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CASE FILES: Knowing the Lay of the Land

F.Y. Teng | Feb. 23, 2012
Fourteen government agencies came together to work on a very powerful National Spatial Data Infrastructure for Singapore.

The Singapore Geospatial Collaborative Environment “SG-SPACE” is the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) of Singapore. It was a national collaborative initiative–involving a total of 14 government agencies–to create and sustain an environment where geospatial data, policies and technologies are integrated to foster innovation, knowledge and value creation for the government, enterprises and the national community at large.

SG-SPACE, was primarily established to provide “a mechanism to make available the interoperable, organised and authoritative geospatial information” called for not only by national-level decision-makers and public security forces, but also by cost effective business owners and managers. At the same time, it was aimed at promoting location awareness among the citizens of Singapore.

With all these objectives in mind, CIO Chan Chin Wai and his team at the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), worked very closely with the many stakeholders in the multiagency effort, toward what they framed as the key business outcome of SG-SPACE: to turn Singapore into “’a spatially enabled nation,’ where geospatial information was readily available and used effectively by citizens and businesses for better decision making.” They then set about putting together SG-SPACE’s underlying IT infrastructure, called GeoSpace.

The Users Surveyed
A User Need Assessment Survey (UNA) was conducted in October 2008 by the SG-SPACE Technical Committee to poll all public agencies to assess the current situation on the supply, demand and sharing and applications of spatial data.

The survey revealed the following.

Many agencies faced difficulty in determining the source agency for data and if certain data is available and the lack of protocol for sharing spatial data. These placed limitations on the extent of benefits that could be reaped from the entire store of Geospatial Information available nationally on record.

Eighty-three percent of agencies indicated that they needed spatial data but only 35 percent of agencies were supported by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for spatial data management and analysis.
Seventy-seven percent of organisations collected address information from their customers as part of their operations. This indicated the wealth of potential spatial data to be created and the importance of location information in supporting government functions.

Forty percent of existing spatial data layers was available for sharing to other government agencies for use. However, due to the lack in information protocol, data sharing between agencies was mostly bilateral and the process of accessing data was less efficient than desirable.

Twenty-two percent of spatial data layers adopted recognised metadata standards. The remaining 81 percent adopted an array of different standards or did not create or maintain metadata at all. The absence of metadata or non-standardised metadata made it difficult for data to be searched, discovered and used by others.

Specific Objectives Set, IT Aligned
To meet the challenges described above, the following business objectives were defined for the GeoSpace system.

    Encourage government agencies to share data.
    Increase use of accurate and timely geospatial information.
    Implement data and metadata standards defined by the SG-SPACE Technical Committees.
    Ensure quick discovery and high usability.
    Facilitate e-consultation and collaboration among government agencies.
    Spur many downstream interagency applications and services.

The multiple teams, on their way to meeting all these targets, developed GeoSpace on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Indeed, what they built was a marvel. Using a Geospatial Cloud Computing-based platform where data, applications and tools are published as services, GeoSpace today represents a whole new concept in delivering NSDI. The GeoSpace portal, which went live on 15 Feb 2011, today provides powerful integrated data and metadata searches for textual and spatial data, a web based map interface for data visualisation and several geospatial collaboration and consultation tools.

To enable greater supply of concurrent and authoritative geo-spatial contents, GeoSpace integrated with several data hubs and live content sources using custom built Hub Integration Tools (HIT), including Business Hub, People Hub, Security Hub and SG-DATA. With the launch of GeoSpace, Singapore became the first country in the world to have an integrated geospatial data store for land, sea and air.

Targets Met, Exceeded
The GeoSpace system was developed–with the special expertise of the project’s main vendor and overall systems integrator, Mahindra Satyam–in a record 12 month period (December 2009–March 2011), and at a one time capital cost of S$5.5 million (US$4.34 million), which covered work done in the complex integration of it with several data hubs and data provider agencies.

And with it more than a few technological and operational feats were achieved. For the first time a portal was made available across the entire Singapore government to view more than 400 layers of geospatial data. The users of GeoSpace could make one-stop searches for both textual and spatial data facilitated by integrated search with SG-DATA. (Google Search Appliance was successfully customised to provide geospatial/location search capability.)

GeoSpace is the first system in the world to use Oracle Enterprise Service Bus 11g to register and provide SOA capability for Geospatial services and APIs. Oracle Web Centre was used to deliver “Spatial Community” portal, which enables officers from different agencies to form virtual teams and set up forums to discuss common issues over a realtime map based collaboration platform. And the Geospatial Cloud Computing model of GeoSpace provides flexibility to the government agencies in deploying business applications by consuming GeoSpace data, tools and application APIs; this in turn means substantially reduced start-up costs and lead times typically needed to deliver new services and applications.

Value Delivered
GeoSpace offered up measurable value on three main fronts.

For one, it improved business processes and operations. Clearly, Singapore agencies such as the Land Transport Authority the Urban Renewal Authority, and JTC are today taking full advantage of daily data updates, and having improved internal systems, operations and business processes, as a result of GeoSpace. There are around 400 layers across 35 agencies now actively sharing data via GeoSpace today. The numbers on this include the following: 85 percent of government agencies are now contributing and sharing their data via GeoSpace; 95 percent of existing spatial data layers from agencies are sharable via GeoSpace; 95 percent of spatial data layers have adopted GeoSpace metadata standards, making them easy to discover and use.

It started providing excellent connectivity within government, then naturally became a preferred platform for the development of several value added e-services and applications. Among them: an integrated map system for government agencies to deliver location-based services and information called Onemap (www.onemap.sg); and, a one-stop portal for citizens to purchase property and land related information from multiple agencies called an Integrated Land Information Services (www.inlis.gov.sg), which sees 300,000 transactions a year.

The bottom line is this: the use of GeoSpace services has helped the government cut overall costs significantly. Estimates have it that in the absence of GeoSpace, the agencies would have had to spend more than S$9 million (US$7.1 million) in development costs (for the new services and portals it rolled out with the platform), and S$2.5 million (US$1.97 million) in annual maintenance costs (measured against the costs of delivering the same capabilities and benefits via its previous traditional technology architecture).

 

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