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    By David Crowther

    One of the most challenging aspects of geospatial data and related projects is being able to effectively share accurate and current data between different departments. Often each department have their own silos of data and use disparate technology which means you run the risk of making inaccurate decisions as key decision makers either don’t have access to the correct information or rely on others to undertake analysis as they don’t have the skillsets to effectively navigate complex applications. The key to implementing successful geospatial projects is to implement an Integrated Open Mapping Approach, whereby your geospatial data is stored, managed and accessed from a centralised location, with users accessing that data via applications that meet their needs.

    I am going to reflect on a recent experience I had working on a real world project helping a Landscape Architect generate a 3D Model of a site location for a planning application. The project included the use of 3 separate applications (QGIS, Infraworks and MapThat) so that all stakeholders could access, update and evaluate data in the knowledge that all information was current and fit for purpose. The applications being used were dependent on the users role within the project, these included; Data Managers, Planners & Designers and Field Engineers.


    Data Manager:

    In order to process complex geospatial datasets and upload these to a centralised data repository (PostGIS spatial database) we used the desktop GIS – QGIS. All geospatial data, including; Ordnance Survey MasterMap, ITN, Imagery and Terrain were processed from their source file formats (GML, ASCII) and clipped to the projects extents using the Raster and Vector processing tools available within QGIS. In addition, other site specific surveys, including; an Arboricultural survey of trees was processed within QGIS in order to create vegetation layers for the 3D Model. Once the data translation process was complete we then had a centralised repository of spatial data in a PostGIS database which all users would ultimately share.

    QGIS Project: showing all spatial data


    Planners and Designers:

    Now that the project datasets had been processed into a centralised location we could use Infraworks 360 to generate the 3D Models required for project consultation and ultimately the project outputs. Infraworks allows you to connect to static datasets, such as Shapefiles and SDF layers, and in addition using the DB Connection tool we were able to utilise the spatial data within our PostGIS database. The 3D Model utilised, OS Terrain5, OS Imagery, ITN, OSMM Buildings and vegetation datasets, with all vector data being read from the PostGIS database. Using cloud collaboration any project stakeholder could then view the Infraworks Model, make comments and suggest changes throughout the projects lifecycle. Because the Model was reading its data from a centralised spatial database all stakeholders were confident that they were making decisions based on the most accurate and current datasets.

    Infraworks 360 3D Model: showing all spatial data in a 3D environment


    Field Engineers:

    As the project developed there was a requirement to make the mapping available to even more users, who either didn’t have the skillsets to operate a complex desktop GIS or access to the 3D Model within Infraworks. In this type of project environment, we would recommend utilsiing a web-based mapping application that allows any user access to view and where required edit data using a web browser. The DynamicMaps webGIS – MapThat – provided a perfect solution for further sharing the project datasets in an intuitive environment, where if required simple spatial analysis could also be performed.

    MapThat webGIS: allowing all stakeholders access to view the project data


    Project Lifecycle:

    At this stage in the project all stakeholders could utilise the most suitable application in order to view the project datasets and 3D Models meaning that they could make decisions without having to rely on others providing screenshots or photocopied maps via email. As the project progressed through its lifecycle the data within PostGIS could be edited in a controlled environment, which ultimately updated the Models within each of the mapping applications.

    Not only did stakeholders benefit from this integrated data approach, however by using 3D Models we were able to cleanse datasets where inaccuracies existed. For example, when viewing the utility pipeline feature (shown in blue) within a 2D environment, such as QGIS or MapThat, utility data will always appear above ground.

    QGIS: showing the utility pipeline

    It wasn’t until we viewed this data within the Infraworks 3D Model that this discrepancy became clear.

    Infraworks 360: showing the utility pipeline above ground

    Once this discrepancy was identified it was very easy for the Data Manager to then edit the height value within QGIS to ensure that the 3D Model in Infraworks correctly showed the pipeline underground.

    As well as finding and correcting data discrepancies, using an Integrated Open Mapping Approach also meant that Field Engineers could edit datasets to reflect the changing conditions of the site as it passed through the different stages of development. For example using the webGIS – MapThat – users could easily reshape spatial datasets such as existing vegetation, utility networks as well as Ordnance survey ‘As-Is’ data. In the example below a MapThat user is very simply extending the utility pipeline and reshaping the existing vegetation to reflect the current site conditions.

    Editing the Utility Pipeline:

    Reshape Existing Vegetation:

    An Integrated Open Mapping Approach can help you to deliver better projects. You can benefit from ensuring all users are accessing centralised data, they each have the ability to view that data within an application they can use, and ultimately your project stakeholders feel confident that they are working in an integrated environment where their input counts.



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