November 14, 2005
Spatial Data Provisioning - Supporting the Role of Data Steward
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! Sharing geospatial data continues to be a hot button with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as with private agencies. The issue has come to the forefront repeatedly during the critical emergency situations that the U.S. and the world have experienced lately - unprecedented disasters that have flung government agencies into a tailspin and created a huge demand for sharable data. Read how SANZ' EarthWhere combines data management, image processing and dissemination into an expert system that helps makes data usable in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Agreements/Alliances, Announcements, New Products, Financials, Appointments, Wins, Awards, Office Openings, and Upcoming Events.

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Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Spatial Data Provisioning - Supporting the Role of Data Steward

By Susan Smith

Sharing geospatial data continues to be a hot button with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as with private agencies. The issue has come to the forefront repeatedly during the critical emergency situations that the U.S. and the world have experienced lately - unprecedented disasters that have flung government agencies into a tailspin and created a huge demand for sharable data.

But how do these agencies go about sharing geospatial data? At the time of a disaster, the agencies are naturally operating on red alert, and must produce specific products with their constituents from their unique datasets often combined with the datasets from other agencies. Their output products are specific to whatever mission they are assigned to and unique to their particular area of expertise.

Much advice has been offered, such as consolidating rather than duplicating datasets. This approach has been stonewalled by many organizations for fear of losing control of data or allowing access where the agency doesn't want it to be. But what about providing access to your existing data sets for other agencies? If access is provided, how can agencies provide the guidance and expertise required to fully leverage these unique datasets?

SANZ' EarthWhere is a software application that combines data management, image processing and dissemination into an expert system that helps makes data usable. According to Mark Hardy, Vice President and General Manager Geospatial Solutions Group of SANZ, “In agencies, we're finding that a data steward not only manages the data, but provides valuable educational outreach on how to best use these datasets for real world applications. It makes sense to keep the knowledge base and the data in one location but then, given the situation, allow them to share both their expertise and their datasets with the rest of the community.”

The way that EarthWhere is able to actually manage data so that a wider audience can use it, is by cataloging in its source format as early in the image supply chain as possible. The application catalogs it in its native format so that it will have increased value to a wider range of users. “Often organizations over process their datasets which are good for a select group of end-users, but may make the data unusable to other members of the community. You don't want to change the pixels, and you don't want to put it into a format exclusive to one group of end-users,” warned Hardy, “because you don't know what format people are ultimately going to need it in.” He
continues, “ In many systems the data must be processed into proprietary formats and then the user needs a specific tool to get it out. At that point, access to the data becomes restricted, what we call 'Vendor-Lock.' In EarthWhere, we have a spider which will come through and look at all your data holdings and, using standard OGC and FGDC metadata, will put it into our catalog and present it directly to the end-user. We don't change any pixels.”

Secondly, EarthWhere can restrict access to datasets where necessary. “A customer may have a large quantity of data that they bought from DigitalGlobe that is license restricted to only select users,” said Hardy. “They can configure EarthWhere to allow only those users to have access to comply with license restrictions for the data.” Hardy explained that during Hurricane Katrina, SANZ EarthWhere hosted a large amount of DigitalGlobe data that could be served up to first responders, DoD and the National Guard units only. “Other people who logged in to the EarthWhere site didn't see those datasets. This makes it easy for data stewards to manage their archives in
one catalog and restrict access to various users based on internal business requirements. With this approach, our customers don't have to have a catalog for their restricted data and another catalog for their open data.”

Thirdly, provisioning of data is key to the EarthWhere application. Provisioning is the process of creating custom derivative datasets from generic data sources and is a key component of the EarthWhere application. Hardy gave the example of a DigitalGlobe tile of over half of New Orleans, and another tile over the other half of New Orleans. What if you need a dataset over an area that's right in the middle of the two? “I can either ship these two files, that are each over 2Gb across the network and let somebody else piece it together for me, or with EarthWhere automatically create that derivative mosaic file on-the-fly and deliver just the pieces that are needed by that
end-user,” suggested Hardy. “So instead of 4Gb of data across the network, I may just produce 10 Mb and I do that on-the-fly, based on the needs of my specific end-user.”

“In some cases, our customers can catalog their data in its source format prior to typical post processing,” Hardy explained. “If they purchase multi-spectral data, they can extract just the bands that they need within their area of interest. So if they need to produce natural color, EarthWhere extracts those bands but if the end-user wants color infrared to view vegetation impact, then the system will provision those bands. Users can take the source datasets and massage them to fit their specific needs.”

“For example, we had some National Guard folks who wanted to land helicopters. Their job is to go protect property and people in a typically unknown city.. First we provided access to the full four-band Quickbird imagery. They said to us, 'This multispectral data is great, but all we want to do is find out where we can land a helicopter.' So we showed them how to extract information that was very specific to their task by provisioning products that showed everything that was dry vs. everything that was wet. They then downloaded this specific product and measured the area to determine if they could land a helicopter there. We acted as data stewards by providing both the data, tools
and education to help them extract the information that was critical to their mission.”

“This data usability is critical for operational end-users like the National Guard who potentially don't know remote sensing or image processing,“ said Hardy. “All they want is information so they can do their jobs.”

Another example of pushing data management upstream was demonstrated by the addition of support for sensor model support for the Applanix DSS camera. 'Photocorrs' are the raw data, generated by the plane, that offer another example of archiving upstream. “The key for managing data is to get it as early in the process as you can, so if you can get it right off the plane before it's had anything done to it and process it on the way out, you can support a wider audience, and also if you support a wider audience you increase the overall value of the investment you've made in the data. So the photocorr is the raw
data, georeferenced but is not in ortho. It's not a map, it's a bunch of pixels where you kind of know where it is on the earth. Then we're able to actually create the ortho and create the product at the same time.”

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