I hated putting Part 1 up there. I start a lot of Part 1 posts and never get to Part 2…..I’m planning on this being a multipart post. After a while of screaming ‘hey why don’t we put QGIS everywhere’ I had a client decide to replace ArcGIS as their primary GIS. We were working along with QGIS/PostGIS/Fulcrum/ArcGIS and it finally got to a point to just switch. I’ve done a lot of QGIS installs and a lot of ArcGIS installs and enough PostGIS/PostgreSQL installs It doesn’t worry me – what does worry me? Data.
Way back in 1995 I was working for the Federal Government doing commercial mapping and the one thing I took for granted at the end was “the data dictionary”. We would work a project and at the end one of the guys would sit down and crack open a spreadsheet program and document every layer we had made and why we had made it. I guess sometime in 1996 or close to that we had FGDC metadata roll out and to be honest I don’t remember if we continued on with the Data Dictionary or dove into the FGDC Standard.
The client had a file based Geodatabase they had been working out of for a good while. It was functional. It had domains and subtypes and all the things you would hope a properly built ESRI file based database would have. The one thing it didn’t have were “reasons”. As in “why is this field here and not here and why is this here?” There were a lot of domains. Not so many subtypes though. Apparently there had been somewhat regular revolving door of consultants. Everyone added their spin on things and here I sat….adding my spin…or should I say changing it all. So that started a whole list of questions which ends with me writing everything down in Google Docs. Yes – 22 something years later I built a data dictionary to describe all the attributes and columns.
If I look back at my time for data conversion and banging my head on the wall – 60% was asking “Why?”. Then documenting the responses. In some cases we just had to accept “that’s just the way it is” and in others I was able to trim some bloat out of the database. I still think there needs to be a second round of trimming on this database.
So I’m going to spend some time talking about this move. Then talk about QGIS 3.2 because that came out – and there are things in that release that make me want to upgrade them off the LTR right now. For those of you not familiar with QGIS once a year you get a Long Term Release. It’s awesome because “things don’t change” – it’s stable. So we have it in enough places it’s going to sit until October at least.
Part 1 for all of it’s rambling ends…or starts right here: Document the data. Sit with the GIS person and ask why to the point you’ll get on his or her nerves. Your default answer to everything should be “delete”. Except you don’t. Use ArcGIS because there are going to be a few things you aren’t going to find talking to anyone. Once you’ve written everything down you can think of then you can start. Take the goofiest layer you have and move it into PostGIS. Check it. Double check it. Check it again. Check Field Lengths. Check Date Fields. Check to make sure someone hasn’t “shapefiled” your data and you’re left with “descriptio” vs descriptions.
Example – this database had two fields that completely baffled me: Location and Place. Location was for “where” the data resided as in an address. Place was a placeholder for notes. I had no clue. Luckily the client was patient as I asked more and more questions. Note the screen shot.
The other reason I’m writing this all up here – I think this is about to be a service: Migrate over to a free and open source server that is commercially supported for clients that can’t afford all the licensing that comes with an ESRI option. Of course I don’t want to call it an ‘open geo suite’ since that name has been used. I don’t plan on making downloads. My one big heartburn was I didn’t load geoserver for them – I couldn’t justify the overhead and banging my head on Windows Server more plus they had a bare bones server. Being able to edit the data was more important than pushing services out. Maybe later – but for now – They are editing and making maps and making decisions based off where we are.