January 30, 2006
Replace Your Programmer and Consultant
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! The title of this article may leave some of you gasping for breath if you happen to be a programmer or consultant. But for those who are trying to bring down the cost and time involved in developing websites or GIS web applications for their agencies or companies, the following information could be a godsend.

Read about mPower Integrator, a "rapid integration toolkit" or web development tool for building web GIS applications for Autodesk MapGuide and ESRI ArcIMS users, 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, Awards, Financials, Appointments, Wins, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think.
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Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Replace Your Programmer and Consultant

by Susan Smith

Click to Enlarge
The title of this article may leave some of you gasping for breath if you happen to be a programmer or consultant. But for those who are trying to bring down the cost and time involved in developing websites or GIS web applications for their agencies or companies, the following information could be a godsend.

This week GISWeekly spoke with Greg Calcari and Scott Hameister of mPower Technologies, a partner and offshoot of Taylor Technologies, based out of Appleton, Wisconsin. Taylor is a large Autodesk partner that sells and implements Autodesk design software nationally. The partnership focuses on architectural, civil and GIS applications.

Although mPower maintains many strong connections with Taylor, it is a company in its own right, focusing on its mPower Integrator, a "rapid integration toolkit" or web development tool for building web GIS applications for Autodesk MapGuide and ESRI ArcIMS users.

mPower Integrator allows users to take control, thus its name, mPower (empower). It allows them to set up a sample website using their own data. They don't need a consultant to do this; it's an inexpensive and effective way to have a website where they can build in their own queries and reports.

If this technology sounds familiar, it is. It is the underpinning to Autodesk MapGuide, technology that empowers government agencies to set up websites within a short period of time and allows them to dictate access to it. Scott Hameister was brought on board some years ago to deploy the product at a few test sites, and since then, it has taken off. Now there are many mature installations of mPower.

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Hameister built an integrator for end users to do several very empowering things -build their own queries and reports, do redlining, pan and zoom, with multiple levels of administrative and security access, so they can give the chief of police access to certain layers of the data, and the land records group something totally different. At first, the product was designed only for MapGuide, but then mPower decided to go after the larger ESRI market by making it available for ArcIMS users.

"So many governments are frustrated by getting a GIS in place, and blow their budgets in the first year by getting a custom GIS application by a GIS consultant, and that's it, it becomes a static site, that is all they have the budget for. If a department wants to tap into that data they have to go back the consultant," said Greg Calcari. "We have some counties that have 20-25 different departments with full blown intranet and internet deployments. They did it all internally [with mPower] without spending thousands of dollars on custom programming."

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mPower Integrator is built with the Cold Fusion web programming encryption language for accessing databases (now owned by Adobe). "It's all done on the server, so when you interact with the database and ask questions of it, the user doesn't see that part of the code," explained Hameister. "The part of code they see is only the html or the text output. All that work is being done behind the scenes where it's not visible to a hacker."

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mPower customers have a GIS in place already, they just want a way to be able to get their data transmitted via the web to others who can use it. "The best way to put it," said Hameister, "is we're replacing the programmer and the consultant. The users have MapGuide or ArcIMS, and all they need to know how to do is author up their map and our product allows them to go and create a departmental website or other website with the map. They can then say, 'these are the users that have access to that site.' A county might have sixteen different sites - one for the health department, one for the zoning department, four that are publicly accessed, all on one product. They can then
go in and say, 'here's a database of zoning information, I'm going to share that database with the zoning department website. Anyone who's been given permission to build reports and queries on the zoning website can then go through the wizards and start building queries and reports." As long as users know what layers are theirs in the map and they know what the parcel ID looks like, and they know their database, from there they can build their own interface, and decide to whom they want to give access.

Will mPower support other GIS products, such as MapInfo and Geomedia? "That is going to be on an as-requested basis," said Hameister. "We are looking at the MapGuide Open Source which will hopefully be done by June. Hameister added that no matter what platform they built on, they could actually wrap around the new platform within weeks.

What level of expertise is required? "It depends on how much you empower people," explained Hameister. "If you want a zoning department to generate reports and queries, then they need to know their database. Whoever knows the database, can do it."

mPower has a piece called Modules, which allows other people to actually build code into mPower. "Some of our customers added advanced pan and zoom features. You can send data from your database out to a pre-existing web page, convert it and make it OGC-compliant, if you had that engine. A company called PlanSite is taking their whole product line, and turning it into Integrator modules. so you can buy Integrator and get their more advanced tools."

"Right now, one of our users has created a module that lets you send a square of what you're currently viewing in either ArcIMS or MapGuide. It then sends that square on top of Google Earth, then zooms in. It shows you in your website where you are currently looking and it shows you in Google Earth where you are currently looking." The obvious next step, Hameister added, is for mPower to take that module created by the user (if he gives permission, of course), grab the image from MapGuide or ArcIMS and display the map directly on Google Earth.

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