Summary of the Federal Highway Administration's Quarterly Webcast on Applications of Geospatial Technologies to Transportation
Webcast 13: UPlan, an Interactive, Web-Based GIS Tool Developed by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)
February 22, 2012
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These notes provide a summary of UDOT's presentation of UPlan that took place during the webinar and detail the question and answer session that followed. This webcast did not include a PowerPoint presentation.
The webcast recording is available at:
John Thomas - Director of Planning, UDOT
Andrea Moser - Planner/GIS Manager, Bio-West
Frank Pisani - GIS Manager, UDOT
Approximately 95 participants attended the webcast.
Introduction to Presentation
Mark Sarmiento of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) thanked participants for joining the webcast. The webcast was the thirteenth in a quarterly series of FHWA-sponsored webcasts. The series deals with the application of GIS and other geospatial technologies to transportation. This webcast focused on UDOT's UPlan, a web-based interactive GIS mapping and data-sharing tool created to improve data management and collaboration across the agency. UDOT recently updated UPlan to incorporate a number of changes that improve usability.
John Thomas, Director of Planning at UDOT, began the webcast by providing an overview of UPlan. UPlan is a web-based GIS platform that provides users with the ability to upload, manage, and share geospatial data. Some of the data layers available in UPlan include information related to planning and environmental linkages, safety, and maintenance. The tool can be utilized to create web-based maps and generate reports. It allows the ability to quickly and easily share data between users and within the agency.
In developing UPlan, UDOT's goals were to provide a framework for users to share data and support useful, content-driven discussions. Using UPlan, users are able to quickly and easily examine data from a variety of sources, informing planning decisions. UPlan offers the flexibility to perform spatial analysis on-the-fly and users are able to immediately provide answers to relevant queries. In addition, UPlan serves as a data warehouse, providing users with the abilities to not only view and manipulate their own data, but to cross-examine data provided by other agencies as well.
Mr. Thomas also noted some of the benefits and challenges associated with the first version of UPlan, published in early 2008. These are summarized below:
- Provides stakeholders with a common platform for sharing and using data;
- Allows for easy/quick creation of reports and summary tables to support data analysis;
- Supports ability to cross-reference data from different sources, such as transportation plans, travel demand models, and others;
- Creates one-page fact sheets, generated for a planned project with the most relevant data related to the project needs, forecasts, conditions, statistics, and other current and planned work in the area;
- Encourages collaboration and data-sharing with constituent agencies and across agency lines, fostering good practices within and between agencies;
Overall, UPlan effectively demonstrates the value of data-sharing to agencies previously hesitant to share their data, resulting in the formation of new collaborative relationships. For example, UDOT has successfully encouraged local utility companies to use UPlan. Seeing UPlan's strengths and benefits encouraged these companies to more readily share their data.
Some of the challenges with the first version of UPlan included the following:
- High time and labor costs associated with maintaining hardware and servers;
- Managing and uploading datasets;
- Modifying access rights to the site and providing user support;
- Maintaining and updating the system's functionality to provide high levels of service.
Updating UPlan to Version 2
UDOT built a second version of UPlan that shifted the tool to a web-based application using ArcGIS.com. This transition eliminated many of the management and backend challenges present in version 1. UDOT also now shares data management responsibilities with individual users and groups, as users can upload their own data and share data with relevant agencies on an on-demand basis. This change has limited the time UDOT spends on data management, reduced UDOT's overhead, and eliminated some of the coding requirements on the system's administrative side.
Andrea Moser demonstrated some of the key features of UPlan version 2, including the following:
- Group creation and user management. UPlan allows users to form groups to share data and reports, facilitating collaboration both within an agency and with other members of other agencies;
- Rapidly produced reports. UPlan can generate reports to allow a user to quickly examine resource details, project impacts, and management or stewardship boundaries;
- Publicly viewable map presets. UPlan users can create preset maps with predetermined features and symbology. These maps, accessible via a public link, can be easily updated to ensure more consistent availability of information. UPlan allows agencies to post and distribute publicly accessible web maps that incorporate many of the same features that previous printed maps would;
- Incorporation of server-based or local data into preset maps. UPlan allows users to upload their own datasets or use data available on web servers to add to an existing map view;
- Utilization as a development tool. UPlan can be shared and distributed to other agencies and integrated with other services or sites, providing a platform for readily accessible custom application development and testing. For example, in support of the Utah Long Range Transportation Plan, a three-pane viewer was developed within UPlan to show simultaneous views of a project's impact, alignment, and study area.
In developing UPlan, UDOT's primary aim was to understand how to best organize data. Users benefit from the tool's easily accessible data-sharing and -management features. UDOT initially sought to manage all aspects of UPlan. By shifting to an ArcGIS.com model, UDOT is now able to focus its time on maximizing the tool's functionality and accessibility for users.
In the future, UDOT plans to engage 10 States in a pilot rollout to test the second version of UPlan. Ideally, each State's team will work toward producing its own version of UPlan to share with constituent agencies.
Question and Answer Session
1) How can data be shared with others?
Users can create groups for data sharing. Groups can be comprised of users from a single organization, but can also include members from other organizations.
2) What were the training opportunities for the transition from Version 1 to Version 2?
The training requirements for version 2 are not as extensive as the requirements for version 1. But there is a need to demonstrate UPlan's specific features, show users where to get content and data, and how to set up login info, but getting new users on board has been fairly straightforward.
We can send users links that will pull up an exact map you want them to see, just as if it were a pre-generated PDF map. This eliminates the need for the user to configure the map. As long as the user is familiar with the basic functionality of web maps (e.g., zooming/panning), they will not have difficulty using UPlan.
3) Can anyone upload data, and how do you verify accuracy of data uploaded?
Accuracy is a concern for any data. With version 1 of UPlan, we needed to do a lot of work with the data to ensure accuracy. With version 2, we gave users the ability to upload and share their own data. To address concerns about accuracy, we need to contact the user who initially uploaded the data.
4) Did you have to make significant hardware investments to support UPlan?
Yes. We hosted version 1 on our servers but are now using cloud-based hosting. We are using a variety of architectures and technologies, such as an ArcGIS server, to share some of our legacy data with the UPlan platform.
5) How much does the system cost?
The pricing model for subscriptions has not yet been finalized. But users do not need a subscription to utilize UPlan because ArcGIS.com offers free hosting space for users to share data with agencies or other groups. Outside of an organizational subscription such as UPlan, each user is allotted 2 gigabytes of space to share data and maps, so even if they are not able to connect through an organization, they can still use the platform.
6) How much was ESRI involved in the development?
Version 2 evolved from UDOT's existing ArcGIS server environment. We have been involved with ESRI for the past two years. They have been tremendous partners in helping us move from the first to the second version and allowing us to understand all of the capabilities available in version 2.
7) Are the Utah data hosted on ArcGIS.com?
Our legacy data are hosted at UDOT through an ArcGIS server. The data are refreshed and updated on a nightly basis and are connected to several different backup systems.
8) Is there a size limit to files posted to UPlan?
There is not necessarily a specific file size limit, but there are limitations resulting from the complexity of the data features and their symbology. We have had issues with some datasets, but users can avoid these problems by using their own map services in addition to what is available from UPlan.
9) How much custom code was used in the development of UPlan version 2?
For the vast majority of our users, the UPlan platform satisfies their needs. We do not envision needing as much custom code in version 2 as we did in version 1. In version 1, we used a custom-built flex API and ArcGIS server. After any version updates, we would have to update and re-write the code, and sometimes lost some functionality. The system was very difficult to manage. Version 2 will still allow us to create a custom application within the ArcGIS.com framework, but we do not need to this for every site function.
10) Do you have support for using Google maps with this platform?
Arcgis.com does not use a Google base map, but there are a variety of base maps available. UPlan uses a custom base map uploaded from UDOT's GIS clearinghouse, but users can use base maps from ESRI, Bing, etc. This allows for specific functionality and often a higher degree of accuracy.
11) Do you provide support for users editing data in ArcGIS 10.1?
No, although we have discussed this option.
12) Has UDOT been able to determine a return on investment (ROI) for UPlan?
We have not yet evaluated the ROI for UPlan, although there are a lot of data available to do this and UDOT would feel confident in conducting this evaluation.
13) Can version 2 give users access to data to National Environmental Policy Act and demographic data from the U.S. Census?
Yes, but these data are available in tabular format. Users may need to manipulate the data to create shapefiles or other data features.
14) Is it difficult to administer user rights?
No. An organizational subscription to UPlan provides an ability to access an interface to manage users and their roles. Using this interface, administrators can batch upload users, invite users to an organizational group, and establish logins.
15) Have you looked into a single sign-on approach?
We will investigate this more in the future but are not using it currently.
16) Have you established any uniformity for roadway infrastructure data? Is there a common schema among owner agencies?
For our own roadway infrastructure data, we have not set up a strict data model. The system is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of schema. People are used to their own systems and getting locked into one data model would limit opportunities for a diverse user base. At the same time, we recognize a need to be able to work across agency lines. We hope to provide some guidance for how the tool could be adopted on a national level, but each State must decide how to manage its own data.
17) How many hours per month are required for maintenance?
For UPlan version 1, we spent a significant amount of time maintaining the server, data, and application. For version 2, we cut that management time in half and now spend more time focusing on the content within the platform. We have a staff of three administrators, but maintenance tasks amount to only a few hours per week. Hosting our enterprise data on our own server also helps cut down the maintenance time.
18) How will UPlan be funded? Do you anticipate a collaborative approach?
Once we have completed the pilot with a national rollout, we will investigate funding options. Moving forward past the rollout, each State will need to grow and develop the application according to its own needs. Many groups are initially hesitant to work with the framework, but might be more likely to adopt the tool once they see its benefits.
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