Intergraph has solidly returned to a software platform model under Hexagon. The past year’s worth of development has now been revealed, with the release of the Intergraph Geospatial 2013 portfolio. Sensors & Systems (S&S) editor Matt Ball recently spoke with Mladen Stojic, vice president – Geospatial at Intergraph, about the product vision, the highlights of this release, and the implications for users.
S&S: Judging by the release of your Intergraph Geospatial 2013 portfolio, you’ve been hard at work. With your overview of the release, I was impressed how you’ve taken the best of products in order to streamline and enhance them all. Normalizing the user interface across products was a big part of that push, right?
Stojic: We started with ERDAS IMAGINE, introducing the ribbon interface in 2010, and now with GeoMedia and LPS we’ve done the same type of modernization. In the design phase, we start with the existing product; looking at all the pull-down menus and all the options. During this time, we took over whole meeting rooms to fully understand the user experience. We map every option from the user interface and place that on a wall, with an entire room with sticky notes of feature functions for a complete inventory of the product and what it offers.
In parallel to that, we map all of the primary workflows that our customers use. In doing so, we streamline the interface to reduce the amount of button clicks, and make it more intuitive to find the capabilities that they want and need. We also work to minimize the time required to execute each command.
With hundreds of capabilities in robust products that have been built over a decade, we have to sort through functionality with iterative analysis. That’s what we’ve done with the latest GeoMedia release, as well as in LPS (now integrated into ERDAS IMAGINE). Our intent is to both modernize the look and feel, and to streamline the user experience.
S&S: There’s a lot of customization functionality that was mentioned in the release. Is that customization of the user interface a new thing in your products?
Stojic: Customization is not a new thing; we’ve offered the ability to configure the user interface, providing flexibility in displaying components to create templates with the frequently used feature. The ribbon effort also provides some standard templates. Beyond just an alignment of feature functions, through our software developer’s kit (SDK), customers can configure core functionality to do what they want to do on the desktop.
On the server side, we’ve introduced something called the Workflow Manager. This new tool organizes and chains together different processes and capabilities based on defined roles, permissions, security, data access rights, and more. The Workflow Manager is a component of GeoMedia Smart Client. The user is no longer overwhelmed with the number of commands. Instead, based on your specific role within an organization, you get what you want. The Workflow Manager streamlines responsibilities and gets rid of a lot of unnecessary clutter seen in many products used in the industry today. That’s part of our modernization approach.
S&S: The Workflow Manager sounds like it also eases collaboration where multiple departments touch the same project or data.
Stojic: That’s exactly what it is. A city, county or state agency provide a good example, where you have multiple stakeholders that need access to geographic information and data processing, editing rights, map creation rights –and they want to do it themselves. In the past, you’ve had the GIS departments backlogged with requests to the point that they can’t keep up. We want to extend the power of geography to as many users as possible.
GeoMedia Smart Client enables the GIS or IT department to centrally manage the content and data along with the processing, but enable other stakeholders such as tax assessment, public works, building and permitting, engineering/surveying, planning, economic development, etc. They all need geographic information, and with the Workflow Manager and the strong geospatial technologies behind it, we can couple the processing, editing and the data in a secure environment. That capability is then organized and packed to a desktop. It’s still a rich client, but just like smartphones, you get what you want and need with everything being managed for you.
GeoMedia Smart Client breaks down the organizational silos and extends an organization’s reach to more people.
S&S: Are there tools specific to managers to get a sense of how the software is being used?
Stojic: We certainly provide the ability and visibility to see audit logs of who is doing what, and what data is being accessed. That is part of our standard offering on the server so that you can create custom reports and manage edits. You don’t necessarily want to approve all the work that is being done, so there are tools to manage that.
S&S: With these workflows, are there best practices approaches for different domains, such as a local government or utility?
Stojic: That’s what we’re now starting to build up. With Intergraph Geospatial 2013 now released, we have some key customer stakeholders that we’re working with to build those templates. We’ve successfully deployed systems across sectors, and rather than come up with templates ourselves, we are working alongside our customers to define those so they can be used across similarly aligned organizations. That will be one of our emphases for the coming year, to productize templates and extend the capabilities out of the box.
S&S: So, it’s both a platform and a solution approach?
Stojic: With this release, we have delivered a geospatial platform for our customers and other Hexagon businesses for building solutions. The platform of course has the core capabilities, and we eat our own soup by building products on top of that platform. More importantly, through our Workflow Manager, our portal technology, and mobile capability, we enable our partners (both internal and external) to create solutions.
With the flexible platform we also provide a means to meet the need of regional markets, because in different parts of the world there are different requirements. The Geospatial 2013 portfolio is the first manifestation of the united platform that we and our partners can start building solutions upon.
S&S: That’s a good segue to jump into LiDAR as Leica Geosystems is a leading LiDAR data capture tool, and you’re doing more to support LiDAR workflows?
Stojic: Our sister company, Leica Geosystems, has been very successful selling airborne LiDAR systems. That has generated a huge downstream of point cloud data, but unfortunately it’s a LiDAR problem. For many organizations, this data sits in a data repository as LAS files. In order to get it to work in a GIS system, you have to convert it to grid or a TIN. You then have to subset it or break it apart, figure out the hierarchy of the original data, and create redundant data if you want to share it. In order to use it, you have to create a number of products with it. During this phase, you start to lose the fidelity of the original content (the RGB classification, and the multiple returns). Unfortunately, all of this starts to impact your ROI.
For this release, we stepped back from all the challenges to holistically look at the LiDAR problem. We recognized that one of the first problems is managing the data. With the new release of ERDAS APOLLO, we first addressed the ability to find the data based on keywords or other metadata as opposed to recognizing the alphanumeric file names.
The second problem we addressed was how to get the data. We offer the ability to stream it, and provision it on the fly so that you don’t have to create redundant or derivative data sets, which also helps solve the storage problem. We also offer the standard clip, zip and ship feature to define an area of interest and just get that data. You can also provision the server from the desktop and use them inherently from your application.
With the 2013 release of ERDAS IMAGINE, we now offer native point cloud handling support for both visualization and analysis. We offer multi-dimensional visualization tools to look at the data from both the air, and as a cross section for telecommunications, utilities and forestry where they need to measure both vertically and horizontally.
The third area that we’ve addressed is creating point cloud data. In addition to LiDAR sensors, a lot of customers have stereo imagery spanning decades, and they want to create point clouds from these to perform change analysis. We introduced this innovative elevation extraction called semi-global matching. It’s phenomenal – as it gives you the ability to create a point cloud in your desktop.
As you can see, we systematically looked at the LiDAR problem from managing it, analyzing it, and creating it.
S&S: With the 3D point cloud data, there was also mention of 4D and even 5D point clouds. Can you explain what you’re now able to do there with visualizing change?
Stojic: When we start talking about 4D and 5D, it ties back to what we call a dynamic geospatial system that allows you to connect sensors with software to drive real-time solutions. When we talk about 4D, we tie time to location, and with that, the ability to sequence time analysis to view a dynamic representation of geography. We still have a long way to go, but architecturally and technically, what we’re starting to do is be able to visualize in time, tie time to the creation of data, and to stitch together multiple slices of content together to support dynamic analysis.
Sensor feeds play an important part of this. We’ve been looking at water and dam management. Hexagon has a number of tools that can be combined to manage water levels at dams and other spatial and non-spatial attribute information with dams that gives an operator a complete five-dimensional analysis system. The data is from both aerial sensors and terrestrial sensors, allowing them to measure stress tests on the dam infrastructure and coordinating that back to command and control.
We’ve figured out 3D. We’re now starting to add time into the equation, and mapping attribute and non-spatial information to time and location, giving us a dynamic five-dimensional system.
S&S: There was some mention of performance improvements with your latest software, which helps enable the visualization of all this data.
Stojic: Yes, we’ve put together a modernized visualization engine that dramatically improves both the load and display times of multiple volumes of data sets. We can rapidly index and dynamically display at different resolutions for both raster and point cloud data. We are trying to deal with data holistically, so that we don’t have different products for different data types. That’s been productized with the 2013 release. On top of that we have our dynamic modeling environment feeding results to our same visualization engine, so as you run iterative models you get to tweak those as you create the final information product.
On the GIS side, we’ve implemented sophisticated caching capabilities for faster display and rendering of map data, feature data, and geospatial data in GeoMedia. We’ve seen performance improvements there that are up to six times faster than the previous version.
That’s something that we want to do across all of our products, giving you access to the geometry so that you can do something with that content. Other vendor approaches to this are static tiles that disable the ability to do something with them. We cater to the professional market. |We can’t say that we just deliver the data faster, we have to expose them to the raw content and geospatial primitives.
S&S: When we talked about dynamic GIS, we touched on Spatial Modeler, but it sounded like you’ve done a great deal with that.
Stojic: The new dynamic modeling environment was born out of several things. Back in 2007, Hexagon acquired ER Mapper out of Australia. That technology deploys the concept of an algorithm, with the dynamic processing and display of geospatial analysis on the fly, without having to produce intermediate data sets on disk. The ability to take a raw data set, apply a process to that data, and render the results on the fly with algorithms.
We took that good idea and applied it to ERDAS IMAGINE’s spatial modeler. We also then took the vector modeling environment of GeoMedia. We now have a completely new modeling environment that supports dynamic modeling, dynamic visualization, new graphical tools for constructing models, and on top of that the ability to extend the models programmatically with non-proprietary Python scripting. We have that now with the Spatial Modeler in the 2013 release.
S&S: Is the Geospatial Portal similar as an integration of different product functionality?
Stojic: The Geospatial Portal is our standard web server that is used to build web apps on the client side. We have several server-based products that we’ve introduced over the past several years – ERDAS APOLLO, GeoMedia Web Map and Geospatial SDI. In the past, each has had their own web portal, and that wasn’t good. Now, we’ve introduced one Geospatial Portal that exposes all the services of our products, open source products, Esri products, MapInfo products. It allows you to mash and build a web application for use inside and outside organizations.
S&S: I’m really looking forward to the Hexagon event in Las Vegas in June. It’s really become an interesting place to learn about new and exciting integrations of geospatial technology.
Stojic: It’s going to grow more and more. I think it will become the conference where users and industry leaders in GIS, remote sensing, photogrammetry, surveying, LiDAR, and cartography can come together and openly share ideas and success stories and work together on common problems.