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Summer 2010

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Abu Dhabi SDI Supports Wide-Ranging E-government Programs Using GIS


  • The operations team uses GIS for data processing, data review and assessment, and publication of map services.
  • ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Mobile solutions aid in developing the AD-SDI clearinghouse and associated metadata catalog.
  • The AD-SDI geoportal provides access to the data clearinghouse from which more than 300 map layers are being made available to the community.
  click to enlarge
A satellite image of Yas Island (IKONOS 2009 one-meter imagery courtesy of Space Reconnaissance Center).

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf. Today, Abu Dhabi houses key sustainable energy, economic, and environmental initiatives leveraging leading technology. As such, the timely collection, preservation, and distribution of relevant geospatial data are critical to maintain its spatial data infrastructure and ensure the smooth running of the emirate's many governmental and commercial activities.

The Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI) is an initiative administered within the Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre (ADSIC) to facilitate the sharing of geospatial data among government agencies and other stakeholders. As part of Abu Dhabi's ambitious e-government program, AD-SDI is empowering government and society with convenient, open access to high-quality and up-to-date geographic information and spatially enabled e-government services.

In Abu Dhabi, government entities have invested heavily in GIS technology and geospatial data to meet their own organizational needs. The emirate is now in an excellent position to leverage that investment by establishing the necessary institutional capabilities that are needed to support more effective sharing and utilization of geospatial information. AD-SDI was conceived to provide that framework.

Establishing the AD-SDI Initiative

In June 2007, ADSIC launched the AD-SDI initiative to provide a framework of standards, policies, data, procedures, technology, and capable staff to facilitate and support the effective use and sharing of geospatial information in Abu Dhabi. Incorporated into AD-SDI are a data clearinghouse, geospatial portal, and Web site, as well as an extensive program for community engagement, organization, coordination, and establishment of formal agreements for data provision and sharing.

The operations team at the Spatial Data Center (SDC) is utilizing the ArcGIS suite of software for data processing, data review and assessment, publication of map services, and GIS analysis and cartography for special projects. Esri technology has also been used in developing the AD-SDI clearinghouse and associated metadata catalog and the supporting services based on ArcGIS Server technology and the REST and SOAP interfaces, in addition to mobile GIS applications based on the ArcGIS Mobile solution. Other map viewers were built using Flex and Java APIs.

A dedicated AD-SDI staff is in place to facilitate, promote, coordinate, and support the AD-SDI initiative with the various member entities. Venues for such cooperation and collaboration with entities include facilitating the AD-SDI Technical Committee meetings and discussions; developing and implementing agreed-upon standards for geospatial data maintenance and update; and mobilizing working groups and special interest groups in key areas of common interest, such as environment, utilities, and public safety and security.

Now in the third stage of a three-stage process, the initiative has almost 40 government and quasi-government entities involved, with more expected to join this year. As part of the community development, ADSIC is in the process of developing service-level agreements and licensing arrangements with each entity that spell out what data will be provided, the timing of periodic updates, and access and use restrictions for the data each is providing. In addition, a geolegal policy has been mobilized to work on strengthening aspects of the legal framework to address issues that have special relevance to geospatial matters, such as security, privacy, and intellectual property rights.

Standardization Essential in AD-SDI Development

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Abu Dhabi large-scale basemap (courtesy of Department of Municipal Affairs-Abu Dhabi Municipality).

Standards including the appropriate data, technology, and procedures are essential to ensure interoperability across the AD-SDI community.

Integrating existing GIS data and procedures across the AD-SDI community is a matter of proactive stakeholder engagement and consultation to avoid redundant and often inconsistent spatial datasets. Today, the emirate's fundamental geospatial datasets (FGDS), such as cadastral data, orthoimagery, elevation data, transportation, land use, soils, and utility networks, are maintained by the relevant government organizations. The entities are streamlining their workflow to update the spatial data they are responsible for by recording changes on the ground as they occur as part of their business processes. This approach of transaction-based data maintenance ensures that spatial data is updated and delivered to the AD-SDI community in a timely manner.

A geospatial metadata catalog is another significant factor in maintaining standardization in AD-SDI, as it provides a master inventory of the fundamental data and geospatial services available. All the layers in the data clearinghouse have some level of metadata that is accessible through the geoportal. The metadata catalog was originally compiled by the ADSIC team, but responsibility for maintenance of this information is being transferred to the custodian agencies as a condition within the service-level agreements. Organizations using Esri products can maintain their data through ArcGIS Desktop. Others can update their information through the geoportal, once authorized to do so, or through any ISO standards-based metadata maintenance tool.

Geoportal Key to AD-SDI Success

The ultimate goal of the AD-SDI initiative is to create a seamless network of interoperable nodes—geospatial portals—that will provide easy access to all geospatial information in the emirate. Currently, both secure government and publicly accessible geoportals have been set up, and the information available is being expanded and updated on an ongoing basis.

The AD-SDI geoportal provides access to the data clearinghouse from which more than 300 map layers are being made available to the community. Data is now being kept current, as the custodian entities periodically submit updates to the ADSIC team, which runs the data through procedures to ensure that the new information is consistent with the agreed-upon standards. The geoportal is being used as a common reference for viewing existing data, and a few users are now employing thick-client access to map services.

Many organizations in the AD-SDI community have implemented or are planning to implement their own geoportal nodes. The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi has been operating its node for over two years, and other entities, such as the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, Department of Municipal Affairs, and Urban Planning Council, have instituted or are planning to institute their own Web-based mapping services for internal and public use.

AD-SDI Garners Wide Support and Boosts Potential Savings

The essential value of AD-SDI is widely recognized across the community, and huge cost savings are already being realized in several ways:

  • All spatial data maintained by organizations for their own business purposes is now standardized according to the broader needs of the community, leading to improved and newer usages of the data, thereby leveraging the value of the data investment many times over.
  • Previously, spatial data projects could be launched by individual government entities. Now, the AD-SDI Technical Committee is included in the procedure, which leads to better alignment of the projects for the common needs of the community and avoids costly and redundant data acquisition.
  • The top leadership is now being provided with access to accurate and up-to-date information in a reliable and timely manner, empowering it to make informed decisions.

The implementation of these portals will lead to a greater sharing and utilization of spatial data in Abu Dhabi. The participating organizations are now routinely adding new users as more people become aware of what is available and how it can be used in their work.

More Information

For more information, contact the Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure initiative (e-mail: or visit

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