rich in attribution that directly relates to business processes. The business side of the equation needs the ability to mine the entirety of this information from a single standardized source. Just as your business systems most likely rely on a data warehouse and OLAP to provide a consolidated view of business data, this also applies to spatial data. The best way to do this is to separate the data from the application through standardization.

Unlock Your Spatial Data

Let's say your spatial data is locked into different formats and is held in either file-based folder structures or different databases. The issue here is that altogether it represents your spatial portfolio. How can one perform portfolio-wide analysis at all levels of granulation when the data is not in one repository? You can't. The creation of a vendor agnostic spatial data warehouse that is subject to open standards such as ISO 19115, OGC, ISO/TC211, ISO/TC59, bSi IFC among others will still allow the tools to access and update this information, and provide a consolidated view for business systems to integrate with. As this structure will not change but may be amended, whatever a software vendor decides to do within their application won't have an effect on the management and integration of the data.

Links

A set of software tools that most people in the spatial world are well aware of that can help make this become a reality is FME by Canadian company, Safe Software in Surrey, British Columbia:
http://www.safe.com/

There has been a lot of discussion on this subject and there are many good resources once you start your research. I found over 50 papers and books on the subject of Spatial Data Warehousing in a short period of time during my research. Two such publications that helped me the most can be found here:
Book- http://www.amazon.com/Spatial-Database-Systems-Implementation-Management/dp/1402053932

I am currently involved in developing processes and data logistics required to implement such a system that encompasses over 37 sites, thousands of buildings and many kilometers of utility infrastructure. The ERP, CAD/BIM and GIS business units are all working together to make it happen. It is a very exciting project that will bring longevity and consistency to real property reporting, planning  and management.

Working in the Cloud

posted Mar 9, 2014, 12:29 PM by Al Douglas

Cloud computing and specifically Software as a Service (SaaS) isn’t new. Most people know this, I think, but things have changed rapidly in this arena over the past 3-4 years, mostly due to the vast technological improvements made in broadband access. One of the ‘pioneers’ and most recognizable companies in this area is of course, Google. Today there are hundreds more. It is the future of software development and deployment for many companies and for others it is here now. Companies like Microsoft and Autodesk are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure to support their plans to port their core applications to SaaS. Software piracy will be a thing of the past. You won’t need a terabyte hard drive to install your multitude of software programs on and this train is coming down the tracks faster and paradoxically, quieter than a lot of people realize.

In today’s economy companies from the largest, to the smallest, to the self-employed are looking for ways to save money to improve their bottom line. Those who depend on massive IT departments and have high costs in the area of storage and licencing for OS & DB applications should welcome this news because it can have a huge impact on reducing those costs. SaaS companies spread those costs over a wide customer base and provide that infrastructure in their licencing or subscription pricing structures. Another aspect of this type of service, in some cases, is the ability to grow into the application. Most SaaS models have levels of licencing available allowing companies to choose the functionality that each user in their organization will need.

Core SaaS business applications that are available include:
CRM – Customer Relationship Management
ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning
ECM – Enterprise Content / Knowledge Management
PM – Project Management
EA – Enterprise Accounting
CMS – Configuration Management Systems
PDM – Product Development Management for manufacturing

Cloud Hosting
My pre-amble brings us to the point of this post. More and more companies are feeling comfortable about moving to SaaS-based software services because the security levels achieved in the top-end hosting services have surpassed even their own IT infrastructures. I must qualify that statement by saying that this is only true when the hosting service is accredited and have obtained certificates from governing bodies. As an example, one company that has gone through these arduous processes to become accredited is OpSource. Visiting their site www.opsource.net makes it obvious that they are very serious about business security and are top in their class, with very few in that class. In doing your research into SaaS providers, this you MUST check out and make sure of because there are a good number of applications touting they are SaaS when really they are only ASP models.

True SaaS
Another company that has drawn my attention over the past several months and  is expanding globally at a very rapid rate is Asite PLC out of the UK <www.asite.com>. Asite is an OpSource partner and their core solution relates directly to the consulting services our company offers. Asite began it’s life in 2001 and in 2004 changed course to become a SaaS provider targeting the AEC community. They targeted this sector simply because that is where the company started. However, they didn’t build the services solely for that market. Their approach was to build a core engine, if you will, to provide data logistics involving procurement, project & content management and data exchange from/to other systems through their API. The platform has been developed in such a manner as to be incredibly open to customization by the users of the system with a module called AppBuilder. Admittedly, there are a great number of software applications that are customizable, but to offer it from the cloud is a whole different ball game. Asite allows users to independently create and publish custom interfaces with underlying work flow and processes directly to their “workspace” and also make them available on mobile devices. Having this kind of functionality built into a SaaS based system means that it can be ‘geared’ to economically bring company specific functionality to a great number of people in a global environment in a short period of time. Couple this with the OpSource partnership and you have a highly scalable, customizable platform that is proving itself with some of the most recognizable names in the AEC industry. Big business in other sectors will be quick to catch onto this because they will be able to do things that other boxed applications don’t allow, or at the very least, make very difficult to achieve.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out these web sites because they are chock full of information and freely given at at that! Just one more sign of their openness and willingness to give power to the user base, which in today’s environment is very refreshing.

Cheers…

Al

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