Multi-Level Service Infrastructure for Geovisual Analytics in the Context of Territorial Management

Multi-Level Service Infrastructure for Geovisual Analytics in the Context of Territorial Management

Giuseppe Conti (Fondazione Graphitech, Italy), Raffaele De Amicis (Fondazione Graphitech, Italy), Stefano Piffer (Fondazione Graphitech, Italy) and Bruno Simões (Fondazione Graphitech, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1562-5.ch011


The management of a territory is a complex process, involving a number of different operators, administrators and decision makers. Territory management requires accessing and processing a wide range of heterogeneous and multi-dimensional GI (GI). Within a typical scenario, the process involves departments at public administrations responsible for urban planning, environmental control, infrastructure planning and maintenance. Additionally units such as civil protection, fire brigades also play a vital role when dealing with emergencies. Data to be managed range from alphanumerical information, stored within enterprise-level databases, to satellite imagery, vector data and information coming from on-site sensors. It is acknowledged that creating an infrastructure capable to provide access to such a range of information requires, an integrated system approach, both from a technological and from a procedural point of view. This article illustrates the benefit of adopting a system approach which makes use of Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) and 3D geobrowsers to provide an answer to the aforementioned shortcomings. To do so the article presents the client-server platform designed to support decision makers and experts from local or regional administrations in the process of managing their territory. The infrastructure developed allows a large number of concurrent applications to access geographical data in a fully interactive way, within a 3D environment, thus providing support to territorial and environmental management tasks. The work illustrates also the results of the application of the infrastructure within a real-life scenario, thus providing the chance to discuss of implications of adopting such an approach.
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The Importance Of Gi For Environmental Management

Environmental management is an articulated process, involving a number of public departments engaged in a variety of activities ranging from planning and maintenance of public infrastructures, to managing of natural and economical resources, as well as in the assessment of environmental risks. The complexity typical of the environmental management process poses a challenge to the development of a cross-department IT infrastructure. A wide range of different professional competences are involved with each operator having their technical background. In order to ensure the widest acceptance of a common platform this must then be characterised by a simple yet effective interface, characterised by high usability, whose use should not require specific technical background or training.

The implications of such complexity amplify the limits imposed by the adoption of most IT infrastructures deployed among public administrations. These are often composed of isolated subsystems run and managed by different departments and units for their specific tasks.

This scenario, from a purely technological perspective, involves the management of a wide range of information, all characterised by a geographical dimension, which need to be collected, made accessible and processed. This can be both data referring to spatial features stored in databases as well as real-time information coming from onsite sensors on weather, traffic or pollution conditions. Data are very heterogeneous, stored or transmitted in different data formats and the information exchange between different information systems in use among different departments is limited or based on a variety of different protocols. Each unit has independent responsibilities over the creation and maintenance of a specific data set. As a consequence interoperability is limited and data duplication is frequent. This has consequence in that data is not always updated and often different units are not provided with real-time access to the information available.

It is well acknowledge that this complex technological as well as organizational scenario, together with the lack of interoperable tools, has very serious implications over the governance efficacy. A system approach is essential during management or planning tasks and, most crucially, it may be vital during when an emergency or crisis occurs. Interoperability becomes a critical issue also in the aftermath of crisis as demonstrated in a number of recent crises caused by natural disasters including the Ocean Tsunami on 2004, hurricanes and major earthquakes (Nourbakhsh et al, 2006). The operations following these events have demonstrated the importance of accessing GI in an interoperable way which can be critical to governments, relief aid and agency, local and international search and rescue teams.

Lack of interoperability is one of the causes for slow response times and it produces, within a number of government-related tasks, high social and economical costs. The extent and relevance of this issue is underlined within a report commissioned by the EU to assess the adoption of IT technologies at the regional level. The study highlights that 52% of public sector information in Europe is made of Geospatial Information (FTK, 2008) often characterised by data duplication (Ordnance Survey, 2006). These figures indicate that any technological development facilitating re-use of GI can bring significant social as well as economical benefits at local, national and international level. This is proved by a report from JRC (JRC, 2006) which highlights that the creation of harmonised geographical infrastructures yields fast Return of Investments (RoI).

This scenario underlines the importance of ensuring fast and interoperable access to public GI of environmental interest in the most efficient and technologically transparent form. It is acknowledged (Rajabifard & Williamson, 2004) (Mansourian et al., 2005) that this requirement can be satisfied through the development of integrated web-based IT system based on common standards. From the technological point of view this requirement is the main driving force of a shift from monolithic data-centric systems, custom-tailored to the specific requirements of different administrations, to interoperable service-centric infrastructures deployed according to common standards. Such infrastructures are designed as SOAs following a trend emerging from the domain of web-based enterprise applications. In the specific context of GI and environmental management, the adoption of SOA-based infrastructures has brought to the creation of federated systems referred to as Spatial Data Infrastructures or SDIs.

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