Building New INSPIRE services – Case: Statistics Finland

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Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus) is one of the largest publishers of open data in Finland. They also host tens of open geospatial services (WMS, WFS, i.e.) with data that is being utilized in multiple different systems throughout Finland, and the data is used in key decision making processes. Therefore the data Statistics Finland publishes has significant societal impact. Statistics Finland were ready to produce the last bits of INSPIRE data and Download Services at the end of 2020. They wanted to publish brand new spatial web services with the latest standards and technologies at hand. For this they relied on Spatineo’s help throughout the project — working also hands-on themselves.

Utilizing latest standards and technologies for INSPIRE

INSPIRE Download Service

In this project the basis for the INSPIRE Download Service was chosen to be the new WFS 3.0 standard officially called “OGC API – Features – Part 1: Core”. It is based on OpenAPI specifications which provides a solid base for providing spatial data through Web APIs.

OGC API – Features have now been in early stages of development for a couple of years, and several organisations have participated in the development. Spatineo has been part of that group since the early drafts of the technology. The initial project was to test and flesh out what the API could be, and this was done in the SOFP (Simple Observation Features Pilot) project. SOFP enables an easy and flexible way of using different backend systems (i.e. PostgreSQL, MongoDB) to provide the data. SOFP is also very cloud friendly and it can easily be operated in a cloud, containers or on-premise environments.

So far there are no INSPIRE Download Service specifications for the OGC API – Features but an international team has written best practices on the subject. More about the development can be read here. This didn’t stop Statistics Finland to boldly go, just as in the Star Trek, to find new frontiers — new use cases and users for their data. This new technology opens the door for an easier way to download and use spatial data especially in the software applications where OpenAPI type of interfaces have been used for a long time. As the technology is still in development we cannot say which features will be in the final versions of it, and we recommend to keep an eye out for ongoing changes!

Without the data there is no download service

Sometimes people tend to forget the main building block of almost any application the data.  It often gets buried under the new and shiny technologies and graphics but in this case the data was the star. It is not an easy task to browse through tons of INSPIRE theme documentations about data models and XML schemas and translate those to finally fit into an experimental INSPIRE Download Service GeoJSON model.

Some of the specifications did produce gray hair for the development team and as always compromises had to be made. For example modelling the StatisticalValue data type of INSPIRE Population Distribution theme in relation to StatisticalGridCell feature type of Statistical Units theme had to be  rethought to suit OGC API – Features better. Handling a JSON feature with statistical values (for example a population count) for all the statistical grid cells in Finland with a resolution of 1000 meters (total of almost 400 000 cells) would have been too heavy to process. Instead it was decided to separate the values to their own JSON features increasing the feature count but keeping the data amount of one feature reasonable.

These kinds of notions are more valuable than gold when creating new ways of distributing data. It is not always easy to be the pioneer but on the other hand it is very rewarding to know your efforts will be taken into account in the future development.

After the data models were created the data itself was derived from existing Statistics Finland datasets using Safe Software’s FME desktop. Data was stored in PostgreSQL PostGIS database.  

Future proofing services

Statistics Finland now has a service which utilizes the latest technologies, and is cutting edge API design. As more and more development is poured into OGC API, the community and support becomes even better over time, which might eventually lead into OGC API being the dominant spatial API out there. Taking the first steps always requires courage, and with these steps now being taken, Statistics Finland is one of the forerunners in technology when it comes to open geospatial web services.

Tapio Kytö from Statistics Finland commented on the projects:

We are pleased with how Spatineo has guided us in unknown waters. They have provided us a true expert for all stages of setting up our service, from data modelling to server configuring. What we haven’t seen or thought of in the beginning, has always been solved along the journey — with a right balance of listening to our ideas and bringing up theirs.”

You can read more about the Statistics Finland’s services from this page, and the API root directory can be found from this address: Statistics Finland’s INSPIRE services.

In case you are interested in developing high quality spatial web services for your organization, contact us for more information! We have helped several organizations in making their infrastructures and services exceed expectations.

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