Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Risks in Mapping

Risk Management in GIS/cartography

Risk Management is about identifying, assessing, avoiding and mitigating risks (Business Dictionary, 2012). In the context of the GIS and cartographic industry, there are various risks found in compilation, presentation and the usage of the data. A GIS analyst and/or cartographer produces maps from compilation of various data sources, perform analysis and presenting the maps in accordance of intended purpose. Unlike in surveying (the focus is more on measurement science), the risks in managing GIS and cartographic products has lot to do with data compilation and the presentation of maps. The strategic risks found in a GIS/ cartographic works or projects are listed below (Express Insurance, 2012, Kraak & Ormelling, 2010, Caprioli & Tarantino, 2003):
  •         Errors in compilation of data, accuracy and completeness of data
  •         Misleading maps and data
  •         Unintentional or intentional misuse of maps
  •         Copyright issues

With the risks listed above, GIS professionals/cartographers could face product, contract and/or negligent liability if risk management is not taken into consideration (Indiana State University).


  The first major strategic risk in a GIS/cartographic work would be the errors in compilation of data and accuracy of the data. It is said that acquiring (or compiling) data for GIS is the most important and the most expensive component of the GIS project (Caprioli & Tarantino, 2003). The public and clients has a high expectation on the maps or GIS products to be 100% accurate, similar to the expectations towards cadastral surveyor. In today’s world, a GIS professional is liable for any uncorrected mistakes found on their databases or products which are sold or in public display (Drake, 2000). In United States, a government department wouldn’t be liable if they distribute incorrect GIS data files under their legal obligation (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). However, if the department actively market the incorrect files (public usually trust the government products’ data quality), government would be liable and answerable for any subsequent damages of the data mistakes (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). In United States, errors and omissions of data would be one of the two reasons of liability in the geospatial area (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). For example, in 1968, a plane crashed a TV Tower in U.S. due to incorrect location of the broadcasting tower on the aeronautical chart (Washington State Department of Transport, 2012). The federal government was found negligent in locating the tower (Washington State Department of Transport, 2012).

  The second major risk in GIS would be misleading maps and data. This largely caused by graphic misrepresentation (issue of cartography) or incorrect analysis. Geographic data can arise in unexpected ways which could lead to false representation of error-free data (Drake, 2000). For example, in the 80s, a fatal air crash was attributed to misleading vertical and horizontal profile landing approach in an American Airport (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). The aeronautical chart showed the vertical and horizontal profile of the runway at the same scale (though scale factor of horizontal was 5 times of vertical profile of the runway) (University of Colorado, 2012). Faulty GIS analysis with faulty data creates poorly designed or flawed regulations in which the government or geospatial bodies are liable of (Drake, 2000). Legal decisions could be brought up against these faulty planning decision/regulations and the GIS which underpins these decisions (Drake, 2000).

 The third major risk would be unintentional/intentional use of the data and maps. GIS analysts or cartographers cannot control the potential misuse of their products. Although the maps have the correct data and analysis, users could use the data on wrong objectives which leads to wrong conclusions (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). In Wisconsin, United States, the state used a contour line (threshold of Ordinary High Water Mark of a lake) in a topographic map to demarcate the state land ownership and the state claimed a section of private farm (University of Colorado, 2012). Subsequently, the landowner sued the state and state was held liable of misusing the intended definition of the contours in the maps (University of Colorado, 2012).

 The fourth major risk would be the copyright issue. Copyright is defined as ‘the exclusive right of author or producer of literacy, scientific or artistic work (including maps) to publish or reproduce it’ (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010, pg.182). In the cartographic realm, copyright is applicable to original visualization of the product, not the content of the products (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). In an effort to win lawsuit cases, some map producers intentionally introduce errors so that future outside copier could be caught easily for copyright infringement (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). Despite the retention of copyrights, government and its agencies have the requirement to disclose GIS data to the public (may not be free) under the Freedom of Information Act (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010).

Strategies to Mitigate Risks

  One of the ways to mitigate these risks is to understand the requirements of the project. If the project is impacting government or company’s asset decision, the GIS professional or cartographers needs to assess the level of accuracy is needed. This includes putting threshold on error tolerances (referential, topological, relative and attribute) and assessing the metadata of the datasets employed. GIS analysts should have careful planning in order to avoid a mismatch between system’s capacities and the needs of users-which would be very costly (Caprioli & Tarantino, 2003). In the process of compilation of data, geospatial sector needs to be aware of the standards they apply for data transfer and metadata characteristics. For example in United States, National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) to layout a foundational framework for future data collection, assessing thematic data quality and setting standards for data transfers (Caprioli & Tarantino, 2003). To streamline data exchange, in United States, Spatial Data Transfer Standards (SDTS) requires governmental agencies to produce data quality reports on accuracy, completeness and consistency of datasets.

  To tackle the issue of unintentional/intentional of map data use, producers of geospatial products or solutions should explain clearly the intended use of the map. At the same time, GIS and cartographic products should place a disclaimer notice on them. The disclaimer notice may include information on the reliability of the original datasets; the efforts made in care for the production, no warranties on accuracy and disclaim the publisher from any liability for any misuse of the product (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). On other hand, GIS professionals need to ensure the graphic representation of their products should not be misleading and must be legible. For example, a standard set of symbols should be employed so that there can be some variation according to their various applications (Caprioli & Tarantino, 2003). GIS professionals or cartographers cannot assume the user may understand all the graphic representation of the maps-where misleading facts appear. This includes placing appropriate scales for the products, the data currency facts and metadata of the map datasets.

 On the issue of copyrights of data, GIS analysts and cartographers should take extra care of obtaining data from various sources. If where required, GIS professionals should seek a license arrangement with original data publisher in which determines who holds the copyright, ownership of data and terms of access and use (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). However, geospatial industry should be aware of exceptions of copyright applications such as copyright notice expires after 70 years of the original publication (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010). On other side, GIS professionals should know which aspects of their databases could be accessed and the protection levels of the database. For example, in European Union, 1998 law gives the right to an author of a database ‘has the exclusive right to authorize the distribution to the public or the copies thereof for a period of 15 years’ (Kraak & Ormelling, 2010, pg.185). Organization employing GIS also need to set standards in terms of use of data and associated fees.


  1. Aviation Planning, 2012, Remings vs United States, Washington state Department of Transport, viewed on 14th September 2012,
  2. Business, 2012, risk management, Business, viewed on 14th September 2012,
  3. Caprioli, M & Tarantino, E, 2003, ‘Standards and Quality in GIS Contexts’ in FIG Working Week, Paris, France, April 13-17, 2003,pp.1-13, (viewed on 16th September 2012)
  4. Drake, V,2000, GIS:Ethical and Legal Issues, Santa Monica College, viewed on 15th September 2012,
  5. GEO 447 Principles 2000, GIS, Society, Legal Issue & Context, Indiana State University, viewed on 14th September 2012,
  6. GEOG 5003, 2012 (Ken Foote), Legal and Ethical Issues, University of Colorado Boulder, viewed on 15th September 2012,
  7. Howard Veregin (University of Minnesota), 1998, Data Quality Measurement and Assessment, NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIScience, viewed on 15th September 2012,
  8. Kraak, MJ & Ormelling, F, 2010, ‘Cartography: Visualization of Spatial Data’, 3rd edn, Prentice Hall, Essex, England.
  9. Professional Indemnity, Insurance 2012, Professional Indemnity Insurance for Cartographers, Express Insurance, viewed on  14th September 2012,

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Part 4: IMIA Conference

GeographX's masterpiece in rendering the terrain of Fiordland, New Zealand

Other Aspects

Map Design & Issues

This post cover other aspects of the conference. First of is the presentation by Owner of the GeographX, the lead 3D visualization of terrain company in New Zealand. They were previously contracted for rendering the hillshading aspect of the maps of Earth Platinum (world's largest atlas). This presenter presented on topic 'Making Maps for people can't read Maps'. He said there are three groups of people who find challenging to read the maps. First is young people of today. With expansion of usage of satnav tools on their mobile phones, current generation is losing their skills in navigation. On top of that, the modern geography syllabus has less emphasis of map reading skills. All of these will in turn reduce the ability to read and understand maps. Second would be blind people (since maps involve sight, this is going to be challenging). The solution is tactile maps, which emphasize the usage of sense of touch. Third group would be the difference of gender. Men use the grey matter of their brain and because of that, they use logics to resolve map navigation issues. Women, on other hand, use white matter of the brain and this results women using landmarks to guide their navigation skills.

 Shifting from this topic, he focused on interpreting the mountainous terrain. Since New Zealand is famous of its terrain, his company focuses in producing masterpieces of 3D visualization on a 2D map. He mentioned three ways to view the terrain from above. One is Central Perspective. Imagine the eye is viewing the mountains from easterly point of view (above). The issue is there would be variation of scale across the whole map (scale is too big for ones close to the eyes and vice versa). On top of that, features could be hidden and there would be map tiling issues. The second option would be Planar Oblique. Imagine a plane (flat glass) on top of the surface. It works well with smooth, undulating terrain. However, it would not work on super mountainous terrain. Third Option is Ortho Oblique. It is revolutionized by GeographX and it minimizes all scale distortions and other issues pertaining to visualising mountains on a 2D maps. He also did demonstration of fly-through of section of New Zealand (using their visualisation technique and Digital Elevation Model provided by NZ government). A lot of effort was placed to determine the colours of the land classification.

Presenter on ArcGIS Online Design Issue
Another presentation was on Re-Designing the Next Generation of Multi-Scale World Topographic Maps. ESRI ArcGIS Online (some are free, some are commercialized) is an online GIS Tools and you can choose multiple base maps (i.e. World Topographic Map) to work on your maps.
Some Basic Facts:
  • Released in July 2009 and the initial design was based on United States Geological Survey (USGS) topographic map styling
  • By 2010, ESRI redesigned the map styling to accomodate the internationalization of the users and contributors of the base map.
  • In 2011, ESRI redesigned it again the map using global styling.
  • The prime content of the map is 2D description of shape of land and man-made surfaces
  • Target audience: All levels of GIS and map users
In the process of designing and redesigning the map style, 10 key objectives needs to be fulfilled:
  1. Function as a base map and a reference map
  2. Maintaining look and feel of topographic map
  3. Unique styling to distinct itself from Google, Apple map styling (etc.)
  4. A combination of existing designs and respecting other incorporated designs
  5. Functional & simple map to be used by ESRI ArcGIS Online users.
  6. Limit the design changes on large-scale maps to avoid disruption to majority of users
  7. Easy maintenance and management by ESRI
  8. High detail level at each zoom or scale level
  9. Equal value of content to the user at each scale
  10. Design must look Great!
Challenges in designing them:\
  1. Thorough research of existing map collections across the world to understand the global styling and symbolization of maps
  2. Pre-conceived notions of GIS analysts and map-makers who have their mentality largely based on paper maps. This means they would like to maximise the details in a map for all level of the map.
  3. Making some compromises on some topographic symbol standards. For example, changing road colour and replacing route shield with plain route number (to reduce cluttering)


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Part 3: IMIA Conference

Two delegates holding a sample page from Earth Platinum (World largest Atlas ever)

Challenges of Print Publications

In comparison to 2010 conference, this year's conference had a focus on the situation of publication industry and role of cartographers in an increasing digital age. Today's world, the consumers of map prefer to view the maps online and the need to purchase of guide books (one of the staple industries of cartographers) have plummeted. On top of that, there is a new trend where the consumers wants to personalize their maps as their souvenirs and no longer to be dictated by publication industries or paid authors.

 In response to that, a presenter from Canada (Map presented customized solutions for publishing industry. He identified the shift of retail industries: retail industry (physically) to e-tail (electronic retail) to (M)e-tail (customized retail products for the consumer). This shift has impacted the map publication industry, retailers and map consumers. The presenter a business solution whereby it links customers, maps, publishers and retailers to produce personalized maps for consumers. Definetely, many publisher delegates took notice on this matter.
OnDemand is MapSherpa service for creating custom high quality maps and it links publishers (content) and retailers (selling products). I believe under this service, MapSherpa offer three type of solutions consisting of different levels of custom mapping. Users can determine the scale of the map, the size of the map and request for laminating or value-add products for the purchase. Some of the solutions require the publishers or retailers to have grasp on web knowledge. This simple business model has one plus point: MapSherpa will receive profit if the custom map product is sold through these solutions. If no selling, MapSherpa do not gain anything.

World Largest Atlas Ever

Publication Manager (at the pulpit) and the sample editing map of Asia
Examining reality, there are more users of maps than ever in history but geography illiteracy remains low. The expansion of usage of maps was largely attributed to internet and it raises the question the relevance of creating a paper atlas. The Publication Manager throw to all delegates including me: Why wouldn't you want to be part of production of the World Largest Atlas ever? This is to counter to the question: Is there any relevance for paper maps?

 Around 350 years ago, the world largest atlas was produced, it was a time capsule of the Euro-centric global view. Fast forward to 2010-2012, Earth Platinum is a time capsule of mapping technologies and how view the world as of 2012. This atlas (limited in numbers) is expected to last for next 350 years (huge responsibility for the curators). The atlas is 6 feet high and 9 feet wide. The immensity of the size (the weight is around 200 kilos) allows the user to have an amazing experience of the world we live in. Using orthographic projection (on the insistence of the Managing Cartographer), physical maps of Continents present space-like view (enhanced due to immense size). This immense size gives more space for cartographers to add words. The longest name is 84 words, NZ mountain and fortunately for cartographers, the place was close to sea. The shortest name was A in Norway, which is cartographic ideal name where text positioning is not an issue. Geographx, NZ premier hillshading mapping company provided well balanced adjusted mountain rendering for the maps.

 Producing an atlas also would involve a lot of political decision making. This includes identifying disputed borders, naming conventions and others. Due to neutrality of the atlas production, quite number of countries would not want to purchase the atlas since the borders do not fit the definitions of certain parties. This explains why the atlas was not printed in China due to scrutiny being imposed on publications there. On the question why Australia do not have one, Publication Manager said it was due to legal reasons here. Any book published in Australia needs to be submitted to 4 insitutions (National Library, Parliamentary Library, State Library and University Library) for free. This would cost him $400 000 in profit loss. On top of that, the curators of this atlas is expected to keep them for next 200-350 years (big duty). However, he is working on getting funding to bring the atlas to Australia.

 His presentation exudes his passion in hardcopy publications and he emphasized the unique experience in making and feeling this massive publications. The Earth Platinum won best award during this conference and will be submitted for global IMIA competition soon.

Part 2: IMIA Conference Account

ESRI Australia representative on fusion of technologies and geography


One of the key aspects of this conference is about keep up-to-date with new mapping technologies. ESRI Australia, leading GIS software company, representative gave an interesting yet scary presentation on future technologies. His whole presentation ran from his iPhone (presentations going hi-tech nowadays). His main focus on how technologies related to movements, credit cards, customized business solutions and how GIS underpins the success of the industry. He was saying through tracking the websites we visit, shoppernova is able to customize the ads for you depending on where you are. In future, he said, automated cars with navigation devices will take person from home to work without the owner driving (well the technology exist). After dropping off the owner, the car could automatically can do a pick-up of other passengers for a fee (the owner will benefit). On top of that, the fridges of future will be automatically is able to tell you what food products is going to finish or expire soon. If you sync the credit card and barcodes of the food, the fridge can place order for you. The automatic car can drive to a warehouse and collect the food requested. Around 4.30 pm., the car is programmed to go to your workplace and get you back home. At night, the car will electrically charge for new next day.

  On top of that, he was speaking of ESRI's new application (ESRI Collector) allows the user to collect and record of service request (dynamically). This app allows the council to track the service request quickly (e.g. broken tree branches, damaged kerbs) and plan out accordingly. The app allows you to collect the photos on site and capture the geospatial location. Over time, the council could notice the location of repeated requests whereby the council allocate resources effectively to deal with the matter

 In an essence, his presentation's summary were that Business uses voluntary information from you to customize sales (this includes your location) and the map is enabler (no longer just a product). 

 Furthering on this situation, paradigm for geospatial professional as sole geospatial data collector has shifted. Now with mobile devices, everyone could be data collectors (crowdsourcing the data). However, the role of geospatial professionals is heightened to a new level. They will be analyzing, managing and storing the spatial data to the highest standards.

 Since 2009, the usage of maps and navigation tools has doubled in Australia. In a study, it is stated that maps and navigation tools are the TOP feature used in mobile phones, followed by games in Australia. This empowers citizen cartography whereby everyone could collect data and capitalizing on free mapping software to produce map. A speaker, (Masters Student in RMIT) presented on the topic of citizen cartography. He listed out free mapping tools which citizen cartography depends on:
  1. d3
  2. Leaflet
  3. CartoDB
  4. ArcGIS Online
  5. GIS Cloud
  6. Map Centia
He spoke about some realities of cartography today: spatial data is available for free, volunteered geographic information (VGI) and an increased open source technologies (like free mapping or GIS software). This enables more people to produce maps anytime in history. However, the geospatial professionals, he stressed has still an edge in 21st century cartography (i.e. they have responsibility in managing the datasets).

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Part 1: IMIA Conference Account

ESRI representative presenting on future technologies underpinned by Geography
This year I got the chance to attend International Map Industry Association (IMIA)-Asia Pacific conference in Sydney. IMIA, an international organization for cartographers, GIS people, publishers and retailers, hold conferences annually and offer once a year, a unique opportunity for the competing sections of mapping industry to collaborate. This is my second time attending this conference (first was in Melbourne 2010) and the conference was hosted in Mercure Hotel (1-4/8/2013). Sponsors was Hardie Grant Explore, ESRI Australia and Land & Property Information, NSW.

 One of the key features of this conference is Business Connect (speed dating for networking). One hour and an-half was devoted for this session whereby each attendee introduce each's work to another person in a table for 90s. It just happened that the first person I connected was my old boss. Though I came for myself, I did introduce my role and what my company does (which generated some interests in certain parties). I will be summarizing the key content of the conference in couple of sections.

Open Data

80% of any map production time effort  and cost is consumed in gathering the geospatial data (i.e. lines, polygons, satelite imagery, DEM). Geospatial data doesn't come cheap or even free, they have hefty costs attached here. Depending on country's policies, some countries offer digital geospatial data for free (i.e. U.S) or big mixture of free and non-free datasets (i.e. Australia). In Australia, where governance is very decentralized, different states offer different policies in dataset distribution and fees. With recent changes of state government and influence from overseas trends, Victorian and Queensland Government decided to offer previously non-free datasets for free downloads (i.e. no need to pay to purchase datasets). This is because of state governments want to have transparency enhanced through free geospatial datasets.
Department of Environment & Primary Industries (Victoria) presenter on latest news
For example in Queensland, the presenter stated his department have Google Earth Application called Queensland Globe whereby users can download datasets for free. This includes imagery and cadastral polygon datasets from state government. However, there is one central issue with timing of release of free datasets. The announcements came during the period of massive state spending cutbacks, departments being fused up and mass sacking of employees. These spatial departments have not run away from the aftermath of these events. Since geospatial datasets coming from state government are treated with high authority, the cost of maintaining these datasets up-to-date and largely error-free is high. Previously, they could cover the maintenance cost by selling datasets to interested parties. However, by making these datasets free, these department lost major revenues (amidst state cutbacks) and finding difficult to maintain the datasets. If this continues, chances are the era of free datasets could be short-lived.

In the case of Western Australia (WA), the state government cannot offer free datasets simply because the department in charge is a Statutory Authority. Without much dwelling into politics, Landgate (the one responsible for spatial datasest in WA) should sustain by itself through its own revenue generating mechanisms (state government would not be paying up their bills). Thus, no revenue, no free datasets.

For the moment, Australian cartographers (plus worldwide) can enjoy the free datasets being offered by these institutions.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Creating A1 Size Map of Venezuela

Map of Venezuelan autopistas (highways) and major roads
Today, the post is a sidetrack of my usual blog posts. Since late April I have been embarking on this massive map project on creating A1 Size map of Venezuela. The purpose of the map would be:
  • Showing up-to-date topographic and political features of Venezuela
  • Highlighting key features of Venezuela geographically (i.e. through maps) that have made impact past and present
I expect the project to be completed (when the map is pushed out) around December 2013. Official start date is 1/6/2013. No definite dates are in placed as it is hard for me to commit. Project title : Venezuelan Map Project
Venezuela Map at the 8th Day into Project
8th Day into the Project (8/6/2013), after assembling the geospatial data


Stage 1: Collection of geospatial data (April- June 2013)
  • Identifying the geographical datasets (e.g. terrain, road network, national park polygons)
  • Creating a proper metadata for the datasets (metadata is data of 'data')- including the currency, sources, restrictions and others
  • Determination of suitable Map Projection : Mercator Projection was Chosen
  • Placing the datasets into one geodatabase (an ESRI geodatabase)
Stage 2: Map clean up (June 2013 - December 2013)
  • Adding all necessary geographical datasets and arranging in appropriate order (i.e, roads must be over rivers)
  • Classifying the datasets into proper hierarchies (e.g. road classification from highways to tracks)
  • Removals of unnecessary datasets for the project (e.g. delete residential streets in the map)
  • Choosing the right symbology for the datasets (e.g. choosing the right colours for terrain)
  • Place text labels and modifications may be needed for positioning.
  • Adding map grid
Stage 3: Map print-out (December 2013)
  • Export ESRI (GIS software used for the map production) map to Adobe Illustrator
  • Final complex touch-ups on the maps
  • Adding images and notes on key geographical features of Venezuela (i.e. Angel Falls pop-up box or significance of Sabaneta, Barinas)
  • Send for printing
Venezuelan Roads in Zulia State
Road classification around Lake Maracaibo


  • Difficulty in getting good, consistent quality of geospatial data for Venezuela
  • Unfamiliarity of Venezuela road hierarchies, significance of other geographic features
  • Time constraints as I have multiple projects to do
  • Getting bogged down in trivial mapping works.
  • Uncertainty of project termination
  • Cost involved in printing
  • Suitability for the targeted audience (is it just for me?)
Hence, this what I have been doing in past few months. If I am called upon to do similar projects related to Malaysia, these are the  procedures I follow and the challenges I will face