Colombia en Mapas is user-centric, meaning both beginners and experts could use it. We wanted an information ecosystem in which data from multiple sources could be found with the same standard protocol guaranteeing its interoperability to speed up the information analysis.
Beyond the Maps: Colombia's Digital Atlas Provides a Powerful Tool
Spanning more than 440,000 miles of diverse topographical, geologic, and climatological versatility is the Republic of Colombia. With a population of over 50 million citizens—65 percent of whom lack internet access—it's been a challenge to capture and share the country's rich geographic data.
Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi (IGAC) is the government authority responsible for the regulation, production, and articulation of Colombia's geographic, cadastral, and agricultural information. IGAC staff create the country's official geographic data, digital maps, and cartography. For 86 years, IGAC has been the government resource for all high-quality geographic, geodetic, and agrologic information for Colombia. The institution contributes transparent data for decision-making, development, planning, and policy across Colombia.
IGAC staff have a goal to make the agency a reputable geographic leader by being the principal source of reliable geographic, cadastral, and agrologic information for Colombia by 2025. In 2020, staff began to look for and identify gaps in the agency’s services and data. Their findings inspired the creation of a consolidated and democratized geographic information system (GIS) tool that everyone, including government, private organizations, and citizens, could utilize to help create a sustainable future for Colombia. To achieve this goal, staff used ArcGIS technology from Esri and worked closely with Esri Colombia.
"Beyond the technical goals, we are also aligned with Esri's values. We are convinced that with data, maps, and GIS, we can create a more sustainable future for Colombia and the world," says Pamela Mayorga, geographic information management director.
Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi (IGAC)
To become the Republic of Colombia's principal source of geographic, cadastral, and agrologic information, cartographers at the Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi (IGAC) wanted to create the first public-facing national tool/resource to access and consolidate the data.
Using Esri technology, IGAC built a national atlas called Colombia en Mapas (CeM). The digital platform centralizes and organizes all the collected geographic data to be easily accessed and downloaded for a user-friendly experience.
Since CeM's launch, over 220,000 visitors have explored the website, and 94,150 users engage with the tool regularly. By integrating multisectoral and geographic information system (GIS) data, IGAC has achieved the goal of creating an open and centralized database.
For decades, different government entities, private organizations, and IGAC staff collected Colombia's geographic, geodetic, and agrologic information. As a result, the data was disparate and difficult to access. People had to check several resources and consult multiple government agencies to find critical information. While IGAC has a wealth of data dating back to 1810, much of it existed only internally for individuals with technical backgrounds. Moreover, the use of multiple systems caused data to be siloed, preventing cross-collaboration between institutions, and often resulting in duplicated work.
"I believe that a key reason we fail to achieve progress is that we choose to either ignore information we have, or we don't use it enough. Important knowledge ends up [being] stored in complex interfaces and inaccessible databases," says Dr. Olga Lucía López Morales, director general at IGAC and former director of Unidad Administrativa Especial de Catastro Distrital.
After an internal review, IGAC leadership determined the need for an open, easy-to-use, and authoritative GIS tool. The goal of this tool was to consolidate vital data from both IGAC and other government agencies and make it accessible to all. Data provided by the tool includes agriculture, environment, health, mining, multipurpose cadaster, land-use planning, trade, and transportation.
"Government entities are often faced with challenges that require them to make fast decisions," continues López. "We need valid, timely, and actionable information available to make the best decisions possible for our citizens."
IGAC and Esri have worked together for more than 25 years. Leveraging the agency's ArcGIS Enterprise license, IGAC staff began an eight-month journey to develop a living, digital atlas. The platform, Colombia en Mapas (CeM), translated as Colombia on Maps in English, centralizes all the geographic data collected by IGAC and 29 national entities.
CeM applies geospatial technology in the platform's front-end viewer with ArcGIS Maps SDK for Java. It also uses GIS for the back-end geographic services. These two components enable information to be both visualized and integrated from other sources, including Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Inc., geographic services; proprietary developments; and geographic services from other entities. "Our experience with Esri's technology is that it is robust, quick, and simple to use, says Mayorga. "ArcGIS makes data available in an agile way that has helped make CeM what it is today to support and develop new resources."
CeM is hosted using ArcGIS Enterprise and offers over 600 geoservices to users such as feature, map, image, cache, and tile services. Data is organized by themes including basic maps, geodesy, historical mapping, images, limits, and multipurpose cadastre. These themes apply to over 30 categories, including agriculture and rural development, culture and leisure, education, statistics, mines, and energy. The platform stores 19,000 satellite images and 233,000 aerial images. This data can be visualized with multiple layers and scales on every map for quick analysis. Additionally, CeM is an interoperable tool. Via web services, it communicates with different datasets, formats, and systems to share information in multiple environments.
While business and government entities can use CeM for planning, infrastructure, and other decisions, the tool also benefits a larger audience. CeM contains data related to COVID‑19 and other health issues, meteorology, and transportation—information citizens can access and use for personal decisions.
"Colombia en Mapas is user-centric, meaning both beginners and experts could use it," says Mayorga. "We wanted an information ecosystem in which data from multiple sources could be found with the same standard protocol guaranteeing its interoperability to speed up the information analysis."
By integrating multisectoral and GIS data, IGAC has achieved the goal of creating an open and centralized portal that all Colombian citizens can use. Most importantly, it has transformed Colombia, putting perspective on relevant issues ranging from the individual to the national level. Since the launch, over 220,000 visitors have explored CeM, and 94,150 users engage with the tool regularly.
"More than 80 percent of the people who visit CeM consult the atlas, showing this is a user-centric tool that generates adherence and trust," says Mayorga.
The availability of CeM has also cut down information requests and prevented duplication of resources, and the platform now serves as the principal data channel for Colombia. CeM empowers everyone—from individuals, commercial businesses, and government agencies—to understand decisions that affect them. It has even earned recognition from The Republic of Colombia's president Iván Duque Márquez, who called it "the most modern atlas in its history" to provide service to the entire country, when he publicly launched CeM along with López and Mayorga in 2021.
CeM architecture is flexible, allowing for future changes and innovation. Collaboration from communities and other entities is vital for CeM's continued success. IGAC staff continually evaluate new data, integrations, and services to enhance the platform. Currently, IGAC staff have implemented a survey option at different points of the atlas for users to provide feedback and help ensure this is "everyone's" map. The long-term goal for CeM is to be a tool for collaboration and reciprocity, with users contributing new data and employing it for informed, accurate decision-making.
"[CeM] was really hard work, but we knew that this was going to have an impact on the country," continues Mayorga,. "Receiving the different recognitions; seeing citizens, entities, and government wanting to be a part of this initiative—it has been so rewarding for me and the team."