National Geospatial Platform still has a few mountains to climb

Agencies are looking forward to the shared services that would be part of a National Geospatial Platform, but they still have concerns, including data exchange and access issues in a multi-tenanted hosted environment and the long-term sustainability of such a platform, geospatial information officers from several agencies told an audience at a recent federal GIS conference.

The Geospatial Platform, when fully implemented, will be a managed portfolio of common geospatial data, services and applications contributed and administered by authoritative sources and hosted on a shared infrastructure, for use by government agencies and partners and to meet the broader needs of the nation, according to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).

Last year, the federal government and its geospatial partners unveiled, a prototype Geospatial Platform website providing an initial view of the future of integrated, federal data collections on common geographic maps. 

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The platform is actually in its initial operating capability stage. Additional functionality will be added over the next two years, Ivan DeLoatch, executive director of FGDC, said after a recent panel of federal geospatial managers discussed synergy between their efforts and the national platform at the 2012 Esri Federal Users Conference in Washington, D.C.

The goal is to reduce duplication of efforts and promote the use of open standards among agencies’ geospatial programs, DeLoatch said. Esri is a developer of geospatial products and services.

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to put more geospatial capability in the hands of not just those in the geospatial community but everybody at EPA, including performance analysts, program managers and senior executives, said Jerry Johnston, EPA’s geospatial information officer. The EPA wants to craft different user experiences depending on the audience.

EPA is far along in prototyping, with the help of Esri, the EPA GeoPlatform Online, the agency’s access point for EPA shared maps, data and applications. EPA’s geospatial experts have put a lot of thought into how to integrate the content in the online portal with the agency’s formal metadata catalog, Johnston said. A lot of federal agencies have questions about how the existing investment in metadata catalogs and workflows fits into the geospatial world, he said.

A big change for EPA is encouraging the agency’s programmatic components to publish their data as Web services. However, in many cases IT shops have not given them a whole lot of help, Johnston said. When they try, they get expensive bills from the data center. As a result, “we are trying to put our money where our mouth is to build shared common platforms where everybody can use it at no charge back cost to them,” Johnston said. 

EPA has built a shared services infrastructure that everybody can use. Johnston said EPA personnel are not only encouraged to publish data as Web services to the EPA GeoPlatform, but EPA geospatial experts will do it for them, making updates quick and easy. The EPA has its own internal catalogs and is looking externally to link with others. 

“I think that speaks to the relationship at EPA and what I hope the GeoPlatform at the federal level will evolve to as time goes on,” Johnston said. “My hope is that we have a shared dot-gov environment that we can publish our information to and not worry about managing our own infrastructure at EPA. I hope that over time that data and services will migrate to a federalwide capability."

The agency has a number of application interfaces to the EPA GeoPlatform Online, including EPA Environment Analyst, EPA Earth and ArcGIS Desktop. The agency also is developing a policy and investment framework to provide governance for the operational aspects of EPA GeoPlatform Online.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is moving to a geospatial platform to give NOAA personnel and the public better access to data, said Tony Lavoi, NOAA’s GIO. For instance, NOAA officials want to respond to recommendations on improving access to the agency’s geospatial data and services arising from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

NOAA has worked with Esri to develop a prototype enterprise geospatial platform that is being hosted by Amazon Web Services. Plans are for an internal NOAA instance as well as a public website. Working with Esri, NOAA has developed customized workflow and system administration tools to manage private and public content. 

NOAA is committed to working on the national Geospatial Platform but has concerns in three critical areas, Lavoi said. First, NOAA is concerned about access to shared services in a multi-tenant hosted setting for data and services. A Federal Information Security Management Act-certified architecture wherein agency data and services can be hosted would certainly provide an uptick in interest for the National Geospatial Platform, Lavoi said.

Second, the government has to ensure long-term stability for the National Geospatial Platform. NOAA must be confidant there are long-term governance and funding plans before it commits to transfer NOAA data and services to a national platform. And third, there has to be a simplified way for data users to publish data and services, he said.

The Agriculture Department has 29 different line staff functions and organizations, 14 of which are involved in provisioning or consuming geospatial products and services The transformation from a desktop geospatial model to an enterprise solution is a huge step for USDA, said department GIO Stephen Lowe.

USDA envisions a federal enterprise-level geospatial service platform providing cloud-based spatial data and geographic information systems business solutions that can be provisioned and consumed through a common portal framework.

This delivery model could also have huge implications for collaborative government where citizens can participate in the functions of government, Lowe said. Maps are made for people in power. USDA is looking at how the agency can engage people at the local level so they can tell their stories, he noted.

USDA geospatial data can be consumed by senior executives, program analysts, researchers, oversight personnel for audit reviews, citizens and technologists, he said. USDA has the expertise to solve public problems in an effective manner, he added. 

The aim is not to start out from scratch every time a product or service is developed. The department is working to deploy a portal where data exchange, map services life cycle management and metadata standards are built in. USDA is looking at how The National Geospatial Platform and the department’s internal geospatial portal can interact, so USDA data assets can be managed and exposed to

USDA officials are working to deploy a platform-as-a-service internal portal this year and still are thinking about the best way to deploy a hybrid cloud for geospatial data, Lowe said.


About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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