3rd October 2012

Ordnance Survey and the open source opportunity

Luke Hampson

Last month, Ordnance Survey presented at the fourth Open Source GIS conference which was held at the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, University of Nottingham. The annual conference provides a platform for people from across government, academia, industry and open source communities to network and share ideas for future collaborative work in open source, open standards and open data geospatial technologies. We thought that our GeoVation blog followers would be interested to learn how Ordnance Survey has embraced the Open source opportunity.

So…for the benefit of those of us that aren’t sure what open source is, well, it is often described as being a way of working that allows the source code for software applications to be made freely and openly available, encouraging a public and collaborative approach to the ongoing development and enhancement of the software. This ensures that everybody can contribute to, and benefit from, these developments.

Geospatial building, Nottingham

Ordnance Survey have embraced the open source opportunity in their production IT and software over the last decade and Ian James, Chief IS Architect, delivered a presentation at the conference covering exactly how this has been done. Some of the key points from the presentation illustrate where, what and how they have used open source options and we thought you would be interested in learning all about it, here on the GeoVation blog.

A number of web mapping services are available under licence from Ordnance Survey and you may be interested to know that some of these have been built using open source technology.

To name just a couple: OS OnDemand, which is a service that allows the delivery of Geographic Information to an end user directly over the internet, was built on an open, standards-based IT infrastructure – using open source options such as GeoServer, PostGIS and Astun Loader.

OS OpenSpace and OS OpenSpace Pro, are web services that allow a user to embed Ordnance Survey mapping within a web application and have also been developed using open source technology – being based on OpenLayers and MySQL products.

Currently, the most significant use of open source software has been to provide the underpinning technology for Ordnance Survey’s outward-facing (public or customer) applications and services, which provide read-only access to their mapping data.

So why and how did they arrive at using open source options?

As we all know, technology moves at an incredible pace and as the functionality, reliability, culture and support options of open source technology has improved, so their confidence in them has increased, and they have felt more comfortable in adopting them.

Using open source options to develop products and services has allowed them to make some significant cost savings, backing up and demonstrating their full support for the Government mandate to use open source solutions wherever possible. But the ethos of open source is about give as well as take, and as such, there is a moral imperative to contribute in-kind for something that they would otherwise essentially be getting for free. Hence, contributing back to open source developments by doing things such as fixing bugs and funding improvements to certain products to name just a couple of examples, have enabled all to benefit from the work that they have done.

Ian ended with some points around why open source isn’t the only option for the National Mapping agency, as well as covering some of the valuable lessons learned. The recorded webcasts of the conference will be made available for the benefit of the wider community later here.

That was a whistle stop tour of how Ordnance Survey is using open source technology, we hope you enjoyed it!