GIS hits the Net to provide online spatial analysis

Geographic information systems (GIS) technology has finally made it on to the Internet, giving users easy access to spatial analysis data.

Geographic information systems (GIS) technology has finally made it on to the Internet, giving users easy access to spatial analysis data. And as more companies look to use data generated from maps to help manage their businesses, the market for GIS technology grows.

According to officials at Daratech, in Cambridge, Massachussetts, GIS software revenue grew 18.3% last year, to US$548 million.

So far, only MapInfo has a World Wide Web-based application suite--ProServer--but others may soon follow, says Gartner Group research director Scott Nelson. Nelson says he heard through the grapevine that at least one other major vendor is putting together an application for the Internet, but he is declining to name the vendor.

MapInfo, distributed in New Zealand by Critchlow and Associates, is used by at least 150 organisations including business, education, scientific and government users.

Critchlow Associates director Simon Jellie has tested the product and is enthusiastic about the applications. "Our whole philosophy is to get GIS information to the masses and this product fits the bill. By using a browser such as Netscape or Explorer, users can tap into corporate spatial databases on an intranet or public databases over the Internet and perform mapping applications. It opens up a whole new dimension for desktop mapping."

Critchlow and Associates will be beta testing the server soon. In America, AT&T's Atlanta office is beta-testing MapInfo's ProServer software and plans to use it to protect its fibre-optic cable lines against damage from construction and other heavy equipment.

AT&T software development supervisor Azhar Syed says the company uses a centralised mapping system that holds the locations of its fibre-optic cable across 48 states. Syed says he wants his technicians to be able to access that information remotely over the Web. When anyone needs to dig in a location that may have buried cable, an AT&T technician can access the information and assess whether it is safe to dig there, he says.

"We have street maps and cable maps, and we can determine automatically if we have any cable close to the address," Syed says.

James Rapinac, vice-president and industry analyst at Daratech, says use of corporate intranets and the Internet will make it easier and more cost-effective to implement projects such as AT&T's.

A major advantage of MapInfo's suite is that the company charges for licences based on the number of people who need to access the application instead of the total number of desktops in the company. "Since maps are not part of the technician's basic job and are only something they will use once or twice a week, it's cost-effective. We won't have to deal with more than 1000 licenses," Syed says.

MapInfo is beta-testing its ProServer Web-based software suite and allowing users to download The Beta Lab free of charge. It can be accessed at www.mapinfo.com.

Critchlow and Associates can be found at http://nz.com/webnz/critchlow/main.html.

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