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Barsoomian Feats of Data Transformation

Kris Majury
January 15, 20134 min
A modern-day John Carter performs amazing feats with one single FME Desktop license.

In 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars, and the world met John Carter. When this Confederate soldier finds himself transported to Mars – Barsoom, as the locals call it – he realizes he can perform superhuman feats of strength and agility, aided in no small part by the lesser gravity of the planet. We’d like to introduce you to another John – well, Jon – who found himself transported to a new land. And he too performs superhuman feats, aided by FME. This is his story.

When Jon Hawkins arrived at Waterford City Council in Ireland seven years ago, the position of GIS Coordinator had been vacant for a year and a half. As the sole member of the one-man GIS Section, his first task was to get the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) data up to date, and that’s when he first encountered FME. The quarterly update of the OS data was very manual, and Jon cut his teeth (as he puts it) on automating this recurring translation to four different formats – AutoCAD(R), Geomedia(R), MapInfo(R) TAB, and Esri SHP. And so it started…

Jon started to explore other transformers, and soon was styling his output formats, and merging, tiling and clipping datasets. As he started to investigate the needs and wants of the multitude of potential end users for his data at the authority, it became apparent that many couldn’t use it, due to their software systems or expertise, and he set out to make data as widely available as possible. With FME, he created workflows to support user-friendly data dissemination for the water network, housing, planning, sewage network, and road network groups – all in different formats and platforms – including web delivery and mobile devices for field crews.

Data uploading was up next. When a custom-coded application for uploading planning data failed, he re-created it in FME, and by adding additional writers, he extended the data usage too, with KML and CSV outputs to support alternate open platforms and open data initiatives. That was soon followed by data download. When the Council chose to use an external third-party FME-based system called MapAlerter for location-based text message and email alerts, Jon set up a system to monitor, download, and process alerts submitted on MapAlerter via Dropbox and tweet the results – alerting the public to accidents, broken water mains, and the like via its social media channels.

Jon recently project-managed and implemented a front-end mobile incident capture system, with a third-party company, for reporting on things like abandoned cars, dumping, and graffiti that require the dispatch of city resources. It uses both iPhone(R) and Geomedia technologies. Without an in-house CRM system, Jon used FME to manage the data flow – generating emails, updating databases with relevant details pulled from other systems, and inserting tasks into departmental task lists. Python(R) assists in the email generation, and the alerts are evaluated for importance and scheduling – should it be sent immediately if reported in the middle of the night, or in the morning?

Did we mention that Jon was, until very recently, a one-man GIS Section? Not only that, he is doing all of this with one single FME Desktop license. “I have to be organized,” he tells us. “If I didn’t have FME, I wouldn’t get half the things done that I need to. Pretty much any project that crosses my desk, I’m using FME to organize and analyze it, and re-using pieces from earlier projects.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs provided inspiration for generations of writers to come by pushing the boundaries of fiction. We hope that Jon’s story can provide some inspiration for you – he certainly has amazed and inspired us!

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