In recent years, there has been huge change to OSi's data capture, processing, storage and supply; a challenging journey but a necessary one, the value of using geospatial information for informed and effective decision making has been recognised at the highest levels globally, writes Tony Murphy


In 1964 Bob Dylan released a song titled ‘The Times They Are a Changin’. This is as true today as it was then. We live in a rapidly changing world and we need to be able to meet the challenges of the changing environment.

Technology has helped fuel this change and is a strong driver of opportunity. That change has also been the case for Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi), Ireland’s National Mapping Agency since 1824.

Start seeing the difference from now on

In recent years, there has been colossal change to all of our data capture, processing, storage and supply. It has been a challenging journey but a necessary one. Up until recently, customers wouldn’t have seen or been aware of many of those changes, but they will start seeing the difference from now on.

Between 1829 and 1842 Ordnance Survey Ireland completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as among the finest ever produced. As the national mapping archive service for Ireland, OSi has captured this and later mapping data in a digitised format.

The value of using location or geospatial information for informed and effective decision making has been recognised at the highest levels on a global, European and national level. To support this, a National Mapping Agreement was agreed between OSi and the government whereby all public sector organisations now have access to OSi’s geospatial information.

We work with these public sector bodies, helping them to understand how they can derive the best value from using geospatial information. Universities and schools can also use the data for non-commercial research and development purposes.

The first high quality survey of Ireland, carried out by Ordnance Survey in 1824, resulted in Ireland being the first country in the world to be mapped at such a large scale (1:10,560 or 6 inches to a mile).

Innovative geographer Thomas Frederick Colby

It was led by an innovative geographer, Thomas Frederick Colby, and was produced with a great level of detail and accuracy. This was to be the benchmark for how Ordnance Survey carried out its work, with accuracy and detail remaining at the core of what we do today.

Innovation is a key driver for us. Our operating environment is constantly changing. Technology has enabled us to implement significant change throughout the years, which provides tangible benefits for the end user or customer.

Over the years we have embraced change and, in order to seek efficiency gains in our production processes, we were one of the early adopters of computerised mapping in the 1970s.

Our processes have been continually updated as technology has advanced. By doing this, we have implemented an end-to-end digital production process from capture to supply. At the start, digital mapping was a digital version of a paper map and had little intelligence or relation to the real world objects it represented.

Today, significant changes to OSi capture, storage, production and supply processes have enabled digital mapping to be a powerful intelligence tool.

Capture processes use Leica ADS100 airborne digital sensors

So what do these changes look like? Since 2017, our capture processes are done using Leica ADS100 airborne digital sensors that capture carpets of imagery, all with a GPS location. We also capture data through field staff on the ground who use toughpads.

The field staff download data from the central database, visit the necessary location, and then upload updated information back into the central database. The updated information goes through a rigorous set of rules to avoid any conflict or corruption.

During 2014 OSi delivered a newly developed spatial data storage model known as Prime2. This authoritative spatial reference framework ensures consistent and unique referencing of topological state information, both in terms of location and in terms ID tag referencing.

Our main database is called PRIME2. PRIME2 is one of the biggest changes to OSi’s data storage since its inception. This database, now holds the information as a seamless skin of data covering all of the Republic of Ireland which is different to the previous method which stored over 14,500 individual maps.

All data is stored as objects, and the database contains over 50 million of them. These objects include fences, buildings, roads, and water among others. Each object has its own unique reference, a hexadecimal reference called a ‘Global Unique Identifier’ or GUID, with its own lifecycle.

Data is stored in polygons, lines and points. The database doesn’t store text or symbols as all information about an object is stored in attribute tables. The database also has the ability to store authoritative third party data.

Multi Resolution Data Store process

OSi’s flying team operates out of Shannon airport, and is dedicated to delivering high-quality imagery all year round. The entire state is covered, including offshore islands, and it uses state-of-the-art cameras to capture the crispest, clearest imagery possible.

Having completely changed our approach to storing our information to reflect real world objects, we then needed to be able to integrate this into our products. This, again, was a significant challenge. We decided to implement a Multi Resolution Data Store (MRDS) process for product creation.

What this means is OSi have one authoritative source of information where all largescale, medium scale and small scale products are produced. Doing this avoids inconsistencies in products at different scales.

This approach involved the creation of Digital Landscape Models (DLMs) at a national (1:200,000 to 1:1,100,000), regional (1:25,000 to 1:100,000) and local level (1:6,000 to 1:20,000), as well as a core data level (up to 1:5000).

From these, Digital Cartographic Models (DCMs) are created providing a familiar look and feel to the products produced. While the look and feel of new products is a familiar one, there will be some noticeable changes to the current set of products in the market.

Products produced in the future will have changes in how features or objects appear, on screen and particularly in printed products. This will include how roads, footpaths, buildings, boundaries, symbols and text are displayed.

The last piece of the jigsaw was our supply processes. We wanted to be able to provide the benefit of PRIME2 in our products and services. We designed a new ecommerce service using the Magento platform.

We will use our PRIME2 data and provide products from our MRDS. This requires significant development, which is still continuing.

We also used the PRIME2 data in our web services including our award-winning GeoHive and MapGenie services. These services allow customers to integrate our mapping data with their own data in an online environment.

This can help organisations achieve cost savings by removing the need for storing and managing the data in a local environment. It also means they avoid the need to update the data as this is managed by OSi.

Provide information to public domain at faster rate

We have also worked on partnering with other organisations, in particular with the Central Statistics Office around the visualisation of census data and the ADAPT Centre in Trinity College on developing OSi linked data. Working with other organisations, with each using their key skills, helps provide information to the public domain at a faster rate and in a more understandable way.

So what are the benefits for the user? Because the database holds all information as objects with a GUID, the data can be used in a deeper way for analysis. This is also helped by each object having its own lifecycle. This helps with comparative analysis showing change over a time period.

PRIME2 also provides attribution for each object in the database, which means we can provide better and more detailed information about an object. This potentially might include building heights or number of floors and so on.

The aerial imagery is used by OSi in its update process for all its large-scale digital data. This ensures an unbroken chain of consistency between its aerial imagery and the highly detailed OSi digital mapping that is used by engineers, planners, architects and builders all around the country.

All roads are connected with no gaps, which provides potential for using the data in a routing model where other details can be added, for example traffic direction, speed limits, right-hand turns. Because the data is stored as a seamless skin, the information doesn’t stop at a ‘tile’ edge. Users can get their area of interest (AOI).

We can store 3D information and other organisations’ information in the database, meaning more intelligent products and services for customers. These are only a few examples of the benefits of our new approach with more to come.

Significant change

All in all, it’s been a really demanding time for OSi over the last few years, bringing significant change in everything we do. None of this could have been achieved without the organisation’s innovators who helped identify new paths for our data, products and services.

The key objective for OSi has, and continues to be, a desire to serve our customers better and it doesn’t stop there.

Into the future, technology continues to drive opportunity with the advent of 3D flowlines, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT). All these developments, along with those yet to emerge, will continue to drive OSi to provide innovative products and services into the future.

This supports evidence-based decision making, which helps support government policy, and the design and implementation of products and services that benefits society and the citizen.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”Anon

Author: Tony Murphy, business and marketing manager, Ordnance Survey Ireland O'RiordanTech3D,data,internet of Things
In 1964 Bob Dylan released a song titled 'The Times They Are a Changin'. This is as true today as it was then. We live in a rapidly changing world and we need to be able to meet the challenges of the changing environment. Technology has helped fuel this change...