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Better metadata for GIS

Monday, July 19, 2010

We are going to see much more improved “metadata” system for geographical data – which will help integrate it much more closely with bigger information management systems, writes Andrew Zolnai

andrewzolnai.jpg In a recent social network exchange, an experienced oil company information management manager said he would like to take a broom to the geospatial data management techniques his company used.

The vast majority of geographical information, he maintained, is not held on computers but in people's heads.

Data is given so much attention but remains a seemingly intractable information management challenge, even with the advent of tools and technologies such as Meta-Carta and Google Earth.

The rapid growth of media (social media, wikis and blogs), of technology devices (PDAs, laptops, desktops and mobiles) create a data explosion, where manageability and information relevance are key.

This creates a necessity to build bridges not only among various E&P communities, but also amidst the communities themselves.

Standards and metadata  help bring it all together for all users’ benefit.

Metadata links create bridges across related domains and topics. It permits greater enquiry, and to drill down searches. And metadata are not only key to each process, but they can also reside in other business processes.

If the metadata are correctly recorded with the various data sets, and the linking frameworks support the proper exchange of data, then communities and processes can be linked.  They can build on top of each other into robust infrastructures.

If metadata helps properly structure the data, there follows the intersection of people, processes and technologies, and the union of intelligence, data and location in petroleum data.

As an example, in Finding Petroleum’s January Conference , Neftex described a global earth model, correlating basins worldwide by age and sedimentation in applying stringent internal metadata standards.

Users have requested that their workflows remain location-based, as all petro-data in fact is.

They ask that such workflows augment rather than replace existing processes – for example to subsume the technology to the process, rather than let technology dictate it.

What is metadata

Metadata is literally data about data.

Its simplest form is what you write on a tape or disc, or how you label a network drive of USB stick, so that you or anyone else can tell its contents at a glance.

At its most complex it's the information mandated by the US government to record spatial data to FGDC standards.

One example is important metadata might be with survey data, where the careful and thorough documentation of projection parameters is absolutely necessary.

New standards

A major upcoming theme of discussion at the 6th International Conference on Geographic Information Science (Zurich, Sept 14-17 2010) , will be to better define the data, knowledge representations, reasoning methodologies, and additional tools to link locations seamlessly into the web of linked data.

Subsequently, with the advent of linked locations in linked data, the gap between the Semantic Web and the Geo Web will begin to narrow.

The linkage of geospatial data and exploration and production information will become more widely evident and common-place.

At the forefront of addressing these issues and challenges facing the Upstream Petroleum industry are the petroleum standards modeling and data exchange organisations such as PPDM and Energistics, who seek to guide vendors and oil companies with E & P information within a Standards Based Knowledge Environment framework.

The PPDM model is a comprehensive, reliable, flexible and progressively evolving data model. It is ideally suited for data management needs where data quality, auditing, business rules are noted.

In addition it is vendor neutral, which assists with interoperability with other standards based systems to link communities and process as explained below.

Energistics recently highlighted the importance of meta-data standards with work groups assigned to this activity and with a meta data catalogue approach at the hub of the framework.

A recent National Data Repository (NDR) Work Group seeks to help countries organise their petroleum related information assets.

Not every player is of the same size, and a variety of approaches are required according to size and scalability needs.

This applies to petroleum companies and agencies, and data service providers. Agencies, operators and service providers share and exchange E & P data as an intermixed community.

And the European Petroleum Survey Group is building  bridges and fostering cooperation among diverse parties for decades to develop and disseminate best practice, provide a forum for the exchange of experiences and knowledge, influence Regulators and Standards organisations, liaise with industry associations and be the voice of Surveying and Positioning in the Oil and Gas industry.

New data structures

Historically E&P and GIS systems started as stove-pipes of isolated systems specialising in a task. Then they moved onto client-server systems of tight vertical integration of data and systems.

They are now developing into cloud-service systems of loosely coupled widespread horizontal systems.

Microsoft have recently put a new emphasis on the oil & gas sector, by aligning themselves with Energistics for example, and also noting in the press that more data is better and the ability to find relevant data is vital.

At the keynote address of Microsoft’s Global Energy Forum on Jan 21, 2010 Steve Ballmer highlighted the power of choice between traditional data centres, virtual data centres, the private cloud and the public cloud.

Accessing data

A simple yet consistent web interface to E&P data management, will give the broadest corporate audience access to E&P data from any source via meta data linkages.

Web portals improve productivity by providing a single interface to data, regardless of its format or its location. This accelerates decision making and reduces data management costs.

Finding the right balance between speed and accuracy of data warehouse retrieval is pivotal.

Systems that are too complex may undermine staff capabilities to efficiently deliver the needed results.

Yet if they’re not sophisticated enough they undermine user search capabilities.

There are many ways to enhance a user’s ability to locate precisely the item of data that is required, via geographical searches and data filters, or full document searches and indexes.

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