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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
FME 2007 Focuses on European Community
by Susan Smith
The latest release of Safe Software's spatial ETL (extract, transform and load) platform, FME 2007, features several expanded enhancements that make it even easier for the European geospatial community to address data interoperability challenges associated with new national standards. Read what Safe Software President Don Murray and VP of Product Development Dale Lutz have to say about these important capabilities for European users that were introduced in FME 2007.
GISWeekly: Why the focus on the European community in the FME 2007 release?
Dale Lutz: Key to every market in Europe and any country really, is support for national formats. If you can read a country's national data and provide support for their coordinate systems, your solution will be very attractive in that market. Every country has its own coordinate systems so providing broad support for these is also important.
Don Murray: The European GIS community certainly faces some interesting challenges that FME can really help with. For example, the pan-European project, INSPIRE, aims to create a European spatial information infrastructure that delivers integrated spatial information services to users from a diverse range of sources. We've been supporting the Joint Research Centre, who is the advisor for that project and makes recommendations on how to share data. I was at a conference in Portugal put on by the European Union (EU) and one of the big things they're struggling with is how to transform data as they move it between different communities.
In Canada, we really only have to worry about one thing - just getting the data model right. In the EU, organizations face different challenges because they have different users who speak different languages. Even countries have different names depending on who the user is. So now the transformation aspect of a project is even more important. For example, how do you create database logic so that “Germany” becomes “Deutschland” for some users? This is just one small example of the massive undertaking that INSPIRE is working on.
Making data immediately available over the web so that users aren't encouraged to maintain their own is also a challenge. Our FME technology has a lot to offer organizations that are building systems like INSPIRE. Of course, as a Spatial ETL tool, FME doesn't do the web mapping visualization or the database components, but rather, it provides the plumbing between the two so that users are able to view the data in the way that makes the most sense for the underlying communities.
Dale Lutz: To illustrate the importance of format support in a viable spatial ETL solution, we only need to look at countries where we haven't been as successful. Take Norway, for example, there are very few FME users in Norway, and the reason for that can be traced to the fact that FME doesn't support the SOSI format right now. We're working with a partner to add support next year. If you can't read the national standard format, organizations won't be able to invest in your solution.
GW: Will you be able to link the national datasets of different countries?
DM: As part of the INSPIRE project, countries that are in the EU will be working to bring users data that is more seamless. As INSPIRE unfolds, our goal is to have FME perform the task of resolving different models so that the data is made available to many different communities in the most useful structure. We feel strongly that data model transformation is key to INSPIRE. There is not a standard way to perform/specify transformations at this time. The de facto standard way of doing it at this point is using our FME technology.
GW: Is the ETRS89 a coordinate system that many countries are using?
DM: It is the European Terrestrial Reference System 1989, a complete coordinate system of the earth. The idea is that each of the different countries has to come up with a scheme to move their traditional mapping onto that new grid of measurement. In Spain, FME has been used to support transforming or moving the Spanish lat/long data to ETRS89.
GW: How does Safe learn about these niche formats?
DL: The trick for us is in befriending individuals within the various mapping agencies. Either Safe or our resellers have created a pipeline to local experts who have communicated to us exactly how they're achieving a transformation from their traditional mapping reference system to a modern one. We translate that need into capabilities for our FME platform that the mass market can then use.
The GIS mass market sometimes triesto do data transformation even without knowing about Safe Software, but it is complex, time-consuming process. With FME, we can offer a solution that is a lot faster and more efficient.
GW: From your press release it appears that each country is focusing on a different standard.
DM: Many countries adopt either GML- or XML-based data standards with different data models. Indeed, part of the beauty and power of GML/XML is its expressiveness. If we look at the UK for example, they have OS MasterMap which has a different data model than the GML-based standard used in Germany. GML, as the name indicates, is not a format but rather a language to define formats. It takes a great deal of work for FME to read all the different schemas and then make them appear simple to the user. What we do is analyze the documentation that accompanies the standard and then work to make it simple for the typical user to work with.
In the U.S. you have, for example, TIGER GML (EPA has an XML based format) and NATO GML. The ability of FME to perform data model transformations is key to organizations being able to read from and write to these data models.
GML is a standard, so by using it organizations are embracing standards. GML provides a standard non-proprietary way of storing or exchanging data. There is huge value in that.
GW: Are there other countries that you'll be working with?
DL: The big initiative we are focused on now is Japan. Japan is underway with a GML standard of their own, JPGIS. We've done a lot of work over the summer on this.
There are also formats that are targeted at particular industries that we are adding support for in FME. For example, AIXM, an international aeronautical standard format used by NAV Canada, Eurocontrol and the FAA. FME also supports a number of different national formats in both New Zealand and Australia.
In fact, FMEsupports just over 200 formats now. We don't just add formats, however, we also focus a lot of effort on maintaining these formats. Formats, like anything, keep evolving. FME has played a role ins almost any country that is very far along with its mapping infrastructure.
GW: Are a lot of countries using open source for their national standards?
DL: The INTERLIS 2 plug-in from Switzerland is actually open source. FME architecture is open so it was easy for someone to write an open source plug-in that reads and writes the INTERLIS 1 and 2 format in FME.
The new formats that several countries are coming up with are open source, whereas in the past many formats have been proprietary. For example, in the U.S. much of the data in the past has been shapefiles (which does have an open spec), or coverage files, but now the movement is to make all the data available in a non-proprietary format such as OGC GML so that users are free to pick whatever tool they want creating a more level playing field for the various vendors.