Oregon grapples with interoffice data sharing

Oregon's statewide GIS coordinator Cy Smith, left, and GIS analyst Ed Arabas recently tested a way to provide distributed data sets over the Internet using Xmarc middleware tools.

Courtesy of the Oregon Administrative Services department

A data-sharing project sparked by the Oregon Geospatial Data Clearinghouse is testing Web access to distributed data sets'some of them geographic, some not.

Agencies at the state and local levels have joined in the test, including the Oregon Administrative Services Department, Multnomah County and Tri-Met, the Portland area transportation authority.

The agencies have stored their data in many locations and in formats as diverse as ArcInfo, Shapefiles and other products from ESRI of Redlands, Calif., as well as Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. databases.

The Digitally Integrated Mining of Oregon Networked Data (DIMOND) project used Xmarc middleware tools from PlanGraphics Inc. of Frankfort, Ky., to translate the various formats into one that would be browser-accessible.

'We wanted people to see the data as though it were all located on the same server,' said Cy Smith, Oregon's statewide geographic information system coordinator. 'They shouldn't have to access every piece of the state's street centerline file,' which shows details such as addresses, ZIP codes and census boundaries. 'They could zoom in on a particular, smaller chunk.'

The stewards of the data should have the right to allow as much or as little access as they deem appropriate, said Ed Arabas, GIS business analyst for Oregon.

Limiting access

Xmarc set up permitted-use areas, and that made the agency participants feel more comfortable about posting their information on the Web, Smith said.

'Everybody is struggling with how to give GIS access on the Web without putting too much of a burden on data providers,' he said.

'We're not asking providers to do anything different in their business processes,' Arabas said. 'They can share or not share. They can constrain users. The Xmarc administrator tells users what they can see and what they can't.'

He said there are 'different ways to skin the data-sharing cat.' One is to use middleware to redistribute data to organizations requesting it, as Xmarc does.

Another way to distribute dissimilar data is to agree on a standard format, such as ArcView or Extensible Markup Language.

An example of XML data sharing is the Geospatial Information One-Stop portal, one of the Office of Management and Budget's 25 e-government initiatives.

Because Geospatial One-Stop is so broad, its designers had to build something a bit vaguer and less flexible than DIMOND, Smith said. Federal, state and local agencies are still working out the necessary geospatial standards.

'I don't see one of these solutions winning out over the other,' Smith said. 'I believe there will be multiple ways of dealing with this.'

Geospatial data has its own special problems, Arabas said. 'Transportation is easy to talk about in the real world,' he said, 'but it's really difficult to make sense of all the pieces in a digital environment. You hear stories of people driving their trucks into rivers that weren't marked.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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