On a number of occasions I have seen that, within the field of GIS, there’s a lack of common terminology around. As an example, the notion of ‘site’ or ‘location’. What is a site to a business? Is it the place where some kind of business feature is located? How is the footprint of that activity described: a point (because that’s all you need) or a polygon (because there’s some reason why you need its area – to give an idea of size, or because of proximity to other objects).
This is where ‘site’ needs to be understood across the business. And so does ‘location’, if it means something different. So does ‘company’, if it means the owner company or the company who just happens to work there.
Really, when an enterprise wants to start to think about its GIS estate, it needs to ensure that everyone has a common understanding of terminology – otherwise, things get out of hand pretty quickly. ‘Address’ and ‘site’ mean many different things, and need to be described (in some kind of ‘business glossary’) in order that people within the same organisation aren’t talking at cross-purposes, and so that you’re not going to need some kind of cleanup or dissemination operation later.
For instance, say a geospatial database contains ‘address’ as a field (or group of fields). There are two aspects here. Firstly, is the address formatted correctly? This is really a syntax issue. Has the data been captured in an ‘intelligent’ format – House number, street, locality, town etc – or has the old ‘Address 1′ ‘Address 2′ format been employed? The second issue is that of semantics: what does the address actually mean. There’s a real difference between a correspondence address, an ownership address, and an address of activity. Any of these are relevant at different times, and it’s important that the business has defined a suitable vocabulary to ensure that everyone – capturers, consumers, decision makers – understand exactly what kind of address is being noted.
So for that reason, it’s imperative that everyone knows the intended meaning of the data in hand. It’s no use people capturing different kinds of information in the same field if there’s a slight difference in meaning, else end users will inevitably make the wrong decision.
Taking the time to make sure we all know ‘what the what is’ is time well spent. And like so many other things in GIS, it comes down to metadata, business process and straightforward availability of information.