The Many Formats of FME

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Industry News
The Many Formats of FME
By Susan Smith

One thing about the Safe Software guys – they never let you forget they’re Canadian, and are always happy to point out if someone else is, too.

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Dale Lutz, vice president of Development of Safe Software, emerged from Canada to address an audience of Security, Government and Infrastructure (SG&I) attendees at the Intergraph 2008 conference in early June. Safe Software offers a complete, spatial ETL (extract, transform and load) solution in the form of its FME product for data conversion for numerous formats. The number of FME formats has increased exponentially since 1997, as evidenced in a slide Lutz presented entitled, “How big is the format problem?”

For Intergraph users who need to access spatial data in a variety of formats, translate and transform it into a Geo-Media or G/Technology friendly data model and format, to share out the resulting dataset(s) with users inside and outside their organization, Safe offers a customized spatial ETL solution. The FME Intergraph Edition offers support for the common formats Intergraph users work with, such as AutoCAD, ESRI ArcSDE, Oracle Spatial or GeoRaster, Microsoft SQL Server or Access, and others.

Lutz’s talk revolved around case studies where customers used G/Technology or Geomedia. In a similar vein, he spoke about how Safe is helping organizations involved in the INSPIRE spatial data infrastructure (SDI) initiative overcome two critical challenges: semantic translation and data sharing.

In two case studies presented, people brought data in or out of Geomedia to share across agencies. In one example, the Alabama Department of Revenue, the department needed to accomplish a typical CAD to GIS migration in the most efficient way with the least manual effort.

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“They were able to apply our Spatial ETL technology to do that in quite sophisticated ways,” said Lutz. “It was DWG to Shape and at the end of day they were getting Geomedia data ready to be used.”

In another case study, the company brought data from an MGE-like system that was more of a CAD/GIS hybrid together in Geomedia, while doing quality assurance along the way. “They made sure that if they formed polygons, that there weren’t more than two interior points in each polygon. Or if some of the polygons wouldn’t close, they could send that back to the legacy system to get fixed.”

According to Lutz, Geomedia’s reputation for being able to integrate and access data from various sources is well respected in the industry. Geomedia’s reach can be extended further, however, by adding FME technology into the Geomedia framework.

“Intergraph made several variants of MGE that went by different names, so in this particular case it was called ISFC, a hardware/software combination which is still being used in some areas of the federal government in the U.S.,” Lutz explained. “Fortunately, for Safe and for FME, the data model underneath was identical to MGE’s so they were just able to use our stuff out of the box.”

Further, they used FME to effectively move data models --not actual data – but data models between the ESRI world and the Geomedia world. “In particular, the big benefit they got there was that in the ESRI world someone had gone to the effort of defining what they called ‘coded domains.’ In other words, for a particular column, the value it can have are these eight choices, in other words, a pick list, which could be a number of lanes, pavement types, etc.. There were a great number of domains that had a set number of values to be set up on the Geomedia side, and they were able to use FME and Spatial ETL technology to migrate the actual data model across. The customer said it saved them dozens of hours of very tedious manual effort rekeying this data. Lutz said this was not the usual customer they deal with. “Normally we move data around, and to a smaller degree, data models, but here we were flat out moving data models around.”

In Belgium, FME and Spatial ETL were used to facilitate greater flexibility in the tools they wanted to use in the development of the National Geographic Institute (NGI) of Belgium's SDI. By bringing data into their GeoMedia environment, they were able to share up-to-date geographic information with other government agencies involved in the European INSPIRE initiative. Lutz demonstrated how customers are using FME to bring data from multiple formats, including MicroStation, ESRI SDE and AutoCAD, into the GeoMedia environment and share it with others both inside and outside their organization.

The company used a non-Intergraph database as their central database which they planned to use as a source for their Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) publishing. However, they wanted to use some Intergraph technologies in the back to do all the data preparation and data Quality Assurance. They used Safe Software staff to create the pathways, and they felt it let them use the optimal tools they could for each job. Without FME they said they would have had to choose another stereoplotting configuration and lose the possibility of validation or choose another central database format (SDO) and another field completion software. “They couldn’t have done what they felt was optimal for SDI initiatives, and this is a real need for them,” said Lutz.

“These SDI initiatives force people to make tough decisions about how they want to publish their data,” said Lutz. “The really interesting aspect of it is, what are the ripple effects of that decision and how insulated is the rest of your workflow from that decision? The message we would have is if you use our products you can be very insulated, you can make one decision as to how you’re going to publish your stuff for an SDI and not turn the world upside down for your whole production chain in-house. It’s all to do with the European INSPIRE initiative. In North American there is a national SDI initiative that a lot of government organizations at all levels are looking to implement across the board.”

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Fingal County Council Water in Ireland had G/Technology they wanted to publish on the web. They had Waterweb data sets with different data sources, the primary one at the top was the old legacy Intergraph system, FRAMME, which is used in Ireland quite frequently. They used Geomedia to create a multi-agency Intranet portal. “They decided to keep using all those systems and ultimately pump them all through FME to populate a database, in this case, Geomedia SQL Server warehouse that then they publish off of. They say, we’re not giving live access through the web back to our FRAMME systems, but every night we’ll publish up the changes and run FME again, and every night it reloads and then it’s ready for people the next day.”

Interestingly, none of these employees were programmers nor computer scientists. The water agency only hired engineers, who were all self trained in their various tasks. They managed to pull off this complex data modeling without writing a line of programming code.

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