ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

May 2008

The INSPIRE Initiative

European Union to Develop Comprehensive Spatial Data Infrastructure

By Jim Baumann, Esri Writer

Recognizing the need to unify its spatial data infrastructure (SDI), the European Union (EU) began to develop the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) initiative in 2002. The goal: To make geospatial data more readily available for European community policy making.

INSPIRE will support the development of a comprehensive European SDI built on the SDIs operated by EU member states and other constituent information-sharing communities. Using open source technologies, the integration of the existing SDI services—along with the creation of new services—will enable European SDI participants to exchange spatial information as widely as possible. Potential users include policy makers, planners, and managers as well as private organizations, EU residents, and others.

Recently, the European Parliament and Council formally adopted the INSPIRE Directive. It requires that over the next two years, EU member states enact laws, regulations, and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the directive. This transition phase will be followed by full EU implementation, which is expected to continue until 2019.

A comprehensive set of implementation specifications is currently being drafted by teams of experts in the areas of metadata, data, network services, data and service sharing, and monitoring and reporting. The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) Spatial Data Infrastructures Unit is the technological and scientific advisor for the INSPIRE implementation and provides guidance to the drafting teams.

Esri has reached a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with JRC. The general objective: To contribute more effectively to understanding and resolving issues in the field of spatial data infrastructures and the interoperability of geospatial data.

"The preparation of the INSPIRE Directive has been done with widespread stakeholder involvement and has significantly raised awareness of interoperability and SDI issues in Europe," says Steve Peedell of JRC. "Now that the directive has been adopted, it is vital that Esri, as a leading GIS vendor, supports the required interoperability specifications and standards, and we are happy to cooperate on these issues. As an Esri customer itself, the JRC needs to know that it can build interoperable geospatial services that are compliant with the requirements of INSPIRE using standard off-the-shelf tools."

To help implement an SDI, Esri has introduced the GIS Portal Toolkit, a standards-based technology and services solution. Based on Esri's GIS server technology, it provides a cost-effective means to get a geoportal up and running quickly. It offers all the tools and templates necessary to implement a Web-based mechanism for the posting and discovery of spatial data that participating spatial data authors make available.

The toolkit also contains a stand-alone harvesting module that is used to harvest, validate, and publish metadata information from one data repository to another. This module performs automatic searches for data required for a specific query or analysis. "The GIS Portal Toolkit provides a mechanism for organizations to advertise/share their geographic resources with other agencies that may benefit from these resources," says Esri developer Marten Hogeweg. "Traditionally, these resources were downloadable datasets or map services available for viewing, but we see a need to include globes, models, tools, tasks, symbology definitions, and other types of resources GIS professionals may share with each other. Since data providers and consumers may use different GIS technologies, supporting interoperability specifications including, but not limited to, those developed by the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC), is a key element of the GIS Portal Toolkit.

"We also aim to increase the integration of the resource discovery process with the GIS business processes by developing extensions to ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap) and ArcGIS Explorer to facilitate their integration with other resources," Hogeweg says. "In this dynamic world of service specification and interaction, it is of utmost importance to be able to interact with the research community through agreements as we currently have with JRC."

The Regione Lombardia—a regional government in Italy—is supporting its GIS strategy by setting up the regional SDI as a node for INSPIRE. Regione Lombardi wants to involve local public administrations and private companies in the process of disseminating and sharing geographic data and services that are already widely available.

The core of the regional SDI is the Lombardia GeoPortal, where users can publish or search for geographic data, applications, and services. Lombardia Informatica S.p.A is managing the geoportal solution. The geoportal's main component is the Metadata Catalog of Data and Services, which has been implemented to comply with the international standards ISO 19115 and ISO 19139. The geoportal also offers general services including map viewers and tools for downloading data and coordinate transformations. Other services will be added in the future to support the requirements of an increasing number of users.

"The new geoportal solution has been designed to be easy to use even for non-GIS users, aiming to be a reference point for everyone interested in geographic information and services related to Regione Lombardia," says Marco Panebianco of Lombardia Informatica S.p.A.

"It represents a powerful and effective solution to support Regione in the process of setting up the regional SDI, involving the other public administrations (provinces, municipalities, and mountain communities) and giving visibility and access to their georesources and metadata."

The Lombardia GeoPortal was implemented by customizing Esri's GIS Portal Toolkit to comply with both Italian and INSPIRE metadata profiles. The geoportal overlays the Regional Enterprise platform for Geographic Information Services (REGIS), which consists of a technological infrastructure based on ArcSDE, ArcIMS, and ArcGIS Server as well as basic services.

Notes Guenther Pichler, business development manager at Esri, "Following our long tradition in supporting the establishment of SDIs within the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure initiative, Esri is pleased to contribute with open and standards-based state-of-the-art GIS technology to integrated spatial information services for Europe. Ubiquitous and interoperable access to spatial information from a wide range of sources is key for decision making. It will make European governance more efficient and effective, specifically regarding the sustainable management of resources and the environment."

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