Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Where in the world?

Where in the world?

Handling geographic information can be a challenge. But the technology is fast becoming part of the mainstream.

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For years, the management of geographic information was considered a job for the 'tank top, sandals and socks brigade', with only the initiated able to understand and manage it using their own specialist software and systems.

And it is still not widely understood. But through the proper use of technology, best practice and information management policies, it is now possible to integrate geographic information into the mainstream business, bringing with it new information management challenges.

Any organisation that deals with geographic information and wants to bring it under the corporate information policy needs to accept that while spatial data is different from most other forms of data - and requires a certain degree of special treatment - it still needs the same support.

“An organisation that's serious about information as a corporate resource, one that's serious about using spatial data to help with business processes, needs to invest in the same level of infrastructure as they would apply to other corporate data resources,” says Andy Duff, technical director of geographic information specialist ESRI.

“Otherwise,” he adds, “it creates limits in how it can leverage the data across the business. It creates the mindset that the data is less valuable to the organisation and that it doesn't require the same level of integrity and performance as other kinds of data.”

The days of geographic information being kept in a silo, separate from the rest of the organisation, need to be banished if the organisation is to benefit from it.

Standardisation
In the 1990s, there was considerable research and development conducted by both database and geographic information system (GIS) vendors in a bid to work out how to overcome this data divide.

Now, most standard relational database management systems (RDBMS) either have some form of native support for spatial data or can store spatial data through the addition of middleware or extensions to the core database.

This has helped make standard corporate databases more capable of storing geographic data, bringing its management within the realm of corporate information policies and under the power of database administrators' tools.

Database market leader Oracle has been at the forefront of spatial-enablement of databases, with every version of its RDBMS now capable of supporting spatial data using the built-in “Oracle Locator” capability.

Initially, the company provided spatial enablement with an add-on to the enterprise edition of Oracle 8i. This was aimed squarely at GIS users and is still available as the “Oracle Spatial Option”, providing high-end analysis features.

However, the company decided to provide more limited geographic capabilities to mainstream users with 9i, but bundled in as standard.

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