Monthly Archives: March 2013

GIS as Decision Making Tool for Leader and Politician

GE-13With the 13th General Election (GE-13) is around the corner, let’s talk about what can politician – both government and opposition can be benefited by the use of Geographic Information System (GIS).

By and large, how a leader is perceived by the public to great extend is based on his/her ability to make the right decision. When leaders make a rationale decision that is strongly supported by accurate facts, most up-to-date data, the politician can be confident that they have made the best informed decision at that juncture. GIS can be used as a content /database management system that organize, store, retrieve data based on location that allow information to be presented in timely, complete and accurate manner on desktop, web, mobile, smartphones (iOS, Android, Windows) or tablet PCs.

GIS allows politicians to flexibly integrate data from different departments, in different format, i.e. population data in Excel from Statistical Department, district boundary in geographical format from state government, location of road improvement projects from Public Work Department (JKR) in textual project address (i.e. KM 25, Jalan Persekutuan), combine with personal knowledge and simulation workflow such as what-if analysis, GIS allows leaders to visualize the result geographically (can pin point the location, proximity, distribution patterns, etc).

This will definitely help our leaders to identify/ analyse the problem and make the right decision for area/location impacted or potentially impacted by their decision. If address and census data is made available, the leaders will be able to know how many household are impacted by his decision within any buffer/radius or geographic extend defined by him/her.

Take example of MRT expansion project, instead of debating about possibility of the MRT route based on abstract sentimental and cultural value of the area, our leaders can communicate why the decision was made that way with better clarity and accuracy.

Isn’t it more convincing, if our leader can communicate the facts more clearly by stating i.e. the planned route A incur the least burden on people because only 3% of land will be under  acquisition impacting only 10 unit of household, but potentially bring economic benefits to 10,000 people within 1 km buffer along the MRT line. Compare to expansion Plan B which incurring more burden to people but less economic benefits, etc ?

If visualize these information on a map, I’m sure the leader will able to communicate the situation better and able to make more informed decision that will make them popular/ well respected. Against the GE-13 backdrop, isn’t that’s exact what’s needed by our leaders ?

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New GIS Deployment Pattern Requires GIS Engineer and Web Programmer

New PatternI was from GIS old school that spent most of my previous GIS career on desktop-based GIS environment. While I’m pretty comfortable with desktop-based GIS, I have to acknowledge the new emerging trend in web, cloud/device GIS deployment pattern. Web and cloud GIS offer both a fascinating and whole new world to me. In order to play catch up and bring myself up to speed with the latest technology trend, I do spend a lot of time reading and asking – especially by leveraging on many smart people around me.

The set back from traditional desktop-based GIS is lacked of ability to provide pervasive access for other users – both GIS and non-GIS people. The new cloud/device pattern provides new user experience by allowing users to access intelligent map on their desktop, internet browser, smartphone, tablet PCs through web services. User is able to query, navigate, edit, and even perform analysis on these intelligent web maps. In other words, you are equipped with ability to provide pervasive access to users and empower them to perform GIS analytic on their preferred devices, without losing your data ownership. (I will write more about this smart way of sharing in my future post)

In this post, I would like to share some of the excerpts from one of the briefing sessions given by my Technical Pre-sales Lead (Firdaus) about the importance of GIS server and Web Server needed to make this new pattern works.

GIS Server is needed to host GIS map data. This is quite straight forward for GIS old-school like me. There is another component that might not be very familiar to GIS specialist is Web Server. Web server or App server is web application front end that interact and display the GIS map data on your internet browser.

Let’s put this into another perspective, if GIS server is a car engine, then Web server is your swift gear, steering wheel, display dashboard and brake pedal that interact and display the engine condition in manner that’s user-friendly and easy to interact.

Even though the engine (maps) can function on its own but it is more comfortable and easier to control the engine through combination of steering control/brake control/gear control (apps), and user can see the condition of the engine much better in terminology understandable by users i.e. engine oil condition, fuel level, speed, gear position, etc (user friendly command & executive dashboard display) without the need to peek at the engine compartment.

Obviously getting these two components to work right requires different skill set and great deal of coordination. Of course it would be nice if you can find these skills within the same person. If you found one, do make them your best friend.

Looking at our university GIS syllabus nowadays, it is not difficult to understand we are producing far more skilled GIS engineers/analysts – someone capable of creating and publishing map services, but lacked of necessary skill in programming i.e. JavaScript, HTML 5, Flex, Silverlight etc to make these GIS map services easier to handle/control by designing practical and nice swift gear, steering, brake and display dashboard.

While GIS engineer might like to get their hand dirty in dealing with engine (map layer, map service), the rest of the users just want to be able to drive (use the map) comfortably. We definitely need more skilled web programming resources to work hand-in-hand with GIS engineer to design a more user-friendly web applications for all.

Competency can Make or Break the Success of Your GIS Project

A flyover under maintenance collapsed on Thursday near Cyberjaya. Luckily no one was injured. While investigation is still on going to ascertain the actual cause of the collapsed, some opt to quickly point fingers at others to either divert attention (if they were part of the problem) or gain publicity (if they have nothing to do with the problem or solution). Either way, these are not going to undo the damages caused. With so many parties and potential causes involved, it is rather complicated to pinpoint the truest cause of the incident without in-depth forensic studies.

Hypothetically, if the mishap is caused by human factors, some individuals will be investigated for potential negligence or foul play. Here comes the interesting part:-

  1. If the Architect was using a computer aided drawing software to design the structure, can the Architect shifts the blame to the software company for producing faulty design?
  2. If the Builder was using heavy-duty crane during the construction process, can the builder points the finger at the machine manufacturer for causing this accident?

It is quite obvious the answer is “No” to both the questions above, because the software and machinery manufacturer are not liable for incompetency and negligence of its users. But if you were the Architect, the builder, or someone part of the problem, quite surely you will want to quickly point fingers to the next inline.

Back to our GIS context, I bet you’ve heard instances of project failure or white elephant. In Malaysia GIS scene, these are normally cited as caused by software or hardware failure. Ironically the blames will go to software and hardware vendors instead of parties responsible for implementation and delivery of the project.

Let’s face the reality, everything being equal; I will still come short of pole position if racing side by side with Michael Schumacher. Think again, word processing software on the hand of Joanne Rowling can produce the bestseller Harry Potter fantasy series, but on my hand can only produce this short post. Is there anything wrong with the software or the hardware that I’m using? Hence you can have the same software and hardware that’s on par with the most successful industry leader, but what’s actually missing is the skills and knowledge in handling them.

Note to GIS manager: There are many good and bad GIS implementation examples that might have use the same software and hardware specifications. The changing parameter is the implementation team. Please make sure to give proper attention in selecting experienced project team that can make or break the success of your GIS project.