During Mapvember, we've been introducing you to the team behind the Scotland's environment map and spatial data. In this post we catch-up with SEPA GIS Developer Bruce Smith, and find out about the role he has played in developing our map.

Scotland's environment web
November 27, 2017


Bruce Smith, GIS Developer

Bruce is a GIS developer with SEPA; responsible for a range of desktop applications, GIS servers, SEPA map services, spatial data management, licencing of GIS products and looks after maps and GIS services internally and externally to SEPA – yes, he’s very busy!

Scotland’s environment web has benefitted from Bruce’s considerable GIS experience through his development of the map application that consumes web map services (WMS) provided by external partners. A new approach for Bruce in developing the Scotland’s environment map tool was the agile, user focussed approach. We had weekly development meetings to review and shape the map application as it progressed where Bruce was able to gather feedback and ideas from a multi-disciplinary team. We also introduced usability testing, with support from the Scottish Government Digital usability lab – where we invited users from a range of different backgrounds, to put the prototype map application through its paces.

We asked Bruce to share some of this thoughts about development the Scotland’s environment map:

"This [agile and user focused] approach was really beneficial to me as a developer – being able to see first-hand how the application was being used and how people interacted with the different elements and functionality. Developers often take it for granted how people use their products, and this process really opened up new insights into user behaviour – especially for the Scotland’s environment map, which is for a much broader user base than other more technical internal SEPA interactive GIS applications I have previously developed. I was surprised to see that users found the prototype data search facility too clunky. Creating a simple search of complex data was a real challenge, but the user testing helped me to go back and re-look at the map to make it more intuitive and easier to use. The sooner the end user can get involved and see a visual of the application, the better as it stops development going too far down a path that ultimately isn’t suitable for the end user.

A new development feature for me is the responsive framework, as traditionally I have catered mainly for desktop applications. We use the ‘Foundation’ responsive framework recommended by ESRI, which really simplifies development to cater for smaller screens. But as a developer, you still need to think simplification and reframing the functionality you want to deliver in a much less cluttered, simplified way for a non-technical audience on a mobile device. We’re not quite optimal for mobile, but we are definitely heading the in right direction.

There is an array of different technologies that come together into a single seamless application that the front end user is completely unaware of. These include:

  • Linked data store – central store of metadata and web services, of which the map application is just one consumer. Any other developers and other Scotland’s environment web applications can access and re-use this 5* data. If we had gone down the traditional database route, then only the map application would be able access the data. This way we are opening up data to a wider range of users. The metadata in the linked data store, really helps to enrich the information that users can view about the map data.
  • OSMA – One Scotland Mapping Agreement – being part of the collective mapping licence gives us access to a number of external third party libraries and services that feed into the map and are regularly updated, including location search and background maps (thinkware), and aerial photography (get mapping).

This is the only place you can view data from many sources in a single map application; it’s a real unique point of Scotland’s environment web. But it does bring with it development challenges:

  • Changes in google browser policies meant that mixed secure and non-secure content coming through in scripts were blocked. A number of data providers have WMS not from secure services so we had to develop a technology solution so that Scotland’s environment map tool could continue to consume the full scope of data services.
  • Variations in data, for example the symbols associated to different layers, legend fonts, size of images. Field names in map services are not always very descriptive, or can be over complicated – identify results – making it hard to present user friendly information about the data.

So where next for Scotland's environment maps? I'd say that in addition to optimising the map application for mobile devices, we want to look at including web feature services that would allow users to carry out more complex analysis and spatial querying of data. This is key to developing tools for assessments and decision making, providing users with access to the same data from the same source.

It's difficult to pick a favourite map layer; I just like the fact taht I have a shopping basket of options to view in the same place. I can view wildcat priority areas and air monitoring points at thesame time if I was so inclined."


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