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Web Services Put GIS on the Map

Web services enable IT to easily embed powerful geographic information system analysis and mapping capabilities in familiar end-user applications.

December 15, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - For Edens & Avant, which builds and manage shopping centers, location is everything. Building in a neighborhood with the wrong demographics for its retail tenants or where traffic flow or access is poor can lead to disaster, says David Beitz, geographic and marketing information systems manager at the $2.3 billion real estate investment firm. "The cost is tremendous if you build a shopping center somewhere and a major tenant leaves. You're going to lose a lot of money," he says.
To ensure that doesn't happen, Beitz uses geographic information system (GIS) tools and data from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) in Redlands, Calif. By creating a geographic map and overlays that plot customer populations and demographics, competing businesses and street and traffic patterns, Beitz can produce a visual report that decision-makers can use. The entire process takes just a few minutes.
Today, Columbia, S.C.-based Edens & Avant purchases the underlying data and then periodically updates it. But Beitz is also experimenting with accessing current data via the Web. Using ESRI's ArcExplorer Java Edition viewer, Beitz can quickly build a map that combines his internal data with the latest street data from the U.S. Census Bureau and toxic waste site data from the Environmental Protection Agency (see image). ESRI offers both sets of data as Web services. "You're not downloading it; you're basically viewing it," Beitz says, so there's no need to use a local copy of that data.
Beitz uses ArcExplorer for initial screening of prospective sites but says he still does in-depth analysis with data purchased for use in-house. "You can't do really good-looking maps [using ArcExplorer]," he says. But that may change as GIS tool vendors, data providers and users gradually make more GIS data and applications available as Web services.
Rapidly evolving support for Web services in GIS is not only changing how analysts access and view maps and data; vendors and analysts say it will also facilitate the integration of GIS functions into a wide range of applications. In so doing, Web services will open up GIS to decision-makers, who will have direct access to some capabilities that are available today only by working with a specialist.

"Historically, geospatial has been seen as something kind of in the basement," says George Moon, chief technology officer at Troy, N.Y.-based MapInfo Corp. Web services can put relevant GIS applications on the end user's desktop by embedding them within familiar applications. "I don't have to understand a proprietary interface to embed code," he says.
A suite of emerging Web services standards from the Open

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