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DIVI – philosophy of action

The information about the launch of DIVI was evoked a good response. We would like to thank the Geoforum and Gisplay editing offices for the articles, and we want to thank You for your e-mails with questions about access and kind words. The following article aims at explaining the logic which we followed when creating DIVI, and the way it meets its primary objective, i.e. improvement in functioning of companies through the use of GIS.
We have created many web applications whose primary component is a map but the main goal is to reach information. Reaching reliable and up-to-date information in a quick and convenient way for people who do not need to know what GIS, coordinate systems, layers, and geoportals are. These people treat a map as an ordinary website and expect simplicity, speed, and responsiveness.
The application preparation phase always looked the same: it began with development of the environment, installation of several applications (database, GIS data server, back-end application to support the database, etc.), then accesses were secured, connections configured, etc. That generated costs in the process but also later, because the entire environment had to be monitored, updated, etc. The development of the web application itself, which was what the client expected (and for what he supposedly paid) was largely the shortest part of the implementation. Ultimately, the client received an application that consisted of several pages and its cost was high. We also had little fun when creating back-ends instead of useful applications.
We decided that we needed a reliable tool thanks to which we will take care of the problem of back-ends (what cannot be seen) that are used to create mapping applications once and for all. We decided to create a tool that would allow us to focus on developing solutions adapted to clients’ models and business processes without the need to put something together “on the back”. Moreover, we decided to solve some other problems that often appear in GIS, for example, data editing by many people, history of editing, giving attachments to objects, etc. This is how the DIVI concept was created. After 12 months of work of a group of programmers we decided that we can show our solution to the world.

What exactly is DIVI?

DIVI consists of 4 integrated components.

  1. server application (DIVI.io)
  2. plug-in for QGIS
  3. mobile application (browser and data collector)
  4. DIVI API

to which users gain access after creating an account (for the company) and creating users (identified by login and password).

Server application (integrated database, GIS data server, and a few others) with access via a web browser after logging in (Fig.1) is the main component and the brain of DIVI. This is where data is stored (spatial and non-spatial, and attachments to objects), account-assigned users are managed (new ones are created, permissions to specific layers and applications are given), the entire history of data editing is kept, and decisions on data availability are made (in the form of rasters, vectors, and interactive maps). Additionally, data can be created and edited in a convenient manager (Fig.2), files with spatial data can be uploaded, data can be geocoded, given symbolization, WMS and background maps can be read, and more. It is a specific management console.

The QGIS plugin was designed to enable creation of advanced mapping compositions and advanced editing in QGIS Desktop. Its operation is very simple. Once logged in, we get a list of layers to which we have access on the DIVI account. These layers can be added to a QGIS project. From now on, we can edit them like any other layer (we can use the field calculator, advanced editing tools, CAD Tools, etc.). One the changes are saved the information about the editing is sent to DIVI, and the history browser shows information on who and when edited the data. This is very helpful for dynamic data sets.

The DIVI Mobile Applicationis both a browser and a data collector. Once installed on a mobile device, use your user name and DIVI password to log in. We get a list of projects to which we are authorised. After moving to the project we see a map with data and all backings and WMSs configured in DIVI.io. After selecting the active layer we can identify objects, edit attributes, add pictures directly from a camera, or add attachments from the memory of a device. Geographic location as well as addition of points, lines and polygons is possible. Obviously, all changes are saved online and can be browsed in the history of editing. It is a very convenient tool for field surveys and search for objects in the field.

DIVI API is our pride. All functions and data are available from the level of REST API. It is the basis for building your own applications (web and mobile) on the basis of DIVI.

Why so? Modern technologies require flexibility and possibilities to integrate with existing systems in the field of data exchange. There are various needs for GIS and we found that there is no point in trying to meet them in a single application “to everything”. “Clicking” on applications without the need for programming is always a compromise between usability and functionality with capabilities of the system. At the end of the day, no one is fully satisfied, and something still needs to be programmed. That is why we have focused on open APIs, and the possibility to create additional applications (on our own or by employing a different company). This model has already been proven in the world, and it works well with our clients too. This solution is cost-effective because you can have one engine to support multiple business processes within the company. It is also designed for agile, incremental development of the use of GIS without the company’s large initial financial outlay. Subsequent articles present applications that already operate on this principle. What is more: on our repository at GitHub we publish a code of model applications, and plan a series of articles known as “developer’s guide” from which every person will be able to learn how to create applications for visualizing, editing, filtering and data creating using HTML and JavaScript only.

What is next?

We are not slowing down and continue to work on the development of DIVI by adding new functionality, correcting mistakes, and focusing on ergonomics of use and promotion. We would like to thank our existing clients for their trust and, of course, we are hoping to win new ones 🙂

DIVI – Create your GIS. Increase the capabilities and improve the functioning of your company through the use of GIS.

Geographical Information Systems are becoming more and more popular. More and more users see the benefits that are associated with the use of GIS. We see it when working with our clients, giving workshops, as well as when organizing numerous conferences. GIS is no longer the domain of institutions that collect spatial data or special departments in companies that deal with the processing of data for the needs of other employees. Managers, employees at customer service departments and, above all, specialists and consultants in various fields want to have access to updated maps and lists made using spatial data. Other industries that are related to collection, access and exchange of information very quickly adapted their products to clients’ needs and requirements. Programmers use version control network systems, consultants use network word processing and spreadsheets, vendors have shared CRM systems, and management boards have access to reports and dashboards generated systematically in ERP systems directly to smartphones and tablets. GIS is the only thing left behind. Desktop software still rules. WebGIS is often limited to sluggish, non-intuitive data browsers. There is different software, paid and free, but creating a simple system for managing spatial data within an institution is still laborious, expensive, requires programming work, and subsequent keeping of the entire system alive by administrators. In a world where co-creation and sharing is the basis of work of teams, creating layers and safe, shared edition in GIS is still very complicated. We decided to change that.
We have worked hard over DIVI – a comprehensive set of tools to manage, visualize, and analyse data on maps – for 12 months. DIVI’s main task is to enable effective work with spatial data in a company, and to create conditions for easy sharing of data within and outside the organization. DIVI consists of:

DIVI is in an advanced beta phase. The SaaS version has been running productively in several of our clients. Will keep you informed of new implementations and created applications on a regular basis. Please visit DIVI.io for more information and contact us should you wish to.
We believe that DIVI will change the perception of GIS systems as complicated, expensive, and difficult to implement. With DIVI you can do the following in a simple and easy way:

  • create a corporate data repository,
  • edit spatial data online by many people at the same time,
  • store information about the history of data editing,
  • add attachments (photos, documents) and comments to objects,
  • create simple data browsers without programming skills,
  • create advanced GIS systems based on DIVI API
The example of use of DIVI at Grontmij Polska

Grontmij Polska carried out a water maintenance plan for the Regional Water Management Board in Poznań. The basis for work was a database of sections of rivers from all over the Warta river basin divided into sections according to a methodology agreed upon with the Purchaser. Four people at the GIS department acquired all the necessary data from various sources, and put them into a coherent form. A key part of the entire project was to make an assessment of sections of water, and to propose protection options. From the technical point of view it consisted in describing each section by approx. 30 attributes. Around 20 people worked on the whole assessment. Time was short. Employees at the GIS department had to plan the work together with the estimated risk.

The first option, classic, was to divide the layer made of 2700 sections in 20 “packages” and send them via e-mail to employees and subcontractors. After a specific time the “packages” were to return via e-mail and be re-integrated. A seemingly trivial matter proved to be very risky. Here are the main risks:

  • transfer of editable files (geobase) to 20 people will result in losing control over the consistency of the database. There may be a situation in which someone adds or removes a column, changes its name or data type. This will cause huge problems when merging the data.

  • It was known that professionals in the field of environmental protection are not experienced in GIS. This gave rise to concerns about the technical quality of the work (accidentally changed geometry, deleted records, slow pace of work), and technical problems (different software and the associated file transformation, changes made to coding, systems, etc.).

  • In this variant, data administrators had no control over auxiliary materials on the basis of which the assessment was to be made (mostly forms of nature protection). There was a risk that some people will not use the transferred data but will base their assessment on other data (for various reasons: habit, knowledge of the data, etc.).

  • users feared changes to the structure of attributes that may occur after the start of assessment on the basis of the Orderer’s proposal/suggestion. In that case, administrators could not be sure if all employees added changes to the data source on their own.

  • Data transferring via e-mail or sharing it through the network drive is also a problem. Component files of shp files can get lost or damaged, causing problems that are difficult to identify. What is more, attention was paid to the issue of sending corrected data after merging.

  • GIS users feared merging of data that due to the aforementioned risks might not be suitable for merging.

  • Managers feared lack of responsibility for work because of multiple transformations of the source data.

Another option was the collaboration with GIS Support and the use of DIVI which at that time was in the phase of intensive tests. The following was identified as the main risks:

  • The use of a brand new, untested system

  • The reaction of employees and contractors to working in a network environment was feared

However, the list of benefits turned out to be far longer:

  • Work on one layer eliminated problems resulting from dividing, double transmission and merging of data.

  • DIVI provided full history of editing of each section of the river. The history could be used to dispel any doubts.

  • GIS users were to be 100% sure that everyone was using these forms of nature protection.

  • No one, except for authorized persons, was able to change the structure of the layer and the dictionary values.

The DIVI option was selected. GIS users became administrators of the DIVI account and created accounts for all the people involved in the project. The layer with sections of rivers and forms of nature protection (on the basis of which the assessment was to be made) was uploaded into the system. Due to a very large number of editable attributes, working on an ordinary table of attributes turned out to be inconvenient. A simple and very convenient web-based data editor based on DIVI API was created (it took more than ten hours to create the application).

grontmij

The work went quickly and smoothly. Of course, during the editing process there were some “changes to the concept”, and changes to the edited layer had to be made. Due to the use of DIVI it did not cause any problem. Editors did not even have to be informed about that situation as it did not affect their work.

The rate at which the work was carried out and the achieved quality (no data was damaged, no data needed improvement, no tedious browsing and troubleshooting) surprised everyone. However, experts in the field of environmental protection were the happiest ones. They had been afraid of the enormous amount of work to be done in the GIS environment to which they were not convinced. Working on a very simple web application turned out convenient for them. They could actually focus on assessing the content without struggling with data, software and GIS users. The best summary of the use of DIVI is a quote from an email we received after the completion of the project:

I am not into GIS,
I fear QGIS…
I work in DIVI

Use case – Dispatcher

Description: Forest fires constitute a very serious environmental and economic problem in Poland. Almost 70% of the total forest area are pine woods, particularly vulnerable to fire. Prevention is the best way to avoid losses caused by forest fires, however, if fire has already started, only an instant reaction of forestry and fire services can prevent the area at risk of fire spread.

Problem: Both the State Forests, and the State Fire Service use different information systems supporting their activities. Such systems include GIS components and enable to visualize data on a map. However, they are not interconnected. The only tool which has been used so far is a regular export of the fire map from the Forest Numerical Map for the purpose of fire services. This allowed to view forest maps using Desktop GIS software, but it was of limited use during actual fire fighting operations and to users who did not have sufficient knowledge of GIS.

Solution: GIS Support has developed a WebGIS application which is to facilitate the exchange of geospatial data related to forest fire protection between the headquarters of the State Fire Service, the Regional Directorate of State Forests and forest inspectorates. The application allows to view any geospatial data collected in one database, and real-time communication between all users of the system in the event of an emergency. Key characteristics of the system:

  1. independent operation – i.e. it does not depend on the Internet. The application is operated within an internal network without the need to communicate with any external services.
  2. redundancy – in the event of any server failure, its functions are taken over by the second independent server. Once the server has been recovered, data replication takes places, making both databases consistent.
  3. real-time operation – the information about reported fires, acceptance of incident reports, and changes of the status is transferred immediately with no need to reload or refresh the system.
  4. intuitive user interface – there is no need to provide users-dispatchers with any complicated training to implement the system.

 

Use cese – maps for the fire service

Description: A wall operational map is an absolute must in every headquarters of the State Fire Service. Most often, such maps are topographic maps on which, using pins and flags, they mark the location of all spots relevant to their activities (e.g. location of emergency and fire units, Emergency Rooms).

Problem: Unfortunately, topographic maps released by the National Geodetic and Cartographic Service fail to keep up with the economic and infrastructure development. For some areas, they have not made newer maps than these made in the coordinate system of “1965”. In view of numerous changes in the road, rail and power network, as well as the development of new estates, such maps fail to perform their functions. In addition, more and more fire brigades have access to digital data so putting them onto the map with pins is a huge step back.

Solution: GIS Support deals with the preparation of dedicated maps intended to be used by emergency and rescue services. The range of data presented in the printout is determined individually by a given Client and includes e.g. the location of the State Fire Service units and Volunteer Fire Brigades, along with the information about being part of the National Emergency and Fire Authority, hospitals and Emergency Rooms, water connection points, or power lines, classified by voltage. Depending on individual needs, maps are printed on paper or plastic film, which makes them more durable. The development of such maps may engage local Volunteer Fire Brigades, which makes it possible to achieve maximum compatibility between the content of the map and the actual situation in a given area. Our maps are always edited by people who have extensive practical knowledge of emergency and rescue services.

Use case – Investor

Description: Special Economic Zones and Investor Service Centers manage the database of investment areas of certain agencies, local governments or individuals. Their main task is to promote such areas and encourage entrepreneurs to contribute to the industrial and service sector development in their region.

Problem: Investment offers are prepared and updated by local government employees, whereas the database is managed by the people working at Special Economic Zones and Investor Service Centers. This results in the data inconsistency. Moreover, it is difficult to precisely define the location of a given area, as well as to quickly give an up-to-date description of such area and learn more about the local environment (road and rail networks, business environment). It is also difficult to keep the data up-to-date and to quickly find an offer which meets all criteria of a given investor.

Solution: Inwestor” – Investment Area Database Management System – is a tool tailored to the needs of Special Economic Zones and Investor Service Centers. It allows to conveniently enter and store information about a given area (detailed location and description of its attributes available in several languages) and offers tools supporting its promotion (statistical data, mini-maps, mobile version, integration with Google StreetView). Besides, it uses the client and server network (WMS and WFS), enabling the integration with different geosites (possibility to view areas on geosites of provinces or districts, and to download specific information available on these sites, e.g. related to data entered in the registry). Inwestor has been successfully introduced and used in Katowice, Łódź, and Wałbrzych Special Economic Zones, as well as in Podlaskie, Lubelskie, Świętokrzyskie, Lubuskie Investor Service Centers and the investor Service Center in Kielce.

Find out more…

Use case – AVC Viewer

Description: AVC Polska is involved in energy optimization for local governments and companies. The main area of its business is the optimization of costs of use and maintenance of road lighting, while maintaining appropriate efficiency of the lighting system.

Problem: An up-to-date database, including the description of the lighting network, constitutes the basis for planning and supervising cost optimization. It was necessary to develop a tool allowing to have the data (both spatial and descriptive data) entered by different people in different agencies (local government authorities, energy supplier, modernization contractor), as well as to create a set of tools for data analysis and reporting.
Solution: GIS Support has developed a tool available in the cloud allowing to enter data obtained during field measurements, record network maintenance and generate reports concerning network performance and energy consumption. With its friendly design, the application enables large format printing, gives the possibility to update information on different network components, and view objects in different categories, classified by their attributes.

Use case – Acoustic map of Łódź

Description: Within the framework of the project called ‘Acoustic map of Łódź’, the city of Łódź obtained and prepared all data necessary to make an acoustic map. DHV Hydroprojekt provided all necessary calculations and made an acoustic map which was to be presented in the form of an interactive map.

Problem: The development of a geosite which would clearly present all acoustic data together with an administration panel allowing to manage the content of the map without programming.

Solution: GIS Support has developed a site allowing all residents to view information about the city and noise levels in different scales, using an interactive site. Such site combines solutions developed by ESRI (ArcSDE and ArcGIS Server 10.1) with mapping solutions of GIS Support. It enables, among others, to generate prints of selected sections of the map together with the legend, view several theme sections, identify objects, and read about attributes of the objects on the map. The site has CMS used to manage the content of the website and the interactive map.