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Location Wales 2012

By Peter Fitzgibbon - 21st December 2012 - 09:47

Mike Saunt's regular 'Keeping an Open Eye' column for GEOconnexion UK appears this month in our online edition

I was lucky enough to be invited to Keynote alongside Andy Coote at the AGI Cymru event at Cardiff City Hall (picured above) in December. Andy gave a great presentation about “Business to Consumer Market Opportunities” highlighting how Location is being used extensively by consumers through devices such as tablets and smartphones. He says there are still huge opportunities for the GI industry as a whole to provide solutions. Various topics were covered such as:

1 Smart Routing - currently being under utilised and offering 10-15% fuel savings, reduced insurance premiums and the potential for preferential traffic signals (for those who can afford it!)

2 Travel applications - such as Tourism from, an embeddable map for B2C or B2B with tourist locations and MapSqueak for Find My Nearest, Events and Incidents nearby

3 My Stop - my favourite, especially as a Christmas Party Aid which is a GPS activated alarm that wakes you up as you approach your train station. One of the reasons I love it (apart from the obvious #geobeers connotations) is that it uses an Open Data database of GB railway stations to correlate against the GPS of the smartphone - neat!

Andy’s presentation was backed up by great economic stats ....way out of my league!

Open Data Feeds

My presentation, entitled “Doing something with this Open stuff!” was focused on the opening up of government data (OpenData) whether via INSPIRE or just for access for the UK Plc to put to good use. I covered a variety of examples with live demonstrations using web browsers and Quantum GIS (QGIS to its friends) - interestingly pretty much EVERYONE in the audience had heard of it and I wonder what the number would have been 1,2 3 years ago?

My company has started providing a syndication service for a variety of Open Data feeds that we believe will be of interest to our customers. Why do we provide a syndication service?

Glad you asked.

For the last few years we’ve provided a variety of methods for our customers to access data through some nifty python scripts or through direct access to the likes of NHS Choices (England only), Elgin (, local Crime data ( to name a few. Each of these had published APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Historically we'd load these onto our customers’ servers (after getting proxy issues sorted with IT departments), set them to run each day or week and away we went. A number of issues have become apparent for use within GIS applications: 1, These aren’t GIS-friendly, and 2, They change.

These aren’t GIS-friendly

Let's take Police.UK for example - here we have to make lots (and I mean shedloads) of requests to the XML based API to return results using a unique access key (each customer used to need one) - with a daily limit of 5,000 requests. We have a couple of keys (they are aware) so getting a National dataset is possible but it returns a lot of data which isn’t well formatted. We process this data in and store in PostGIS which with between 220-250k crimes / incidents in England / Wales every month - is no mean task. We now provide a set of WFS services for our clients, nicely formatted and structured correctly (a total is a number yes?) which our customers can easily request.

They change

NHS Choices - used to be a single SOAP based request to return a national dataset in XML, now it is over 3,000 requests (as the API is now tied to the User Interface which has a maximum of 10 results per page - not really a good Service Orientated Architecture! This was the game changer for us because their servers were being hit by 40 clients every day each with approximately 3,000 requests? That is 119,960 more that they used to have. As with Police.UK we've made this into a nice set of WFS feeds to return the various Doctors, Dentists, Pharmacies etc. Imagine having to go around to 40 sites having to update scripts etc.

Using WFS means our customers don't need to download the complete national dataset but can specify a Bounding Box and have just the data relevant to them returned.

Holy Grail

The Holy Grail? Well pretty much as you can now easily access these datasets (and OS BoundaryLine enhanced with other attributes such as MP names, Council URLs etc.) without having to manage the data at all...great and it can be used internally too! In the future we're adding Edubase (locations of ALL Schools in England and Wales) and things like Output Areas from the ONS.

I did get asked a few probing questions at the end of my presentation such as ‘How much money have you made from all this?’ Answer? We can't quantify this as it is part of our offering to subscription based clients but one thing I do know is that it saves them hell of a lot of time!

Mike Saunt is the managing director of Astun Technology in Epsom, Surrey, and can be contacted by email at [email protected]

Read More: Healthcare Security & Safety

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