In its broadest sense the term ‘data capture’ refers to any process whereby information is collected in some way for use within an IT environment. This is usually undertaken for reasons of improved data experience such as being able to handle data in soft copy on a computer when previously handled as hard copy as paper records.
Data capture in a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) context is essentially the processing of any information which has a spatial or geographic element, typically maps. The process includes scanning maps into a raster format and then capturing individual features as ‘vector data’. This consists of capturing specific geographic features as sets of coordinates (point, line or polygon), together with necessary attribute information. Vector data can be used in a GIS or web environment for spatial searching and analysis.
A prime example of GIS data capture is the recording of Local Authority planning records. Councils will over time accumulate thousands of planning records, consisting of planning applications and associated documentation which require cataloguing, indexing and storing. Such a vast number of paper records comes with several costs; storage area; fire hazard; inefficient retrieval of individual records requested. By undertaking a data capture exercise, the Council can save on space, insurance premiums and improve customer service.
GIS data capture of planning records would typically consist of capturing vector data together with planning application references so that all records can be easily accessed in the new system. Other necessary supporting textual information such as written applications and notices can also be captured. The end result of this can be both an indexed set of digital files such as PDFs, but also (crucially) spatially referenced data in the form of geographic entities with coordinates and attributes for use in GIS software.
GIS data capture is also undertaken by other areas of Local Government where there is a strong geographic element. For example, Grounds Maintenance departments can improve intelligence and the ability to negotiate with contractors by capturing grass cutting areas. Likewise Highways can improve management information by transferring legacy Highways records into a digital mapping environment.
Hopefully we have explained how data capture in a geospatial environment can bring benefits to an organisation and provide easier access to information.