With the availability of broadband communications, a new delivery model for spatial data has emerged. By packaging and integration location-based services, the power of the Geographical Information System (GIS) can be delivered over the internet. The technology that underpins these new capabilities is Application Service Provision - ASP.
ASP allows end users to access sophisticated software running on a remote server from any web browser. A good example of ASP is Microsoft’s Hotmail - a fast, easy to learn and effective way to manage email with little or no software to install and manage on your local machine.
Web-based technologies from leading GIS vendors along with third party ‘thin client’ (Internet Browser) solutions from Citrix and Tarantella make spatial ASP a reality. Spatial ASP solutions include www.MapQuest.com, National Geographic’s MapMachine and www.Expedia.com. In industry, thin client solutions serve GIS-based applications to geographically dispersed field engineers and offices. Software installation and maintenance is centralized, easing maintenance and the problems of conflicting and ‘unauthorized’ versions of data is avoided.
Autodesk has just launched its Location Services division, with three core components relating to the provision of spatial GIS services - Mapguide Commerce, OnSite and LocationLogic. ESRI leads in spatial ASP with its flagship Internet Map Server (IMS). GE Smallworld’s Internet Application Server (IAS) is designed to ASP-enable Smallworld desktop products such as Model.it. A leader in Asset and Facilities Management GIS and mapping, Intergraph has extended its GIS products to the internet with the GeoMedia products and services along with its wireless location services IntelliWhere unit. MapInfo delivers its cutting-edge MapXtreme application into the telecommunications and business intelligence markets.
As with any major software deployment a variety of issues must be considered including internal or outsourced provision, service level agreements, quality of service and security. While these are far from trivial concerns, by far the most important component of the spatial GIS is content! Without content to populate databases, or to conduct analysis, spatial ASP holds little intrinsic value. This point is well understood by data product vendors who play a key role with both spatial ASP vendors and end users.
Despite the considerable merits and advantages of spatial APS there are obstacles to overcome before its true benefits are realized. Traditional software licensing agreements are not aligned with the ASP business model. ASP GIS will spawn a large number of new users throughout the organization - unless such growth is stunted by traditional licensing models. ASP demands a true pay-as-you-go licensing model, that generates income for the ASP, the data vendor, the ISP and other stakeholders.
Growing support from the GIS industry demonstrates the strategic interest of the ASP model for consumers and vendors. Service providers continue to find new and innovative ways to build and integrate various location-based solutions and to deliver cost-effective products to a variety of industries. There is still work to be done to propel spatial ASP beyond the early adopter community. A more favorable licensing model and more analytical application functionality will help deliver the ASP value. But the value of spatial ASP is now a reality.
This is a shortened version of an article that originally appeared in online GIS resource Directions Magazine - www.directionsmag.com.
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