Geospatial Business Spotlight: Bowne Management Systems

Company Name:         Bowne Management Systems, Inc.

Location:                     235 E. Jericho Turnpike, Mineola, NY  11501

Website:                      http://www.bownegroup.com

Employees:                 35

Established:               1982

Bowne Management Systems (BMS) is unique in the technology world as the firm has been in business since 1982.   2017 marks the 35th anniversary of BMS and they proudly state “we innovate every day.”

The collective team of professionals are not only fluent in IT and geospatial technology but in the core competencies of any business – professional project management, diverse and adaptable skill sets and most importantly, customer relationships and satisfaction.

BMS is associated with their affiliate, Sidney B. Bowne and Son, a nationally recognized civil engineering and surveying firm that has been in business in New York State since 1895. The shared corporate culture and values has kept Bowne in the forefront for almost 125 years.

BMS has developed core practices to support the mission critical operations of local government. This client base includes local government at all levels, as well as State and Federal government agencies, and private clients. BMS has core practices in the following areas:

  • Public Safety
  • Land Records and Tax Mapping
  • Infrastructure and Asset Management

In addition to these core practices, BMS has robust operations in the areas of IT Staffing and Governance, Geospatial Cloud Deployment, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Services, and Project Management and Oversight. Some recent notable work includes the following:

Support for New York City’s emergency  dispatch   systems   – BMS built the street center line (“City- wide Street Centerline” [CSCL]) and the required maintenance  system. BMS also built and maintains  the software that transforms CSCL data to the geofile format required  by the NYPD and FDNY dispatch systems. To date, also most 50 million e-911 calls have been successfully handled by CSCL and Bowne developed software.

BMS has been involved in the development of many tax parcel systems in NYS. This includes New York City, the counties of Nassau, Orange, Suffolk, Sullivan, Oneida, and Tompkins and many of municipalities in Westchester County.  BMS staff maintains parcels daily and continues to innovate and introduce new technology, such as ESRI’s Parcel Fabric, to the customer base.

The BMS infrastructure practice is a leader in NYS MS4 data collection. Recently the practice  led  the  effort to successfully complete  field work for the Sleepy Hollow Consortium in Westchester County, which encompassed 20+ separate municipalities and led to consistent data for most of the County’s drainage network.

BMS’ mobile development group builds applications for all of their core practices.  As illustrated above, a recent Mobile Mapping component was deployed for the East Hampton Village Police Department which complements the web based Computer Aided Dispatch Map Viewer, which displays calls for service in real-time.

As Portal technology, and the use of Cloud-based services and ESRI’s ArcGIS Online continues to grow, BMS has been at the forward edge deploying solutions using platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).  One recent experience is the Western Connecticut Council of Governments  (WCCOG)  represents 18 Connecticut municipalities.

To support WCCOG’s economic development and transportation planning efforts, BMS developed a central repository for WCOG’s GIS data, including both imagery and planimetric data and oblique photography. A client-facing portal using ESRI’s ArcGIS for Server and Portal for ArcGIS, as well as a map viewer,  the application provides extensive capabilities. The regional  base map and applications were developed using a modified version of ESRI’s Local Government Information Model. BMS deployed the GIS clearinghouse system architecture on the Cloud  utilizing  Amazon Web Services (AWS) assuring high reliability and low administrative overhead for the member municipalities of WCOG.

BMS is a qualified vendor under the New York State Office of General Services 73600 – Project Based Information Technology Consulting Services (PBITS) (Statewide), as well as the State of Vermont – Retainer Contract for IT Services: Enterprise GIS Services category. In addition, the firm has many local government contracts and and multiple Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) contract vehicles.

Contact:               Jim Hall, Vice President of Strategic Accounts

                               jhall@bownegroup.com

                               516-746-2350

 

Geospatial Business Spotlight: Mapillary

Company Name:                 Mapillary

Website:                              http://www.mapillary.com/

Established:                       2013

THE COMPANY

Mapillary is a new and different approach to Street View. Using computer vision, Mapillary stitches together photos taken with any device to create street-level imagery for extracting geospatial data. By empowering anyone anywhere to easily create street-level imagery, Mapillary aims to create a photo representation of the world. To date, Mapillary’s community has contributed 63 million photos spanning over 900,000 miles across all seven continents.

Mapillary was founded in 2013 by Jan Erik Solem, Johan Gyllenspetz, Yubin Kuang, and Peter Neubauer, who share a vision for putting mapmaking into the hands of people everywhere. Solem, who serves as CEO, previously founded Polar Rose, a facial recognition software that was bought by Apple in 2010.  The company is headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, and has fifteen full-time employees located around the world.   Mapillary’s New York office is based In Brooklyn, NY.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Mapillary allows community members to create and explore a crowd-sourced, street-level view of the world through its app, which is available for web, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Users can upload photos from their smartphones or other digital cameras and Mapillary then combines the images together geotagging each using GPS metadata. The resulting 3D reconstruction is created using computer vision and the company’s own open source “Structure from Motion” algorithm. Mapping isn’t limited to streets—the community has captured hiking trails, favorite bike routes, and even a stretch of Antarctica. Mapillary integrates with any mapping platform through simple APIs.

Street-level photos can be captured using Mapillary's iPhone app

Street-level photos can be captured using Mapillary’s iPhone app

In addition to creating photo-maps, Mapillary also utilizes computer vision techniques to extract useful data from uploaded images. For instance, the software can recognize symbols on street signs in photos taken in the U.S. or Europe. This capability grew out of the app’s need to blur faces and license plates for privacy purposes, and is now used by groups like city governments for urban planning, land surveys and asset inventory. Using Mapillary with Esri’s ArcGIS platform has helped cities streamline infrastructure updates, from speed limit changes to road surface quality checks.

Mapillary uses computer vision to automatically detect traffic signs and extract geospatial data

Mapillary uses computer vision to automatically detect traffic signs and extract geospatial data

Humanitarian organizations also use Mapillary to further their initiatives. In Haiti, the American Red Cross and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap partnered with Mapillary to help record previously unmapped areas to aid disaster response efforts. Mapillary has also been used by the World Bank and other groups in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to record infrastructure in flood-prone areas of the city to help plan improvements. The app is ideally suited for these sorts of tasks because it doesn’t require any special equipment beyond a basic smartphone.

Street level imagery is reconstructed by creating point clouds from photos.

Street level imagery is reconstructed by creating point clouds from photos.

Mapillary is free to use for individuals and for non-profit or educational purposes. For commercial solutions, ranging from embedding a photo-map into a webpage to extracting specific data from images, Mapillary has several pricing plans available.

Westchester County GIS is using the Mapillary app to inventory hiking trails in County parks

Westchester County GIS is using the Mapillary app to inventory  hiking trails in Westchester County parks

To find out more about Mapillary, visit their website.

CONTACT: 

hello@mapillary.com
Bredgatan 4, 211 30 Malmo, Sweden
www.mapillary.com

Certifications + Competencies: Anybody Listening?

Every couple years the GIS community perks up for one reason to revisit and debate the importance and worthiness of Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification.  And more recently there has also been discussion and outreach, albeit among a much smaller community of geospatial professionals, on Geospatial Competency/Maturity Models.  Such is the recent case as the NYS GIS community (as part of the NEARC listserv) were asked  to jump in and contribute to an online survey  intended to “to get some idea of how widely GIS certifications have been adopted and promoted within organizations that use GIS technology or services at any level”.   The listserv posting states that results of the survey will be summarized and presented next month at the 2014 GIS-Pro Conference in New Orleans.

Not the first time the GIS community has been asked to weigh in and offer opinions on the GISP issue and my bet is that the results will continue to vary greatly based on respondent criteria such as years of GIS experience, management and supervisory responsibilities, and even type of employer (i.e., public, private, nonprofit, academic, etc.).  A simple Google search on “worth/value of GISP Certification” will result in a long list of articles on the subject from both individuals and online trade magazines.  Most of the online discussion will support and speak to the value of GISP Certification.  Which should come as no surprise as many of the opinion gathering efforts on this particular issue have been surveys of GIS industry personnel.  (Isn’t this called surveying the choir?)  There is the occasional descending opinion though this is normally the exception.    As a long-time GIS manager here in New York State I see both sides of the debate.  And yes, I did respond to the recent online GIS Certification questionnaire.

There are also recent and ongoing efforts to solicit comments on the 2010 Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) which has been on the back burner for the last couple years.   And I’d be surprised there is much awareness of the model throughout the NYS geospatial community.  Originally proposed by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Geospatial Workforce Development Center, the GTMC concept was an initial effort in the early 2000s to define geospatial industry skills and competencies.  This work  led to the first draft of the GTCM which was peer reviewed  by the Spatial Technologies Information Association (STIA) –  around the same time  STIA received a $700,000 grant from the Dept. of Labor to “promote spatial technologies industry”.    Interestingly, STIA doesn’t even seem to be around anymore.

Work continued on the GTCM and in early 2009 members of the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center) became involved in the effort to complete the GTCM.  As it goes, a panel of geospatial experts were brought together to further define the many components of the GTCM model.    Public comments were sought and comments were addressed with a final GTCM draft submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) Geospatial Technology Competency Model.  The draft was approved by DOLETA in 2010.

Approximately during the same timeframe and to further muddle efforts to define  geospatial industry standards,  the University Consortium for GIS Science got into them mix by publishing the Geographic Information Science and Technology Body of Knowledge in 2006.  It’s not real clear where this publication and effort went, if anywhere, in context of industry acceptance and promotion.  This publication was reissued in late 2012 by ESRI and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).   UCGIS is revisiting the book of knowledge as part of a 2014-2015 effort.

Since 2010 there have been focused efforts to promote the worthiness of the GTCM including David Debiase’s (ESRI) 2012 Directions Magazine article entitled Ten Things You Need to Know about the Geospatial Technology Competency Model.   The GTCM model is not for the meek and a challenge to work through for even the most experienced geospatial professionals.  I’ve been in the NYS geospatial space for a long, long time and I’ve never been involved in a GTCM focused discussion.  Or even aware of one.

Championed largely by GeoTech academics and DOLETA staff, GTCM was created to become an important resource “for defining the geospatial industry and a valuable tool for educators creating programs”.   The model specifies foundational (Tiers 1-3), industry-wide (Tier 4), and industry sector-specific (Tier 5) expertise characteristic of the various occupations that comprise the geospatial industry.   Descriptions of individual geospatial occupations, including occupation-specific competencies and job requirements (Tiers 6-8), are published in DOLETA’s O*NET occupation database (http://www.onetonline.org/).

URISA continues to make significant efforts to contribute to the GTCM concept.  In 2013 URISA published two documents:  (1) the Geospatial Management Competency Model (GMCM) and (2) the GIS Capability Maturity Model (GISCMM).   The GMCM focuses on just Tier 9 of the GTCM and specifies 74 essential competencies and 18 competency areas that characterize the work of most successful managers in the geospatial industry. It is not intended to be an exhaustive inventory of all pertinent competencies, such as those specific to particular work settings. Instead, the GMCM seeks to distill a concise list that is widely applicable, and readily adaptable to evolving industry needs.  The GISCMM was published as part of the newly formed URISA GIS Management Institute (GMI).

The GISCMM provides a first-ever framework for assessing not only the capability of an enterprise GIS operation, but also the process maturity of those who manage and operate the GIS. It includes 23 enabling capability assessment components, which include the sorts of assets that a GIS operation acquires. The Model also includes 22 execution ability assessment components, which include the key processes that are required to manage and operate an enterprise GIS. URISA states GISCMM will help organizations assess the development stage of their GIS and the process maturity level of their operations.  This assessment will help them target priority capability enhancement s and process improvements.  GIS staff responsible for operations and management will be able to use both the GISCMM and the GMCM to assess their own professional strengths and weakness and to identify training and other professional development priorities.

Honorable goals and intent, no doubt, but at the end of the day, a daunting concept for statewide GIS managers to get their arms around and champion in their respective organizations.

 So What’s All This Mean to the NYS Geospatial Community?

At this point, I think one would be challenged to find any real broad based discussion on the GISP Certification here in the Empire State.  Other than a show of hands as to who has GISP Certification at the bi-annual NYS state conference, the discussion doesn’t go much farther.  Instead of it being ongoing fodder for discussion among the choir at national conferences, perhaps in time, groups like the NYGIS Association Professional Development Committee could bring the topic down to earth and focus on what it really means here in New York.  Beyond discussion among my peers, GISP Certification has meant little to me personally in context of expanded professional recognition.  Though noted, this is just me – in the twilight of my professional career with Westchester County.

Inasmuch the GIS community wants GISP Certification to mean something, to cause change, to somehow better recognize or legitimize our work and services – little has been done in the institutional framework in which the geospatial community works and operates.  For example, or at least in government, one of the most meaningful and long lasting impacts will come when GISP credentials finally mean something to Human Resource managers and/or incorporated in civil service titles.  There has been only minimal progress in this regard across the state.

Unlike recognized professional credentials such as Professional Engineer (PE) and Project Management Professional (PMP) – ones that we most often run into in the geospatial arena – government attorneys and contract administrators will continue to be reluctant of adding new requirements to Request for Proposals (RFP) such as “GISP” when benefits of such are not clearly understood and recognized or do not have any financial or legal basis.   The model may be a little different in business and industry.  Yes, it may behoove consultants to show GISPs on staff to make their company credentials better than the next, but at the end of the day, organizations requesting GIS contract support want the most cost effective solution to get the job done – with or without GISP Certification.  Most likely until GISP Certification discussion turns into  institutional acceptance – by the organizations which hire and employ geospatial professionals – the banter of GISP Certification self-worth will continue.

Discussion – or actually the lack of – on Competence/Maturity Models in New York State is another issue.  Hard to explain given the broad publicity the issue has been given at professional conferences, URISA publications, academia, and uber expansive publications like ESRI’s ArcNews.  But it probably speaks to the point noted above the discussion continues to be within a very small audience.    Missing is meaningful and aggregated input from the grass roots level at all levels of NYS government.  Input is needed from GIS managers and supervisors who cannot afford to attend conferences.  Those who cannot serve on committees for one reason or another or simply do not have the time.  GIS administrators in 2014 publically funded, budget strapped organizations just trying to keep the lights on.  Yes, the new models speak to sustainability and revenue streams, but to introduce this discussion in 2014 in organizations which are constantly being asked to move programs to the Cloud, consider outsourcing or additional vendor support, or simply dropping selected program elements altogether, seems almost too much to ask?  In most local organizations across the state, there is very little context, or ability to start Competency/Maturity Model discussions.  Return-on-Investment (ROI) numbers are great to the extent staff and resources are available to prepare and conduct them; unfortunately I don’t see much of this across the NYS GIS landscape.   And given the complexity of the models and the need for administrative, management, financial, and  human resources to be included in the Competency/Maturity Models discussion, bringing these topics as  workshops or training sessions to the state conferences (bi-annual and/or Geospatial Summit) would only be scratching the surface towards institutional  understanding and implementation.  Finding the right conduit to bring all the right and necessary players the table will continue to be a huge lift.  For that matter, just who are the right people to bring to the discussion at the local and county levels?

(BTW, most wouldn’t know it, but the State of New York completed its own Geospatial Maturity Assessment (GMA) last fall.)

Conclusion

Both the GISP Certification and Geospatial Competency/Maturity Model discussions certainly have relevance here in New York State,   but considerable work lies ahead towards incorporating the concepts into the institutional and administrative frameworks before any meaningful “professional” acceptance and recognition will be realized as part of the business of doing GIS.     Until then, it will be business as usual.   Many good deeds have been done by both URISA and the GeoTech Center but the work and concept will fall short if not packaged and promoted in a user-friendly manner which is of consequential and realistic to resource-strapped NYS local government GIS programs.  There are no URISA Chapters in New York State, so both the GISP Certification and Competency/Maturity Models will need to be advocated through other means and partners.  For example the NYS GIS Association’s Educational and  Professional Development Committees are sponsoring and upcoming webinar entitled “Revitalizing GIST Community College Programs” part of which is relevant to the GTCM.  Other than this, the collective messages on both of these “GIS relevancy” issues are limited and probably in need of an extreme makeover.

Other webinars, email blasts, online surveys, conference workshops and announcements will surely follow on these subject matters.  And the debate will continue. The real challenge will be to see if the New York geospatial community will take notice and listen.  Or even have the means to do so?  Or even care.

Imagery is Everywhere

The recent release of the joint Time, Inc., Google, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and Carnegie Mellon University’s Create Lab Timelapse website in May of this year highlights once again the increased availability of a wide range of imagery – in variety of formats – to geospatial users across the Empire State.  With aerial imagery becoming another market-driven commodity to support the expanding geospatial industry, consumers now have several options including either a la carte commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products or more simply consuming imagery online – for free – as part of a growing number of publically accessible Cloud applications and map services.

 Commercial Imagery Products

While imagery requirements to support large scale (1”=100’) planimetric feature mapping is often much more detailed and usually acquired through  formal procurement, COTS imagery can routinely be obtained in the 1m – 2m resolution range, which is normally sufficient to support many general viewing and “what-is-where” geospatial applications across New York State.   COTS imagery has never been easier and more cost-effective to acquire.

GIS mapping and viewing applications that use aerial imagery primarily as a means to provide context to larger-scale, more spatially accurate vector datasets such as tax parcel boundaries, building footprints, and street features can use COTS products.   In the emergency response disciplines, rapidly deployed and developed COTS-quality imagery (+/-  1m – 2m resolution) has also become a standard in damage assessment for incidents such hurricanes, flooding, wildland fires, and other natural disasters.

Firms such as such as MapMart, WeoGeo, and TerraServer serve as brokers for several types of commercial aerial and satellite imagery –  including Digital Globe GeoEye, and QuickBird products – which are sufficient to support “what is where” viewing applications in most government mapping programs.  These commercial data warehouses also make available selected government image datasets such as the leaf-on National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) photography.    Commercial sites provide easy-to-use online forms to select areas of interest, imagery type/format, and cost estimates on the requested imagery.  Commercial aerial imagery can also be bought directly from the aerial or satellite imagery firm (i.e., Digital Globe) but marketplaces such as MapMart and WeoGeo provide a broader range of options for the consumer. (Note:  Georeferenced NAIP aerial imagery can be downloaded directly from Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) website.  As part of preparing this blog post, I received a cost estimate from MapMart for two scenes of Digital Globe Precision Aerials (0.3 m resolution) imagery covering the entire Westchester County footprint – which proved to be very cost competitive and affordable.

Of course the ease and speed of purchasing COTS aerial imagery with or without detailed specifications does not come without potential issues or concerns.   One, some commercial firms may only have imagery that is several years old for a selected “area of interest” or sometimes even more problematic is that a specific area may contain a combination of years of photography. Also, file formats, datums, or the ability to test (QA/QC) the imagery may not be possible and it is worth mentioning that commercial off-the-shelf aerial imagery products are typically not be used in the production or updating of large-scale planimetric vector datasets.  Users measuring distances with COTS may take heed as depending on the scale and resolution of the imagery as calculated distant may contain an unacceptable amount of error depending on user requirements.   Use and redistribution licensing restrictions should also be thoroughly reviewed.

Imagery as part of Cloud and Map Services

If users do not require a physical (local) copy of the imagery, there are also options to access web sites  publishing aerial imagery as a service  – for free –  which can be “mashed-up” with local datasets in a variety of desktop and web viewing clients.  One of the more notable aerial imagery map services in the Empire State is available through the New York State Digital Orthophoto Program (NYSDOP).  In production since 2001, the program makes imagery available for both download and through OGC-compliant Web Map Services (WMS).    Funded through a combination of federal,  state, and local  sources, many of most commonly developed NYSDOP image products across the state (particularly outside of urban areas) are 1ft and 2ft resolution imagery which are generally comparable to COTS available products.

A much larger and expanded source of online aerial imagery is The National Map Viewer (TNM) portal which provides several map services “containing orthorectified digital aerial photographs and satellite imagery” which are more than sufficient resolution to support “what is where” viewing applications.  In additional to making high resolution imagery available, the TNM also provides viewing software that enables users to add local content – either as layers or map services.  A somewhat similar “mash-up” system is the popular Google Earth viewer which provides imagery as base map and of course, the ability for users to add additional KML layers and WMS services.  Other closely related products such as Microsoft Bing Maps offer developer tools to embed and make available imagery (Pictometry obliques) in business and government applications.

The new approach of providing both Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in one interface – and for free – is increasingly empowering for organizations with limited resources or GIS capacity.  Albeit at its core, ArcGIS.com is a fee-based product that offers similar functionality and does include free options if contributors make project maps accessible to the public.  An exhaustive gallery of public facing maps – many of which include high resolution aerial photography as the base map AND can be modified and enhanced by anonymous users with local datasets – is available for viewing at the ArcGIS.com portal.  Many of the maps can be used as a front-end to add local content for site specific projects here in New York State.

All said, the landscape has changed dramatically in recent months with regard to purchasing COTS aerial and satellite imagery which can used to support desktop and web-based geospatial applications.  And the user community should expect options to only expand over the next several years as:  1) aerial imagery change detection technology continues to evolve (enabling consumers to purchase aerial imagery where it is really needed and/or physical changes have actually occurred)  and 2)  the next generation of smaller earth observation satellites promising a surge of commercial space-based imagery platforms combined with better web-based visualization and mapping systems that are ready to ingest and analyze near real-time imagery.  To say the least of anticipated options associated with the budding drone and unmanned aerial planes/vehicles which will be used to support imagery and data collection.

If organizations have limited budgets, do not require a complete update of the imagery database or do not have other “hard” requirements (i.e., photography to support large-scale feature/planimetric  mapping) COTS imagery can be priced very competitively and can be considered as a viable alternative in support of enterprise aerial imagery programs.