Biotics Upgrade: Roadmap Under Construction
The next generation of Biotics will upgrade the underlying technology platforms. We will unify Tracker and Mapper from separate desktop programs into a single web application. In the course of doing this, we will replace the ArcView 3 mapping platform (which does not run on Windows 7) with an ArcGIS Server-based solution. The new application will not introduce drastic changes to either the data model or the underlying methodology, though it will contain some enhancements and refinements. Rather, the nature of the platform shifts will change how people work within the system.
We will examine the Biotics data model and classify each area according to the party that is responsible for maintaining the data—local programs, central NatureServe staff, or joint responsibility. Individual member programs and NatureServe will use separate applications that are tailored to work with the portions of the data model for which they are responsible. Thus, there will be a single, centralized application used by NatureServe staff and authorized partners to maintain global data, and multiple instances of a separate local application, where each instance allows a single member program to maintain its data.
We will use web services as a connector between the local applications and the central application. This approach will allow users to search and view, but not edit, centrally managed data through the local application interface. Centrally managed data will be cached locally, and the local cache will be automatically updated to the latest data in near-real time via web services. We will also leverage the web services to allow appropriate users to edit jointly managed data through a local application and then push it to the central repository.
NatureServe will manage all of the applications and will host them in a NatureServe hosting center or an authorized alternative hosting site. This will allow us to leverage economies of scale and lower the total cost of ownership across the network. NatureServe will assume the vast majority of maintenance activities and can push out new releases across the entire network as soon as they are available. Member programs will no longer be required to have their own database administrator and can save in licensing costs by sharing expensive resources (such as ArcGIS Server and databases). By consolidating the applications within a centralized hosting site, system performance and operability will not be subject to the wide variety of IT policy and technical issues across multiple local environments.
NatureServe will likely manage the following data using the central application:
- global and national element tracking, ranking, characterization, and element references
- higher classification units
- scientific names
- EO specs and rank specs
- element groups
- element sites and ecoregions
Member programs will likely manage the following data using the local application:
- subnational element tracking, ranking, characterization, and references
- source features
- managed areas and sites
We are still assessing management of references and EO ecoregions.
NatureServe’s web-based observation data management system, sometimes referred to as “Kestrel,” will be the preferred solution for managing observation data. We anticipate that many programs will use Kestrel to manage a wide range of observation records, including those that are important to consider when managing element occurrences. Therefore, an important goal of the critical-path upgrade will be to integrate Kestrel with the EO creation workflow. From within Kestrel, users will be able to identify the observations that they want to use within Biotics. Doing so will copy a minimal amount of information into Biotics, where it will be available as read-only data. Kestrel will also ensure that the Biotics copy is kept up to date should the original data be changed within Kestrel.
The local application will also support importing observations from other systems through a manual import process. However, this approach will require additional work by member programs to map the observations to a standard data format and to ensure that changes to observation data in their system are propagated to Biotics.
Taxonomic Changes and Data Exchange
Taxonomic changes made to global or national elements will be noticed by local applications as soon as they update their local cache of centrally maintained data. Changes that do not require any user intervention can automatically be applied; changes that do require user intervention will be flagged for review. A member program can defer the review process if desired, but any data that is associated with a changed element cannot be exchanged until the taxonomic change has been reconciled. To implement this near-real-time interaction, TAXI—NatureServe’s taxonomic exchange interface—will become an integrated part of the local application.
Data exchange will still occur on a periodic basis. It will continue to require files to be exchanged and will not use the central application's web services; however, due to the integration of TAXI into the local application, data exchange should become a much simpler process. The local applications will already have the most recent versions of centrally maintained data, so the “exchange” process should only require a one-way transfer of data from member programs to NatureServe. Since data for elements having unresolved taxonomic changes is filtered out, data conflicts requiring user intervention should be rare.
The best way to handle the incoming data from member programs is still an open question. We have not decided whether the review and analysis of the rolled-up data will be part of the central application or another, loosely coupled application.