Roadmap to Web future for Devonport

Roadmap to Web future for Devonport

With one eye on the Web, Devonport City Council has migrated its mapping applications to the client/server age.

By Paul Montgomery

Moving to a Web-centric application model might be the aim of every IT project manager these days, but it is not a single step process when legacy systems are involved. Devonport City Council has prepared for the stresses that Web users will put on its GIS application by moving it to a distributed server farm on relational databases and opening it up to Windows desktops.

Paul Crabtree, GIS administrator for the Council, said it maintained a database of all of the property it owned or administered, including parks, sewerage pipes and water drains, managed by the SpatialWare application from MapInfo. Local government has traditionally been a big market for GIS applications because it relies on maps of land titles to generate rates revenue, and much of its administrative work is taken up with land development and subdivision.

The maps of Devonport had resided on a Wang VS "midiframe" server (so named because it is smaller than a mainframe but larger than the average server), running a legacy application called GDS which restricted a small number of users to accessing the images through a terminal emulator on a PC card. The GIS image archive has now been moved onto an Oracle database, residing on a farm of seven Compaq servers running Windows 3.51. They are stored on the same servers as the other relational databases that are vital to the Council's activities, but the individual databases have not been consolidated.

"the whole system of Council is integrated right across the board"

The back end is now in place, and work has also been completed at the front end, at least for now. All users in the Council can now retrieve the maps using a native Windows fat client, which was developed by a three-strong team of inhouse programmers working mostly with MapInfo's MapX integration tool and also in Microsoft's Visual Basic development environment.

"All our geographical stuff was done in six months. It was not difficult, it was just time consuming. The learning curve was pretty steep for the three [developers]," said Mr Crabtree.

The design of the client was handled by a committee with representatives of every department of the Council, according to Mr Crabtree. He said the users were "desperate" for the interface of the GIS application to incorporate the same ease of use as other Windows software.

"Because everything is so integrated now, the whole system of Council is integrated right across the board, and there are a lot of users coming online. Even at the work depot level, they've got access to everything they need access to," Mr Crabtree said.

This committee process will continue "ad infinitum", particularly as the Council moves towards thin client technology and the Web. Future developments are expected to include a function-rich Web site, and a possible extranet project that is hoped to come to fruition in the next twelve months.

The transition from the Wang midi frame to the NT-based Oracle database took more than a year, and during the changeover the information was stored temporarily on Microsoft's SQL Server. However, Mr Crabtree said the Oracle database allowed Devonport Council to do things with the GIS data that it could not build before.

"We could have done without Oracle, but it wouldn't have been as efficient, and it would have been difficult to introduce the GIS to outdoors and satellite [offices]. It also would have been impossible to look forward to our Web site," he said.