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    Abbotsford, B.C., Links Web-Based GIS with E-Commerce for Online Purchases E-mail
    Written by Victor Morcom   
    05 February 2004

    (GISuser Spotlight) An ongoing trend in GIS development at the local government level is to publish geospatial data on the web so that citizens can perform queries and access zoning maps, construction proposals and other practical information online. The City of Abbotsford, British Columbia, has just set a new standard for such endeavors by integrating its web- based GIS with e-commerce technology that lets users pay for and download geographic information during their online session.

    “The response from everyone has been very positive,” said Jay Teichroeb, Economic Development Manager. “Our citizens appreciate having information available 24/7 without visiting City Hall, and Abbotsford employees no longer have to field all those requests for data every day.”

    Abbotsford launched the application, called WebMap, in spring 2002 making publicly accessible for the first time nearly all of the data layers that are compiled in the city’s existing GIS. The decision to create WebMap was driven partially by a city initiative to make electronic government a priority, although financial considerations were also a compelling factor.

    “We are one of the fastest growing cities in the province, and this growth is occurring faster than our staff and resources can keep up,” said Teichroeb. “WebMap is our solution to providing better customer service with the same resources.”

    Developing the application was surprisingly simple. The city Information Services Department contracted with Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions of Huntsville, Ala., to build the online GIS segment of the project. The Web Development division of Telus, the local B.C. phone company, provided expertise in creating the e-commerce module. Total development time was less than one month.


    Mall in Abbotsford city center, with Mt. Baker in the background.



    Taking GIS to the Web

    Located 40 miles outside of Vancouver with a population of 125,000, Abbotsford first began implementing GIS technology in the early 1990s. Over the next decade, GIS would be used by every major municipal department, which each contributed a variety of geographic data for storage in the centralized database. The system is administered by the Information Services Department, and one of the primary users has been the Engineering Department.

    In addition to accessing the system for engineering and maintenance projects, Engineering was tasked with responding to requests from developers, civil engineers and architects who needed data relating to utility infrastructure location, parcel ownership and zoning boundaries. Engineering staff had to search the GIS to find the relevant layers, burn the customized information to a CD and deliver it to the customer. Even if the request could be answered verbally by phone, the process consumed valuable staff time.


    This arrangement posed problems for the end users as well. They could only order data files on weekdays during business hours, and a visit to the Engineering Department was usually recommended to view the data before purchase. The other drawback was the cost – customers often had to purchase city-wide data layers when they only needed information covering a small project area.

    Another objective in the plan to improve GIS data access was to make the system more readily available to personnel within the city departments. Information Services believed that all departments could benefit from having geospatial data and analysis capabilities at the fingertips of every staff member, as opposed to just one or two appointed GIS experts. Unfortunately, the cost of buying additional seat licenses for every office and agency was prohibitively expensive.

    “The WebMap application was the solution to both our internal and external access problems – anyone with a computer and Internet hook-up can use it,” said Teichroeb. “Aside from development, the only software cost was the single site license from Intergraph.”

    Linking E-Commerce

    Information Services built the WebMap application, with some assistance from the Engineering Department, using Intergraph’s GeoMedia WebMap product, a package that extends both spatial data and functionality to online users. Functions include querying, viewing, and downloading data sets. GeoMedia WebMap was ready to operate right out of the box, requiring customization in ASP and XML programming languages to create a point-and-click interface link with the existing GIS data and later, integration with the e- commerce module that was created in the spring of 2003.

    “The interface is so easy to use that customers require no training,” said Bill MacLeod, city GIS Analyst. “And the platform is very reliable; it’s operational all the time.”


    Graphic depiction of all the screens a user would see for the purchase of a data download.


    Abbotsford and Intergraph personnel programmed the system to download updated data layers from the central GIS database once a week. GeoMedia WebMap converts the files from their native formats into Intergraph SmartStore. The data layers from the central GIS are formatted before the download to allow a more efficient data conversion.

    While the application was under development, Telus was customizing the e-commerce module. The city’s primary requirement of this module was for it to be accessible from multiple applications on the Abbotsford web site. This has enabled the city to sell business licenses and financial reports online through other applications. The module communicates with VeriSign, a secure credit card clearinghouse outside the Abbotsford firewall to process each transaction.

    Using WebMap

    In an online session, a WebMap visitor is presented with an onscreen line map of Abbotsford, showing major thoroughfares and boundaries and dividing the city into the square-mile grids. From any display, the user can scroll around the map and zoom in or pan out to see more detail or perspective. An onscreen menu categorizes the four main data layers available for viewing or purchase: Parcels, Engineering, Development, and Parks and Schools.


    Screen capture from the Web map of the initial screen displaying the keymap of Abbotsford.


    Within each category, the user can click on one or more specific spatial or information layers for display. The Parcel layers include lot lines, legal descriptions, air photos and road names, while the Engineering data shows locations of sewer, storm and other water infrastructure. Zoning, land use and pending development permits can be reviewed in the Development category, and educational and recreational facilities are shown in the Parks and Schools layers.


    Screen shot from the Web map of an aerial photo of Mill Lake


    “The vast majority of external users are citizens who want to look up property information, see where an address is located or figure out directions to some location,” said MacLeod. “These viewing sessions are absolutely free…and citizens are impressed away by the volume of information they can get.”

    In the near future, these site visitors will be able to key in a street name or describe their route to work, and WebMap will automatically advise them of planned street closures or detours that will impact their commute during a given time period. Phone numbers of official contacts will be provided in case the citizen wants additional details of the project.

    Professionals involved in planning, designing and seeking permits for development projects or finalizing real estate transactions comprise the smaller, but more profitable user group. They may be checking to see where water and sewer hook-ups enter a proposed development site or they want to make sure no zoning restrictions will interfere with construction plans. The questions can all be answered by calling up the proper layers.

    Out of this user group, architects and engineers most often download data layers into their computer aided drafting and design systems for use in actual project planning. When an online data purchase is contemplated, the user can query WebMap to calculate the cost to download the selected layers within one or more chosen square-mile grids.

    GeoMedia WebMap computes the size of the DXF file that would be created to include the desired data sets and then seamlessly passes this query off to the e-commerce module for calculation of the fee. (With fees based on file size, Abbotsford decided not to offer downloads in a selection of data formats because pricing would have varied by format and become confusing.) Upon receiving the price estimate, the user then has the option of modifying or placing the order.

    The purchaser inputs a credit card number, and WebMap passes this straight to the e- commerce module which in turn transmits the information via a secure connection outside the city )

    Article © 2004 Intergraph Corporation. All rights reserved. Published by permission of Intergraph Corp.

    Are you currently or have you been involved in a succesful GIS project or web-mapping implementation? We'd be interested in hearing about your project and glad to receive an abstract describing the implementation. Send details to the attention of Glenn - This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
    Last Updated ( 24 February 2004 )
     
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