Jeremy Conversi, Cartographic Manager, Lonely Planet Publications
In late 2007 Lonely Planet Publications embarked on a major project to replace their dual map production systems that are responsible for producing all the maps contained in the world's most famous guide books. The aim of the project was to implement a state of the art mapping system to increase the efficiency and quality of the map making process, and also provide a spatial data management capability able to support the company’s rapidly expanding Web and B2B spatial requirements.
After a tender process, Spatial Vision was engaged by Lonely Planet to lead the design and development of the new mapping system, known as BLING. The overall project was named Pimp My GIS (PMG). According to Jeremy Conversi, Spatial Data (Cartography) Manager at Lonely Planet, ‘the new system is already delivering us efficiency savings within the map production area and we think this will result in efficiency gains throughout the production process’.
‘Recognising the potential in implementing their envisaged system, not just for map production but contributions to the whole book production process, this new system streamlines the production process while also delivering, quality, consistency and ease of use desirables,’ said Matt Langley, Project Manager at Spatial Vision.
The dual legacy map production systems used a combination of nine tools and separate pieces of software (CAD, GIS and Publishing software) in the cartographic workflow. Although the mapping was of high quality, it came at significant cost due to the time taken to produce maps. The management of the maps and the underlying spatial data was also extremely poor due to the fact that maps were stored as EPS files and the data was stored either in AutoCad drawing files or within a very basic GIS database structure. With reuse across multiple editions and series, the maps became increasingly disconnected from their original source data, resulting in significant map and data quality issues.
The PMG project was undertaken as a team effort between Spatial Vision and Lonely Planet, with Spatial Vision staff working on site. Adopting an integrated team approach not only provided the Spatial Vision developers easy access to critical in-house knowledge, but it also allowed Lonely Planet staff to have significant “buy in” to the project and to gain significant knowledge transfer from the Spatial Vision developers. Once the onsite team were established, the PMG system was developed over an 18 month period. This included a user requirements phase, then the design and build of the new system.
‘We adopted an agile like principle and ran the project in short sharp periods of development that were followed by testing and assessing. By doing this we were building what we perceived we wanted and then testing and reviewing this. It worked really well and the relationship dynamics were and still are quite excellent,’ said Tad O’Biegly, Senior Business Analyst at Lonely Planet.
The key goals of the PMG project included:
- Improved efficiency of map production through implementation of an end-to-end workflow using a single software platform.
- Reduction of time required to make map corrections.
- Use of UNICODE text to support multiple languages.
- Automated quality checking of map outputs to improve consistency and reduce errors.
- "What you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) cartographic editing.
- Automated map key creation.
- Dynamic label placement.
- Integrated “point of interest” and map key management.
- Re-use of previous map edition and overlapping publication map information into subsequent map editions.
Developed as an extension to the ESRI ArcMap Desktop GIS software, the main user interface provides a series of tools that are run in an ‘LP like’ workflow order to produce maps for the thousands of locations covered by the Lonely Planet range of guidebooks.
The new mapping tools access an ESRI ArcSDE spatial database holding both base map data, and the administrative data that define the business rules and styling properties relevant to each Lonely Planet product type. By storing this combination of data the PMG system is able to hide a great deal of complexity from the operator, improving useability and reducing training overhead. ‘The beauty of this system is being able to complete a whole task without leaving your desk. You can do it in one shot within the same software,’ said Diana Duggan, Lonely Planet Cartographer.
An example of this efficiency can be seen in the integration of the new “Points Of Interest” (POI) system. POIs include items such as places to eat, places to stay, famous landmarks, and things to see. These are both numbered on the map and placed in a map key (by name, number and grid ref). The new system automates the process of adding POIs while also leveraging Lonely Planets global set of POIs that have been developed throughout the organisations three decades of operation.
In the past POI selection and map key generation were disjointed tasks, and once created, changes were inefficient, time consuming and prone to errors. The PMG system removes these restrictions and makes changing the POI list (and re-generating map keys) a much simpler and self contained process.
A significant advantage of this “database driven” approach is the consolidation of cartographic administration functions into a single location. This reduces the effort required by cartographic operations staff when making changes to the structure or style of product, and also improves the consistency of output as all cartographers are working from the same product definitions.
A notable feature of the mapping tools are a set of quality control functions that can be run to ensure a map is production ready. Tests can be run at any stage (including as a pre-cursor to map export), allowing errors to be easily detected. This greatly improves output quality, and reduces the likelihood of changes late in the publication cycle, or worse, the destruction of printed products if errors are found after printing is complete.
‘This system was to be built around the LP production process and one very important element of this whole project is that at no stage have we stopped production. There has been minimal disruption during the roll out and we have therefore had to incur very little or no additional production costs through this process. We have now produced over 250 maps with the new system and have trained over half the cartographic department.’ said Andrew Weston, Project Manager at Lonely Planet.
With the PMG system now in production Lonely Planet are looking to the future to leverage their improved spatial data infrastructure in the area of digital products, such as web maps and mobile mapping applications. The new system has already been used to build tiled mapping content for use on the Lonely Planet website, and other projects using these tools are being investigated.
The current Chicago Encounter guide was the first publication featuring maps from the new system. Around 50% of books currently in production now have at least some of their maps produced by the new mapping system. To view some of the new maps produced by the new system visit www.lonelyplanet.com.