Autodesk Topobase and MapGuide Enterprise Updates

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Industry News
Autodesk Topobase and MapGuide Enterprise Updates
by Susan Smith

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Use workflows to streamline data capture and design process, reducing inaccuracy and enforcing company standards
Last week Autodesk announced updates to Autodesk Topobase and MapGuide Enterprise. In speaking with Liam Speden, product manager, MapGuide Enterprise and Alan Saunders, senior industry manager, Telco and Utilities, GISWeekly learned what important contributions MapGuide Open Source has made to MapGuide Enterprise and what is behind the updates to both these products.

Autodesk is fond of saying that they build their products in response to their customers’ requirements. But what is particularly unusual about the MapGuide Enterprise 2008 release is that for the first time, Autodesk has begun to see open source participation incorporated into their products. Rather than being limited to beta testers and perhaps the AUGI Top 10 list of “I wants” in the products, customers and other users can download MapGuide Open Source and experiment with it, and thereby participate in future releases of MapGuide. Open source has opened up an entirely new dimension. Whatever becomes a resident part of MapGuide Open Source eventually shows up in the next release of MapGuide Enterprise.

Alan Saunders said that what drives customers in the utility industry revolves around convergence of their design, as-built and management processes, CAD and GIS processes. Other issues center around aging workforce where up to half their workers are retiring over next five years, managing challenges presented by aging assets, and being challenged to do more with less.

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Automatically created cached tiles on the server to improve performance
The other big challenge is to unlock the value of their geospatial data, to be able to use it to visualize their other systems such as outage management and their customer data, then to be able to share that information out across the enterprise with external users as well.

Both the Topobase and MapGuide Enterprise releases directly respond to those challenges, according to Saunders. “On the Topobase side, we’ve previously released water and wastewater vertical specific modules. With this release we’re announcing a Gas Industry Module so we’re continuing to roll out industry specific solutions for the utility industries. In addition to the Gas Industry Module, we are web enabling a lot of the functionality that was previously in the client version out to web browser users now. Those might be utility employers or contractors who can update job status and manage the workflow processes available in Topobase.” As utilities outsource more of their design work, the ability to conduct these processes on the web is very important.

Liam Speden described MapGuide Enterprise as the technology Autodesk has to deliver information over the web. “In 2007 there was a complete reengineering of the product architecture to align with Web 2.0 trends, at the same time releasing it as Open Source,” said Speden. “One of the key things around the web and the Autodesk Geospatial Platform is that by geospatially enabling a customer’s data or your data, the information becomes more meaningful. With open data access and ease of distribution and getting it to the end users, users can realize real business benefits for their organizations around competitive advantage, cost savings from increased efficiency, and the ability to leverage innovation to improve their workflow, not only within their organizations but extending that to their customers and external stakeholders in the general public arena.”

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Consume MapGuide maps and layers directly Google Earth
The open source participation in MapGuide Enterprise 2008 plus, the fact that it is a second release, makes it possible to deliver some substantial improvements on performance, scalability and new functionalities to keep that momentum and alignment with Web 2.0. “Better data productivity offered through the FDO (Feature Data Objects) data access technology is one improvement,” said Speden, “and also native support for Google Earth where the MapGuide Enterprise Server can now serve KML and KMZ natively into Google Earth as a client with a full range of geospatial data and functionality.” The user interface technologies continue to evolve to make the experience much more aligned with what’s happening in the wider web world.

Saunders said that Autodesk Topobase enables a rules based design environment. Another key challenge for gas utilities is reporting requirements and infrastructure, where preventative maintenance requirements for valves and stations has to be done on a scheduled basis. The new Topobase Gas Module provides an industry specific data module that captures the feature classes in topic areas such as pressure zones, supply zones and gas protection devices are all represented in the standard, out-of-the-box model. “It enables a utility to get up and running with this solution quickly,” said Saunders. “The out-of-the-box business rules for the creation and management of assets allow users to manage the connectivity and manage the tracing both forward and backward to show what houses might be affected by a gas shut off valve or damaged pipe.”

The person who manages operations and manages the preventative maintenance can get a color coded view of the pipeline network and which assets need preventative maintenance applied to them. Another user who is doing a design of the network would look at street data of where the pipeline is relative to centerline.

Today more work is done by contractors and out in the field. Web enabling job management functionality is valuable to the contractor who can make changes to a design, then update the status of the drawing, then send it to a specific person for review and approval.

“From the perspective of web based technologies, the benefit that MapGuide Enterprise delivers to customers is it allows them to maximize the value of their investment in their CAD, geospatial and business data by providing a mechanism for them to cost effectively deliver that information out to the broader audience,” explained Speden. “In terms of getting the right data to the right people at the right time and out of departmental silos and data stores, it’s key that we provide them with the means to not only access the information but also scale to meet future needs.” Improvements include adding better scalability through inbuilt load balancing across different servers, improved connectivity by having the ability to have unmanaged data resources, that are data resources not held in a specific single repository, and also more flexible ways of managing a coordinate system and previewing the way in which information, maps, etc. are going to be displayed on the web.

Autodesk has also made cartographic and user interface enhancements in MapGuide Enterprise, i.e. linestyles, symbolization, as well as simplifying and clarifying the application programming interface so developers who want to customize their systems and want to integrate with other business systems can do so with the least amount of effort. They are aiming to create an API that is consistent within the wider web.

Google Earth support allows a utility to manage their own information internally very consistently but deliver information into a very common, almost ubiquitous user interface that allows a customer service agent to send updates to storm inquiries or power outages (not necessarily over the web), leaks or break information in a mechanism that a lot of people in the public domain are very familiar with.

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