Mainstreaming GIS crucial to more sharing

An increasing number of organizations are taking geographic data out of the niche it has occupied and making it just another member of the information systems universe. This trend, experts say, could eliminate many of the hurdles to geographic information sharing among government agencies.

That could happen by adding support for geographic information system (GIS) data to standard database technology. That way, the data data can be handled by the existing database, instead of requiring GIS software add-ons.

Oracle Corp. already has done this completely, said David Sonnen, senior consultant for spatial data management at IDC Research. IBM Corp. and its Informix product line are also working on adding support, and even Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server is expected to eventually handle GIS data this way, he added.

By storing GIS data in this manner, it can be managed centrally and also be available locally, just as any other data would be, said Brian Lantz, vice president of global business and sales development for MapInfo Corp. Queries could be made against the geographic data, and any changes to the data could be

handled automatically.

Until now, those activities had to be performed as separate operations because geographic data was treated differently from other data in databases.

"Once the spatial data is installed in the database, it has a high availability, so it can be easily accessed through a number of open formats," Lantz said. "You can also provide the same kind of security and authentication for it that other data receive."

That protection alone could be a positive change, because one of the main arguments against freely sharing GIS data is owners' fear that others could access and change it without permission. Traditional database safeguards would prevent that.

"Instead of handling GIS through stand-alone systems, it would then become more ubiquitous throughout the IT infrastructure," Sonnen said. "Location-based data could then be used as an

organizing principle for all kinds of data and could provide a powerful set of tools for use in homeland security."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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