August 21, 2006
Plans Ahead for Land and Property Professionals
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! James Cutler, one of the founders of eMapsite, spoke with GISWeekly on the company's origins and the development of
Plans Ahead, the latest online service from eMapSite providing up to date and detailed mapping for Great Britain, based on the Ordnance Survey's 1:1250 scale MasterMap. Read about it 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, Top News of the Week, Announcements, Contract Awards, Awards, People, New Products, Letters to the Editor and Upcoming Events.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Plans Ahead for Land and Property Professionals

by Susan Smith

James Cutler, one of the founders of eMapsite, spoke with GISWeekly on the company's origins and the development of
Plans Ahead, the latest online service from eMapSite, which provides up to date and detailed mapping for Great Britain, based on the Ordnance Survey's 1:1250 scale MasterMap, targeted to professionals across the land and property sector.

GW: Tell me how eMapSite originated.

JC: The founders of eMapSite, Justin Saunders and myself, had been working for many years with GIS, image processing and digital mapping in an international environment at what can only be described as a pretty rudimentary level - needs assessment, data capture, image interpretation, basic overlays, simple analysis, map production - mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East (the company is still out there -

In this time we had worked very closely with ER Mapper on the imaging side and consequently were among the first to see their Image Web Server application back in 1999. Here was a technology that enabled what was still then a high volume, hard to share, difficult to distribute thing (raster data!) to become far more accessible. Having not been in the data market place per se we took our time researching the possibilities, developing partnerships with key public sector information holders (PSIHs as they're now called) such as Ordnance Survey, before developing and launching eMapSite in June 2000.

As the founders had previously worked for and very closely with “professionals” (engineers, surveyors, environmental consultants, architects and so on) eMapSite was positioned as a B2B service to make their life easier, with the product offering and procurement modules being aligned with users tasks and business processes. The whole organisation, from the investment team through the technical team to the sales team, has a professional services orientation that reflects the needs, aspirations and attitudes of our markets.

To this day, this focus has remained central to our approach. As an organisation we are unencumbered by legacy software tools or commitments to vendors, confident that our long-term investment in and commitment to web services provides the platform that our customers need. eMapSite retains an independent, flexible, responsive service that continues to evolve to meet the needs of a growing market increasingly aware of the business drivers for and opportunities afforded by spatially enabling their applications and their enterprise. Plans Ahead is simply the latest manifestation of this.

GW: What generated the development of Plans Ahead?

JC: Our wider market place is dominated by users in what can be described as the “land and property” domain, a sector where eMapSite has had a growing presence since our inception, owing to its inherent overlap with our core markets. This wider market can be mapped as four interwoven groups: plan, design and build; disposals and acquisitions; asset management and investment; resource users. While the whole market continues to expand, owing to widely differing requirements, the challenge has been to meet the disparate needs from a coherent platform.

As your readers will know, Great Britain has arguably the most detailed national mapping base of any country in the world, courtesy of Ordnance Survey. In 2000, Ordnance Survey announced the release of OS MasterMap, a total re-engineering of their map base; the result was a GML encoded digital database of over 425 million features.

eMapSite was among the first to adopt this new generation of digital mapping and invested heavily in being able to provide our customers not only with the product itself but also with new ways of exploiting it. This investment has been embraced by our core users for use in their CAD and GIS systems where they now make up the bulk of OS MasterMap users outside local and central government.

In addition, the wider market place (at both ends, enterprise and consumer) has access to full colour detailed mapping never before available, thanks in part to our relationship with MultiMap (we provide the Buy Map services for GB locations) but more significantly thanks to our fully OGC-compliant WMS platform. As systems integrators and others wake up to the role of geography, it is the ability to provide access to all scales of mapping and all types of digital map product, including OS MasterMap that distinguishes eMapSite and makes our web services approach so powerful.

This has been confirmed by our market research which also indicated that there is an ongoing requirement for a range of additional geoinformation related services, in particular:

- street mapping for property particulars (our StreetsAhead service)

- the ability to preview of detailed mapping including OS MasterMap and aerial photography - to confirm what is there and enable more accurate definition of an area of interest (to save a few cents) site

- plan printing

- location based information aggregation and presentation

The latter would be reason enough for Plans Ahead, but what is so exciting for eMapSite is the opening up of a genuine gap in the market place that we are, as a genuine multi-vendor map portal, well placed to capture. We have the ability to bring together detailed data from many sources (courtesy of our investment in web services) in response to a locational query and to present that data in a variety of ways using the same tools services, a requirement hitherto unmet.

GW: Who is the primary customer for Plans Ahead?

JC: As the foregoing would suggest our primary customers for Plans Ahead are professionals across the land and property sector, including conveyancers, estate agencies, property developers, surveyors, planners, landscape planners, architects and so on. However, the creeping acceptance of web services in local and central government as well as across larger enterprises opens up a raft of opportunities for those organisations unwilling to invest in the creation of their own OS MasterMap based architecture. Consequently, we are receiving high levels of interest both in Plans Ahead and the underlying component services from systems integrators and others.

GW: Are there varying levels of usage for the service, for example, do people need to have a certain level of expertise to use it, or is it designed for a wide variety of users with varying degrees of depth in terms of adding information, manipulation, etc.?

JC: In principle all our services are developed with the user in mind and with no presumed level of competence. Familiarity with maps and spatial concepts will always be an advantage when publishing tools that enable users to define their area of interest, buffer those areas or alignments, create plans, choose formats and so on. Our core market place of professional CAD and GIS users does tend to have a technical bent and we endeavour to accommodate demands for functionality and flexibility as they emerge. As our user base broadens, issues of usability and navigation have become increasingly important and are reflected in recent developments, although we do not shy away from the need for
plug-ins (ActiveX for the main site, Java for Plans Ahead) for our online applications. Licensing restrictions mean that previewing of large scale data in Plans Ahead carries a charge; we allow users to add credit to enable them to avail of this service or to choose a product for which there is no view charge.

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