Port of Rotterdam Manages Spatial Data Online

7 Jul, 2010 By: Amy Zeller

One of the world's biggest shipping centers implements ERDAS APOLLO to catalog and deliver masses of data via the web.

Situated on the North Sea in the Netherlands and stretching 40 kilometers in length, the Port of Rotterdam (PoR) is the largest seaport in Europe — and one of the busiest ports in the world. A global gateway and massive transshipment point, it operates around the clock to distribute goods to hundreds of millions of European consumers.

The port's massive industrial complex provides an intermediate destination for storage, cargo handling, processing, and also distribution via various other forms of transport including road, rail, ship, river barge, and pipeline. Goods arriving in the port in the morning may be in the hands of merchants in the heart of Europe and the UK by mid-afternoon.

This massive development site at the Port of Rotterdam, called tweede Maasvlakte, is an extension to a main part of the harbor that can accommodate the world's largest ships. It is being developed in stages, with final completion expected in 2013, and will expand the Harbor's territory by 20 percent.

The PoR Authority acts as the managing agency of the port. The Authority strives to develop and advance the port, and supports businesses in the port area. Focusing on space and infrastructure planning and logistics, the Authority is responsible for creating optimal conditions for onsite business locations and accompanying residential environments.

Spatial Information Management

In the past decade, the shipping industry entered the digital age, and information management has progressed immensely. The digitization of data and the ability to transfer information more freely has led to the unification of formerly independent systems. Systems integration and centralization has swept across port operations, and even encouraged cooperation beyond corporate borders.

PoR's Spatial Information Management department handles the internal processes at the port, including guidance of ship movements, commercial processes, infrastructure management, and strategic planning. More than a decade ago, PoR made the strategic decision to implement one organization-wide database, providing the entire operation with a comprehensive information package. This centralized approach seeks to make newly published data and information immediately available to all relevant departments.

Spatial Information Management also provides PoR with correct and appropriate geospatial information for its commercial processes. "As part of the port's centralized information solution, Spatial Information Management delivers spatial information systems for harbor traffic, leased harbor parcels, asset management and current projects in progress," said Spatial Information Manager Albert Mulder.

To date, Spatial Information manages more than two million spatial objects, totaling more than 100 GB of data. Much of the data is self-collected by the Port, including soundings of harbor floor, parcel boundaries for lease contracts, environmental data, and radar data. Other data is derived from outside sources, including a high-detail general Netherlands basemap, cadastral, aerial photography (at a resolution of 7 cm for the entire harbor area), and general topographic maps.

Data Management and Delivery Challenges

The centralized information solution has been very successful. However, to maintain standards of performance and efficiency, PoR continues to investigate ways to improve the current system. Because geo-information became so easily accessible via the centralized solution, the demand grew tremendously. For Information Management, this was a trigger to begin using web services.

"Web services are no longer deemed a specialized area of information," said Mulder. "The end user's ability to interact with geospatial web services has increased significantly over the years."

Even though requested information continues to reside in dedicated systems across the organization, there is a significant demand for a more integrated view of this information. "Everybody needs access to these sources, which calls for a service-oriented information architecture and policy," Mulder added.

PoR identified four must-have improvements to the existing solution:

  1. Web services for connecting to HAMIS (Harbor Master Information System)
  2. Multiple user interfaces for different applications
  3. Ability to access externally hosted datasets in office applications (without the need for import)
  4. More modular framework to carry out modifications to minimize expense and system downtime.

Geographic Information Architecture

After assessing the Port of Rotterdam's requirements for updating their existing system, Imagem, an authorized ERDAS reseller in the Netherlands and Benelux, presented the ERDAS APOLLO solution to PoR. "The overall aim of this implementation is to provide a general geographic information architecture for all spatial assets and all other geographically significant items at the PoR," said Patrick de Groot, sales manager, Imagem.

The biggest challenge was combining the information from multiple sources in a clear and simple way, so that both technical and also non-technical staff could access this information without specialized applications.

PoR's Spatial Information Management chose ERDAS APOLLO Essentials-SDI, an entry-level APOLLO product for cataloging and delivering geospatial data over the web. Available in three tiers, ERDAS APOLLO is a data management system that enables organizations to describe, catalog, search, discover, and securely disseminate data. ERDAS APOLLO integrates with existing GIS environments, leveraging business systems and supporting almost any kind of data input.

ERDAS APOLLO also adheres to Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards, which makes it easy for PoR staff to access geospatial web services through a variety of office applications. "These include applications for maintenance of infrastructure, the leasing of land parcels and nautical applications, to name a few," said Mulder.

PoR intends to use the ERDAS APOLLO Solution Toolkit to build custom client interfaces for its various customers. This includes adding OGC services discovery and visualization in custom GIS applications.

"Contrary to our present client-server architecture, ERDAS APOLLO makes it possible to use different viewers and update tools for each of the user groups," said Mulder. In addition, the modular framework of ERDAS APOLLO enables modifications to be carried out with minimal system downtime. "The front-end and back-end connections are very flexible," added de Groot. "If they change something on the back end, it does not mean they have to also change the front end immediately, because of the service oriented architecture."

Officers at the Port of Rotterdam monitor all ship movements on wall-size video screens.

Part of the ERDAS APOLLO implementation is in the back-end infrastructure, not directly visible to the end users. From an architecture standpoint, ERDAS APOLLO is situated between the database and the end-user application, and provides a portion of the services delivered to that front end. ERDAS APOLLO also connects to other enterprise systems at the port, including Oracle, SAP, Microsoft SharePoint, Harbor Master Information System (HAMIS), several management systems (also partly in SAP), environmental systems, and soil information systems.

To date, ERDAS APOLLO Essentials-SDI has been implemented in the following systems:

Ruimtelijke Informatie Voorziening (RIV).
Translated to English, this simply means "Spatial Information Management." This is the general, organization-wide geographic information infrastructure. It can be accessed by the Port's employees for a variety of processes and applications, including the database of lease contracts on parcels. These are stored in SAP, which is connected to the geometric parcel database inside Oracle, which is now served through ERDAS APOLLO.

Harbor Master Information System (HAMIS).
This system contains all relevant
information for the Harbor Master, including tracking of ship movements, ensuring ship traffic safety, and handling ship traffic messaging. This is a live map of the Port and all current ship positions, which is constantly updated and projected on a large video screen in the Harbor Coordination Centre.

Looking towards the future, Mulder said, "there is no doubt that this implementation will yield benefits to the everyday operation at the Port of Rotterdam, both in terms of insight and of speed of delivery, which will become more apparent over the next months as things develop."

About the Author: Amy Zeller

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