Getting there – maps and LBS

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The AEC sector needs to be au fait with OS MasterMap Integrated Transport Network (ITN) Layer in order to meet the needs of customers and add value to already rich propositions, says eMapSite’s James Cutler.

Location based services (LBS) were touted as both the “killer app” for 3G telephony and the saviour of the telecoms companies who spent so much on their 3G licenses. That these promises have been slow to come to fruition is not in doubt and we will not explore the reasons here. However, it remains a “given” that place, where you’re at, where you might like to get to and how, lie at the heart of a huge raft of services, some ubiquitous, others virtually invisible and it is the role mapping plays in these and how these impact our sector that do bear closer examination.

What’s changed?

Traditionally, roads really were lines on maps or in road atlases and, except at the very largest scales, transport networks have generally benefited from enhanced cartographic representation in these, historically printed, media. This makes maps easier to read and for the user to plan their route, navigate along the way and deviate where necessary. Roads, or at least road alignments don’t change very much and new roads, such as bypasses or the M6 Toll Road, are much less frequent than is popularly imagined, so the printed page has sufficed for 100 years.

However, with hundreds of millions of holes being dug in our roads every year and 30 million vehicles moving around, the reality is that as a nation we are moving slower than ever while at the same time the pace of life and the pressures of work demand more, faster. As congestion avoidance has become a business imperative the parallel falling cost of consumer tools, such as GPS and PDAs, and the development of a new generation of in-car navigation tools has seen the whole area of routing and navigation move rapidly from a “nice to have” in luxury models to standard sales rep kit.

There remain four major publishers of road atlases (OS, AA, Phillips, Bartholomews) and a raft of smaller boutique publishers catering for special sectors, from major road haulier to off road cyclist. As well as motoring organisations, into this space have come Navteq, TeleAtlas and andmapping, touting a new generation of digital mapping focused more or less entirely on LBS, routing and navigation. Alongside Google, Yahoo!Maps et al, much of whose mapping content comes from one of these three sources, mapping – and especially representation of road networks therein – is more woven into the fabric of everyday existence and decision making than ever before whilst national mapping agencies have, to some extent, been sidelined.

And the Ordnance Survey?

Ordnance Survey’s flagship OS MasterMap Topography Layer contains what might be termed a “traditional” road theme, representing, at scale, the physical actuality of all roads, tracks and paths in Great Britain. For convenience this theme is provided as both lines (for road edges, curtilage and so on) as well as polygons for individual road segments. OS MasterMap does not include any information relating roads to addresses or other points of information or to the network structure for navigation, although the building block of OS MasterMap, the TOID (TOpographic IDentifier), facilitates integration with such data sources (and much more).


OS used to offer OSCAR (Ordnance Survey Centre Alignment of Roads) Traffic Manager, providing a digital representation of the road network much used by transport planners, publishers and local authorities in particular. However, although OSCAR did contain addressing, it did not contain any road restriction information (RRI), now an essential component of road/network mapping, and has been withdrawn (the final release/update was April 2006). One of the reasons for this withdrawal has been the latest release of OS MasterMap Integrated Transport Network (ITN) Layer. Originally released in 2003, not long after OS MasterMap Topography in response to growing demand from mobile network operators, solution providers and software developers, ITN is designed to support many different types of applications, including telematics (both business to business and business to consumer), location-based services, asset management and publishing. ITN contains two themes, Roads Network and Road Restriction Information:

The Roads Network is ideal for sophisticated data analysis functions, such as real-time routing, down to entry-level mapping for visual functions.

Road Routing Information (RRI) – has comprehensive restriction and advisory route information, which may influence a driver’s choice of route. Included are:

• Mini roundabouts

• Bridge heights

• Traffic calming

• Vehicle restrictions

• One-way roads

• Vehicular type access and time restrictions

ITN’s content does, to an extent, parallel content in other products such as Navteq’s NavStreets and TeleAtlas’ street mapping, a factor that has contributed to the emergence of a multitude of licensing models for these products depending on how they are being deployed. Most of these more sophisticated uses derive from web and in-car applications where the RRI is a critical component in the value add proposition rather than from conventional CAD or GIS use.

Road Maps and what you can do with themÍ.(briefly)

This does not detract from the utility of ITN particularly for transport planning applications including re-routing, modelling, diversion planning, road maintenance and emergency response. For example, a nationally consistent naming convention based on TOIDs serves to eliminate trans-boundary naming differences evident in neighbouring NLPGs and NSGs. Further, adoption of the polygonal element of ITN can drive efficiency savings through the elimination of local surveying in roadway measurement, through procurement planning and through resource allocation.

Also, ITN has been central to the preparation of Integrated Risk Management Plans and Fire Service Emergency Cover plans by Fire Authorities to estimate emergency response times, lives at risk and property loss as well as to evaluate the costs and benefits of different resource allocation and positioning strategies.

Harnessing ITN for the EnterpriseÍ.

AEC enterprises are increasingly seeing themselves (and being seen in turn) as multi-disciplinary organisations bringing together the disciplines required by the client to build best of breed solutions and, away from “hard” engineering, offer all manner of services as part of the overall package. In this last arena, information technology is, despite its ubiquity and seeming ease of use, one area where outsourcing and hosting have become the norm as organisations small and large look to reduce risk while leveraging existing tools and technologies from the relevant specialist sources. As discussed in an earlier article the way forward is that specialised elements of such solutions necessitate the integration of external non-branded services, often into a browser interface.

Given the sophistication of ITN (it is a complex database based on GML) it is no surprise that hosted web services are the preferred solution for systems integrators and developers alike when looking to add routing, navigation and location-based services to third-party applications. Transport Direct ( is one example where DfT and OS themselves worked together on a portal that gives instant access to comprehensive journey information by both public and private transport across Great Britain. It includes a journey planner, maps, live travel information and onward links to coach and rail fares and ticketing services from different travel retailers.

Route planning from motoring organisations, the short-lived pocketroutes service, to say nothing of MultiMap’s and Streetmap’s “inline” services and the array of services from their foreign competitors that have made mapping ubiquitous are but the visible exemplars of such an approach. Invisible to most are the huge raft of Intranet and Extranet applications where location, routing and related information are embedded as a (small) part of a wider application, from asset management (road and track-side inventory, estate management, grounds maintenance etc) to event reporting (accident, incident, resource monitoring) and environmental monitoring.

The other major area where road network information is absolutely critical is logistics. In areas such as routing, navigation, geofencing, exceptional load planning, hazard avoidance, risk reduction, load insurance profiling and last mile delivery both road network and road restriction information play a central role, be it for route optimisation, delivery scheduling, fuel efficiencies, pollution reduction, driver break planning or monitoring and evaluation of route records. The proliferation of home deliveries, specialised cargoes, high value goods, online ordering, large distribution centres and so on has brought incredible pressures on the transportation element of the supply chain at the same time as transportation costs continue to rise inexorably. The tools at the disposal of load planners, dispatchers and their colleagues provide a variety of mechanisms for driving efficiencies and managing costs while hopefully improving delivery forecasting accuracy. Ocado is only able to offer its one hour delivery window through dint of investment in these areas – tremendous savings to the economy would be derived from universal adoption of these tools through reduced lost work days waiting at home and wasted journeys!

As competition increases the demand for enhanced services to acquire or maintain competitive advantage will increase the demand for outsourced services on the addition of this functionality to existing solutions. Organisations in the AEC sector that understand these opportunities and work with these clients will be well positioned to benefit.

Emergent technologies such as low power wireless sensor networks offering so-called pervasive, immersive or palpable “information environments” in which assets and resources interact with each other during a process, event or lifecycle as well as communicate with some form of command or oversight protocol system. Such solutions are far from far-fetched and will require at their heart an intelligent geoinformation infrastructure in which road and transport networks will be a central, vital layer.

In summary, the AEC sector needs to be au fait with OS MasterMap ITN and competing products and with their application in order to meet the needs of customers and add value to already rich propositions (applied and advanced transport planning capabilities). So, when a local authority client seeks a shortest routes to schools solution or another client asks you to provide an on-demand service for delivery drivers or you need to set up remote asset management systems, you can deliver – even if in reality you are using a variety of internal and external skillsets and tools. After all we want to keep our customers, and keep them happy!

This article was written by James Cutler, CEO at eMapSite, a platinum partner of Ordnance Survey and online mapping service to professional users


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