June 15, 2009
Building Geo-Enabled Mashups in Minutes
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Building Geo-Enabled Mashups in Minutes

By Susan Smith


A new version of Visual Fusion, Visual Fusion 4.0, was released in May by IDV Solutions. The visual mashup software offers integration between Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and geospatial mashup technology. How this integration works is that Visual Fusion extends features of SharePoint-lists, libraries, templates and Web parts-to automate geo-tagging and provide an interactive, visual user interface, according to Scott Caulk, product manager at IDV Solutions. Users can work with familiar tools such as Microsoft Office and create geo-enabled Word and PowerPoint documents, Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint Lists and Libraries and integrate these seamlessly into map applications and other
mashups.


“It’s software that allows you to build apps,” noted Caulk. “Historically those have been geospatially focused, putting enterprise data on the map and then integrating all kinds of business systems with web data, SharePoint data and Excel files. Essentially any data source you can get your hands on we can integrate all on top of a map.”


As a “Microsoft shop,” IDV Solutions defaults to Bing (Virtual Earth), but Caulk said they can “put stuff on top of Google.” “With the newest version of our product, we’ve redone the front end in Silverlight which gives developers the ability to extend the front end and get into the code, and make things happen the way they want, plus there are some visual effects that we couldn’t do with Flash.”


Another enhancement in the new 4.0 release is extending the ability to create mashups for anybody. Within SharePoint, Visual Fusion has GUI tools called AppHub for “application hub” and Composer which was already part of the product and has been upgraded in this release.


“Using these GUIs you can go from nothing to an app in just a few minutes,” said Caulk. “How much time it takes you depends on how many data sources you want to integrate. You can go from nothing to something in about five minutes, based on how intricate you want to get, how much custom work you want to do, how many different sources you want to integrate.”


Caulk said all their customers are moving to the newest version of the product.


Core benefits of Visual Fusion 4.0 are that users can create apps quickly. The second core benefit is the product is designed and built for the average business user and not necessarily the GIS professional.


Caulk also noted that IDV Solutions has a very deep SharePoint integration. With Visual Fusion you can build apps inside SharePoint, offering modified content types and leveraging workflow and site templates. SharePoint is a huge market for the company.


When users add any Office document (from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint) to a library built with a Visual Fusion template, they can specify a location. Visual Fusion automatically assigns latitude and longitude coordinates to the document. For Excel spreadsheets, Visual Fusion can assign coordinates to each row in the spreadsheet that has a location. Users in an enterprise can see the library that has been added to a mashup plus the geographic relationships and access any of the documents. There is also a template for geospatially enabling InfoPath forms, so that information that is added to these forms goes directly into the map without the user needing to import and program the
information in.


Caulk said that the key capabilities of the 4.0 release is it ability to connect to any data source. It is truly designed for the business user rather than the GIS professional.

“It’s a platform with software to rapidly build your killer apps,” explained Caulk. “Most of our customers only deal with a singular problem – we’re uniquely positioned to help them solve that problem and give them something they really love. We may take a couple of months to build a killer app for them. At the same time, we’re the second bullet, we’re a platform to rapidly build killer apps, so it could just be just that one singular app that solves one particular problem or allows you to do maybe supply chain management. There are a lot of little apps that help out with any business question or issue that pops up today.”


Although most customers really want the first scenario of solving the single problem, Caulk said when enterprise mashups become popular within the enterprise, the other capabilities of Visual Fusion will become more popular too. Business users will be able to build dozens of apps themselves.


Visual Fusion is installed within SharePoint, so any data that’s in the SharePoint library or list is automatically discovered. The product has connectors to other data sources like SQL server, Oracle and ArcGIS, so the procedure for using those data sources is to set up a config file, an XML file to identify where the location of the server is, the name of the store, procedure or the table, then the user must define what attributes to grab out of that table. For those data sources for which Visual Fusion does not have a native connector, through the SDK a user can connect with other sources and various web feeds such as KML, WMS and GeoRSS.


When setting up layers, users have the option of setting a Z index. For anything serving as a base map, you will set the Z index low as possible. It is configurable so that you can set weather on top if you wish, or allow them to come in at the same level if you don’t set them.


IDV Solutions also released a mobile app called Contribute for the iPhone that can be installed with the Visual Fusion application. It enables the user to take a photo and attach comments to it and upload it to the SharePoint library, to be thereafter become part of the data feed automatically displayed in Visual Fusion.


Another product, SpatialWiki, is a drawing tool that allows anyone to produce points, lines and polygons in a simple user interface which are saved into a SharePoint library as KML. They can also be used in creating a common operational picture or to define areas.


Just last week IDV Solutions announced that Visual Fusion is integrated with the cloud on Microsoft’s Azure. The app can be seen in a


Top News of the Week


GISCafe Today is a new blog written by GISCafe and GISWeekly Editor, Susan Smith, which offers thoughts and insights on some of the more important announcements from the GIS/geospatial industry, plus an opportunity for readers to comment. Offering blogs is a way for us to extend our coverage of the numerous developments in the geospatial industry, so take a look and let us know what you think.



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