Directions Magazine (DM): Socium is a subsidiary of 1Spatial, which was acquired by Avisen at the end of last year. 1Spatial evolved from Laser-Scan. Can you briefly review the history of this company?
Abbie Beckford (AB): 1Spatial started as Laser-Scan in 1969 and after several iterations of technology, embraced the world of mapping and spatial data in 1979 by providing high-end quality tools for the national mapping and charting industry.
In 2003, Laser-Scan was subject to a management buyout. The then-management team planned to take the proprietary technology supplied to the national mapping and charting agencies and make it open and interoperable primarily on the Oracle platform. The result was the Radius suite of tools. The company sold Radius as a data quality and management solution to a wider market space including central government and utility organizations. The software enabled users to clean, maintain, protect and automatically fix their data so that they could ensure it was “fit for purpose” and could be relied upon for making business critical decisions. For example, Radius handles geometric, network and attribute validation and cleansing.
In 2006, Laser-Scan changed its name to 1Spatial and grew organically and by acquisition until, in 2010, it floated on the AIM market. In November 2011, Socium was launched with the vision of providing 1Spatial’s high-end data quality and management tools in the cloud under an SaaS business model.
In December 2011, Avisen Plc. acquired 1Spatial. The Avisen Plc. Group is a management consultancy and software business that provides companies with advice and solutions in order to enhance overall company profitability. The acquisition enables further investment into 1Spatial’s core technology, cross-selling opportunities and a greater presence on the AIM market.
DM: The website describes the company as offering "Software as a Service ... that opens up the world of data quality by offering new, online data validation and management services in the cloud." This is powered by Radius Studio. What was involved in moving the product to the cloud? What was the biggest challenge? Is all of Radius Studio available via the service?
AB: When 1Spatial developed Radius Studio, a spatial data management and integration solution, it was designed to work via an organization’s server with users accessing the software via the Internet or intranet. As a result, the challenge was reduced significantly, compared with what it would have been to take a desktop product into the cloud. The biggest challenge was therefore to make sure that the service had an intuitive and easy-to-use interface and most importantly that it met our user community’s business needs and requirements.
We did not develop the Online Validation Service in isolation as we wanted to ensure it would provide real value to the marketplace. Instead we spent time working in conjunction with a number of government bodies to consult with them on what the key industry trends were and their main data quality challenges that the service could address. We also worked with them to establish how users would want to be able to access the service and the various pricing model options we could adopt. It became clear that the Software as a Service and cloud approach would address the key market trends and user challenges in the most flexible and scalable way and would allow us to finally open up data quality to everyone, irrespective of technical capabilities or budget.
Presently, not all functionality of Radius Studio is available through Socium. The first offering which is the Online Validation Service, enables users to load data in the service and validate it against a set of pre-defined business rules. They do not currently have the function available to write their own rules; that will come later. We have launched the Socium Challenge whereby we are asking our users to let us know about their data challenges so that we can create new rule sets and add them into the service for the benefit of the entire community. Automatic fix up of the errors in their data is the next service that will be launched in 2012.
DM: The "free to use" rules (geometry check, network check, polygon check) seem to match those available with most GIS packages. Are they different?
AB: It is true that some of the “free to use” rules are available within GIS packages. However, what Socium offers is an independent quality assessment, not tied to any particular vendor system or technology. This independence is critical, particularity when it comes to data sharing and using data in different systems for multiple purposes. Data that might seem to be okay in one vendor system might not be in another. We already have customers that have used the Socium service for this reason. Other customers have found the service invaluable because it not only finds the features that have problems, it also pinpoints the exact location of the issue within the feature. Some systems just tell you that a feature has a problem, but leave it to the user to find out where. We are also building up new rule sets for the service all the time; these rules can be simple or complex depending on the challenge our users need to solve. Most of these rules are not, therefore, offered within standard GIS packages.
DM: I see only one "premium" rule available currently (Irish MapRoad Checks). What is the cost of extra rules? Are others planned by Socium? Or are these to be 100% crowdsourced via the Socium Challenge?
AB: The difference between the freemium and premium rules is related to the complexity of the rule. Your uploaded data can be validated against any of the freemium rule sets at no cost. This will provide you, in a matter of seconds, with a quantitative analysis of all non-conforming features against each of the rules. The overview report can be seen in the following diagram.
You can also download the error report into your local GIS, so that you can visualize exactly where the errors are located and what rule each of them has broken. Our users have described this as helping them “find the needles in a haystack.” In many cases it has reduced the number of man-hours that it takes to find the errors, from months to literally minutes. The following screenshot shows an example of how errors are shown in a user’s local GIS. Each error is identified with a color arrow and the name of the rule that has been broken is written alongside it.
A premium rule however, like the example you gave of the Irish MapRoad Checks, is where a user wishes to run a more complex rule set through the service. This rule set was put together specifically to meet a business need for a customer. We are also looking to launch a range of applications in the coming months which again will meet specific business needs for customers, and will not only validate and report on errors in the data, but will also include automatic fix up functionality.
Our current focus is on building up both the freemium and premium rule sets so that our users can access a wide range of useful rules against which they can validate their data. We are building all of these free of charge, as a result of requests from our users. It is from the user community that we will derive applications, thus ensuring that we are meeting real industry and customer business needs. Therefore it would be true to say that the primary source of rule development is crowdsourced via the Socium Challenge.
DM: Right now, the Online Validation Service is only available in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Why? When will it roll out to other areas? Is the U.S. next on the list?
AB: As a start-up business we wanted to focus and deliver best value to customers and saw limiting the target audience at outset the best way of doing this. We have been working with organizations in the UK and Ireland to develop rule sets that they would find beneficial to be able to access in the service and will soon be starting to create new applications too. We are, however, also working with organizations from around the world that have been onto the website and signed up to be able to use the freemium version once it is available in their area. As a result, we are already building up good discussions and relationships with users over what kind of rules and applications they would like to see in the service when it is launched in their country.
We will be opening up the service to the whole of the U.S. and the rest of the world on February 1, 2012 (registration).
DM: Prepping the data to required formats (SHP and TAB) and knowing how to use the reports generated seem to be the most technical tasks in using the service. Is that right? What level of GIS experience is required to use the system?
AB: Absolutely. When we were designing the Online Validation Service one of our main objectives was to create a service that was quick and really easy to use. We wanted to make sure that anyone working with spatial data, at any level, could gain real value from the service. The process to use the service is set out in four simple steps.
Step 1 - Upload the data.
Step 2 - Select the business rules to validate the data against.
Step 3 - Hit the validate button and in a matter of seconds receive a quantitative analysis of the data.
Step 4 – Users of the free rule sets and customers with credits wanting to use the premium rules can then download the error file and load it into their local GIS application to visualize exactly where the errors are located and which rules have been broken.
DM: What exactly is the freemium offering? Is it limited by size or number of datasets? Or just to using the basic rules noted above?
AB: Users of the freemium rule sets can load their data into the service, run it against any of the pre-defined rules in the Rule Store, gain a quantitative analysis of their data quality and download the error report into their local GIS application for visualization and correction.
The freemium service is not limited by number of datasets and we welcome all users to benefit from validating as many datasets as they would like through the service.
The maximum size of file that can be uploaded into the service is 5MB and this is the same for the freemium and premium versions.
When users are looking to download the error report of a premium rule set, they will be charged 1 credit for every 10,000 features in their dataset. The cost of 1 credit is $225 and discounts are available for purchasing multiple credits, as well as the option of a monthly subscription if a user would prefer the option of unlimited use.