When Satinath Sarkar, CTO of Orion Technology talked to his friends 10 years ago about his specialty -- geographic information systems, or GIS -- he was met with quizzical looks.
"People would say 'You work with what?'" Sarkar recalls.
The confusion was understandable. After all, GIS, which uses computers to track and manage spatial data, was then the purview of governments, the military, and a few specialized industries such as oil and gas. No longer: Google Earth and Microsoft's Virtual Earth have democratized GIS technology and opened the mind of the public to the possibilities of matching GPS data with satellite imagery and other kinds of information, Sarkar says.
But Sarkar recognized the potential of GIS long ago, as an engineer working on a massive public project for the emirate of Qatar.
"It was really the first societal GIS project, and it touched every aspect of the common man's dealings with the government and the government's planning process," he says, noting that the work for Qatar led to other large municipal projects and, indirectly, to the founding of Orion in 1998. The Ontario company's OnPoint product was created to provide a standard, Web-based platform for presenting GIS data, replacing what had been substantial custom coding on the part of companies interested in creating GIS applications.
These days, Sarkar and his company are busy finding ways for GIS technology to remake the way governments and industries work. Case in point is the company's recent work on an elections management system for the province of Ontario. Developed jointly with Microsoft and Novantis for Elections Ontario, the new system is built on Microsoft's .Net platform and a Web services architecture. It features a voter geodatabase and tools for voter and address management; front-end public viewers; and electoral district and polling division management.
The system, which will be used in production for Ontario's next elections in October, will allow grassroots election workers and volunteers to report turnout data from polling stations to elections officials in real time, and let campaigns and other participants download elections maps and lists of addresses from the Web -- a huge cost savings for Elections Ontario.
There's more of that kind of work, as well as strong demand from the oil and gas industry. But Sarkar says he is also bringing GIS applications to the enterprise space. The company has integrated OnPoint with Microsoft's Virtual Earth and is partnering with Oracle to integrate GIS data with products such as Oracle Financials.
"We want to make enterprise data more accessible and meaningful and valuable with GIS," says Sarkar. "It's a very exciting road ahead."