The Sustainability of GIS Services in The Framework of E-Government

Dr. M. Mostafa Radwan
International Institution for Geo-information Sciences and Earth Observation, ITC
Hengelostraat 99
Tel. +31 53 4874351
Fax + 31 53 4874 575
Web site:

Improving the conditions for sustainable GIS services and large economic potential of geo-information is of major concern in many countries. The current GIS services, however, are provided by 'scattered' organizations that are difficult to access simultaneously to provide coherent set of services. Several initiatives are taking place everywhere to enhance the use of GIS, consequently strengthening the geo-information market, by enabling advanced tools for the delivery of data and geo-services to all stakeholders and decision makers. Such initiatives will be taken in the framework of e-government and the massive efforts to build citizen-centered services to enhance the quality of life.

The spatial data infrastructure (SDI) has for long been developed as a network for spatial data discovery and access. As a result spatial data, in distributed and heterogeneous databases, are readily accessible and sharable. Spatial data abundance notwithstanding, a rapidly growing segment of the geo-information market comprises non-expert GIS users who seldom seek raw data but rather demand value-added information products and services of varying complexity. Increasingly, traditional spatial data infrastructures fail to fully meet the needs of emerging markets. Further, increased competition, demand for lean enterprises, evolving e-commerce activities and rapid gravitation towards Internet GIS, all compound to motivate the concept of a novel service-centered infrastructure that enables delivery of geo-information and GIS services of varying complexity. This concept derives credence from growing evidence that it is beyond the capacity of any single organization to meet the demands of emerging markets for GIS services with stringent quality requirements. The partnership of public and private institutions that are working in the GIS market is emerging now a day as a new business model, ‘PPP’, to meet GIS market needs. The establishment of a geographic service infrastructure (GSI) falls in such context.

The GSI operates as a virtual enterprise comprising dynamic collaborations of many public and private institutions partnering on the basis of core competencies and shared business objectives. It enables enterprises, that are otherwise autonomous entities, to share and pool together spatial resources, business processes and knowledge towards meeting user needs, and as a result presents a sound basis for e-commerce transactions in geographical information markets.

In this paper we propose a ‘generic model’ for a specialized GIS Services Portal (eGIS) in the framework of the E-Government and spatial data infrastructure initiatives, to build a platform for an effective geographic service infrastructure. The goal of the eGIS Portal is to provide a single place where agencies can post metadata that describe their resources (spatial data and GIS functionalities) and where clients can go to discover such resources and request services through brokerage service. The provided services can be simple (a functionality provided by a single source) or complex (chaining of GIS functionalities from several sources). The eGIS Portal includes the necessary Web technologies, which are needed to request, deliver, coordinate, chain and control the execution of identified, tailored, services.

1. The virtual enterprise; a new business model for collaborative work in the GIS market

Today’s dynamic business environment forces industrial and service sectors to work beyond their boundaries and to operate in a more tightly coupled mode, forming integrated ‘virtual’ enterprises, to seize business opportunities. A Virtual Enterprise (VE) is a (temporal) network of independent organizations (legally autonomous, public as well as private institutions) that joins functions with a particular objective, [3], [4], [6]. A VE is structured and managed in such a way that third parties see it as an identifiable and complete organization (one enterprise). The participating organizations can join or split over time according to their business interests, as shown in figure (1). The principles of the VE are: better customer satisfaction, reduced time-to-market and adaptation to changes in the surrounding environment.

These principles are applied mainly with the aim of having a share in a wider global market. This approach provides an organization with enough flexibility to handle an uncertain changing environment. These enterprises are called “virtual” because of their temporal nature, seizing certain, often short-lived, business. The products and services provided by VEs are dependent on innovation and are strongly customer-based.

The implementation of these new ideas of virtual communities, collaborative work, etc. and integrating processes and information from different organizations, for the delivery of products or services on the basis of common business understanding is an inevitable future characteristic of the GIS market worldwide. By taking this approach, more tightly integration and communication is achieved through a common mission, strategy and use of ICT and Web technologies, with mechanisms to establish clear responsibilities improving the production relation-ships and thus improving success for the organizations.

2. The impact on spatial data infrastructure; the changing role from data to service delivery

The spatial data infrastructure (SDI) provides access to geographical data by networking geo-information databases ruled by sharing mechanisms, defining technological as well as organizational aspects for the exchange of data. The role of SDI is currently changing, from it being a simple data discovery and retrieval facility to become an integrated system suitable for the provision of customized information and geo-services. The term geo-services is used to denote the chaining of several GIS functionalities, that are provided by different GIS systems in a distributed environment, to provide more complex product, i.e. more than simple data sets, tailored according to user needs. Normally developers address the issue of designing complex services by stringing together groups of functions in an ad-hoc manner. This approach may satisfy a particular need but doing this separately for different services hampers reusability. Moreover, lack, of descriptions of the solutions obtained makes it hard to aggregate solutions to execute complex tasks.

From the ‘virtual enterprise’ perspective, a GDI is viewed as a mechanism that facilitates collaborative work, where it is possible to link autonomous, distributed, geo-information centers (data providers, value added service enablers, service providers and control units) to achieve business goals.

The operational model of such an enterprise is based on the concept of unbundling of the functionalities of current stand-alone systems in the traditional Geo-organizations, including mapping agencies, to make them available as independently developed, yet interoperable autonomous services. These functionalities include processes from different data sources, processes to create databases and manage their access, processes for map visualization, GIS functionality for spatial data analysis, etc. An infrastructure, with institutional and technical arrangements will be required to support the networking and chaining of these functionalities and services to create customized solutions and to achieve common business goals. Integration is not limited to data exchange capabilities, but also concerns the rest of the enterprise by connecting all necessary functions and heterogeneous functional entities. Further details are given later in this paper to show how to build such an infrastructure in the framework of E-Government initiative, based on a case study conducted in Egypt, [7], [8].

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