Local Authorities work with people and assets. Most people have an address and assets are mostly located somewhere. As my old geography teacher used to say, “everything has geography, geography is everything”. For people who work in Local Authorities being able to find an accurate and up-to-date address easily is key to being able to deliver a service quickly and efficiently. If GIS officers had their way even more of the Council back office systems across the country would hook up to the corporate GI database and do cool stuff with spatial information.
At the recent AGI GeoCom and FOSS4G conferences in Nottingham during Maptember QGIS 2.0 was launched and garnered a lot of attention from people interested in finding solutions to save money and time and still deliver great results. I came away with a resolution to push for the use of QGIS at work in an attempt to get a desktop GIS onto more desktops while not breaking the bank. I had also met Simon Miles (@geosmiles) and eagerly followed his talk of creating a hybrid GI infrastructure using a mix of open-source and proprietary software.
QGIS fitted the bill with its extensive range of functionality, growing list of available plugins, super easy connectivity to a range of data sources including Oracle, SQL Server and PostGIS, all of which we use. The one thing it was lacking was a search plugin to let the users search the corporate address gazetteer for postal address and street names. Our existing GIS has such a plugin and it works well but not with the imminent upgrades. There had to be something that could connect to the gazetteer table in our PostGIS database, search and display an address.
Enter the QGIS Gazetteer Plugin developed by Astun Technology, Nathan Woodrow and Matt Walker. Add some keen peeps from the UK QGIS User Group and some social networking and stuff begins to happen.
After downloading and installing the plugin I soon hit a brick wall – or rather a firewall – the security at work wouldn’t let the Yahoo and Geonames gazetteers work and we don’t have Astun’s iShareGIS software stack. I delved into the code to see if I could work out what was happening and hit another wall – how does this Python stuff work? Nought for two after one over.
After some chat on the UK QGIS Google+ group I found some people in Local Government across the UK who have managed to get the plugin to work and work well. Simon Miles (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead), Kevin Williams (Neath-Port Talbot) and Matt Travis (Dartmoor National Park) rallied to my call and soon I had some code in my grubby mitts. An hour after that I had a working plugin searching our address and street gazetteers, postcodes and planning applications. Listed buildings, building warrants and others soon followed. I shared the plugin with some of our power users and they were very impressed and have even started asking for enhancements.
This whole process is a great example of how a User Group can work when coupled with FOSS4G fans, social media, open-source software and a common problem to solve. Being able to present a working solution to users and managers in just a few days certainly strengthens the case for using QGIS alongside the traditional GIS tools and maybe, in time, replacing them.
What follows is a rather more technical description of the installation and configuration of just about the single most useful application a Council officer could ask for. If you want the short version and can do the tech stuff then go to https://github.com/mixedbredie/qgis-gazetteer-search and get it, otherwise hang in there to the end… Continue reading