What does configuration versus customisation mean?

Configuration and customisation are two of the most widely misused words in IT. To us, configuration means software that can be adapted to meet the needs of end users themselves without programming and simply by end users making selections using buttons, pull down lists and similar. On the other hand, customisation means that programming is required to adapt the program to meet your needs and that this involves people with specialist IT skills such as developers, project managers, business analysts and testers.

The main advantage with configuration is that usually a system can be set up to meet your needs in a matter of hours or days where as with customisation it will usually take weeks or months involving a larger number of people. With configuration, if the system does not meet your needs, you can make adjustments to settings yourself to make the system better meet your needs. With customisation, the supplier of the software is usually required to make adjustments.

A common argument against configurable software is that it will not meet your needs as well as customised software. However, this has to be considered in the context of that even if customised software is developed, historical data indicates that such software, on average, only provides 44% of its predicted value (McKinsey and University of Oxford, 2012).

Zirkarta is configurable software. While we can customise the software to meet particular requirements, we will build the new customised features such that they can later be configured if the situation changes.

 

We already have existing systems

While many organisations have existing systems that provide some of the functionality of Zirkarta (e.g. messaging systems, tasking systems, resource management systems, mapping systems), in most cases these are separate, siloed systems. A lot of the power of Zirkarta comes from the integration of seemingly unrelated functionality. To us, integration not only means that different functionality can be accessed from a single interface (e.g. you can access a resource management system, messaging system and mapping system from a single page) but that an action taken using one functionality automatically results in a corresponding and appropriate change in other functionality (e.g. you can select resources to send a message to by selecting those resources on a map or the resources you allocate to an organisational unit in a resource management system automatically create a messaging group in the messaging system).

Zirkarta can develop APIs to enable data to be exchanged between existing systems and Unite so that together Unite and the existing systems provide a single integrated solution.

 

But we already have a .pdf based system

Some organisations already have systems which allow .pdfs created in one geographical location to be uploaded where they can be viewed by people in another geographical location. While .pdfs provide a good ‘visual representation’ or ‘image’ they do not contain data (e.g. if a .pdf is uploaded showing the extent of a disease outbreak, the area of that disease outbreak cannot be automatically extracted from the .pdf and provided in a dashboard). If the area of the disease outbreak is remapped, the dashboard will not automatically update to reflect the new area of that disease outbreak – this data will need to be manually updated. In this way, .pdf systems cannot be used for providing near-real time situational awareness.

Zirkarta is a database driven system and displays live data and hence data can be automatically extracted from maps and used to populate dashboards (and other system modules) in near real time. If the data on a map changes, the data in dashboards (and other system modules) automatically updates in near real time.

However, Zirkarta can be used to generate .pdfs for upload into .pdf based systems if required.

 

But we already have an app for this

Some organisations already have an app which provides some of the functionality provided by Zirkarta. Apps are attractive because they allow a system to continue operating even when the device is outside of internet range (is offline).

An app is a small software system where the computer code is stored in advance on individual devices. Apps work by interacting with the operating system of the device meaning that any change in the operating system means that the app needs to be updated. If an app is not updated it may not work at all or its performance may be effected. Thus, an app locks you into continuous work to update the app every time an operating system changes. This is particularly problematic because separate apps must be updated following changes in different (Android and IOS) operating systems.

slow down your iphone

Developments since 2015 have enabled the development of offline web applications such as Zirkarta. In an offline web application, the code required to run the application is downloaded in the background onto the individual device at the time of logging into the system. This code is then stored within and executed by the web browser (e.g. chrome, safari) even when the device is off line. Any data collected when offline is stored within the web browser and transferred to the server when the device returns to an online area. This enables offline web applications to continue working (without downloading any software) even when the device is in an offline area. Because the code is executed by the web browser and not the operating system, updates in operating system have no impact on offline web applications and because all browsers are built to meet the HTML5 standard, if the offline web application is built to the HTML5 standard (such as Zirkarta), the application will also be unaffected by updates to web browsers.

Offline web applications do have a small number of limitations. Probably the most significant is that only 5Mb of data collected offline can be stored by most browsers. Data storage in Zirkarta has been specifically designed with this limit in mind and 5Mb will allow 25 000 new map features to be stored offline which is believed to be sufficient for most applications.

 

We want a solution that can be used for a range of different events

Zirkarta is a template based system with it being possible to build templates for an unlimited number of different types of events (e.g. one template for weed management another for fire prevention plans). In this way, the system can be used for a range of different types of events.

Templates control not only how users will be able to use the spatial aspects of the system for that type of event (e.g. what type of features may be plotted on the map), but also the behaviour of the system including how data entered is re-used and integrated within and between templates. This not only controls data quality it also enables the system to learn between different types of events (e.g. recently sprayed areas from the weed management map to automatically appear in fire prevention maps so that these areas are not included in prescribed burns which may cause health issues for those conducting the burns).

wildlife management program

Configured for use in a wildlife management program.

 

fire planning

Being used to implement a fire management plan.

 

Incident Map

Incident Action Plan Map in a bushfire context

 

Defence screenshot

Example in a Military context.

Why Artificial Intelligence?

At its most basic level, artificial intelligence may be defined as where a machine uses data to mimic functions associated with human intelligence such as learning and problem solving.

In many industries, the models still being used are based of experiments conducted many years ago. For example, the fire behavior models currently used in Australia were developed 50 years ago. Often these models and logic are based on assumptions that are no longer valid (or even known to those using the models today). In addition, these models were usually based on a comparatively small number of experiments and have since been applied to a much larger number of real-word examples of the phenomena without those models being adjusted based on experiential data from those real world examples.

The artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Zirkarta use experiential data collected as a by-product of managing real world examples of phenomena to predict that phenomena in the future. In this way, predictions account for changes in that phenomena over time. Predictions can be automatically recalculated in real time as new observational data is received. In addition, data on the confidence in predictions can be provided at the time of prediction.

 

Proven versus innovative

A proven system is a system that deals with the problems of the past and present while an innovative system deals with the problems of today and tomorrow. In many industries, the problems faced in the future will be materially different to those faced today. If a system is to deal with the problems of the future, that system must be artificially intelligent such that it learns from current problems and detects and adapts itself to deal with the problems of the future.

Zirkarta is being developed using a number of patented spatial artificial intelligence algorithms that will allow it not only to deal with the problems of today but to automatically learn and adapt to the problems of tomorrow.

 

Can I get the same functionality from another system?

patent-pending

Broadly speaking, the following aspects of Zirkarta are patent pending:

  • Multi directional and multi tiered data reuse.
  • Real time map-based collaboration.
  • Real time automatic multi purpose data reuse and sharing
  • Data integration engine.
  • Feature class – feature state map feature hierarchical structure.
  • Template and rules based spatial system.
  • App free offline functionality.
  • Spatial knowledge base and automatic learning artificial intelligence algorithms.
  • Dynamic spatial prediction artificial intelligence algorithms.
  • Artificial intelligence assisted automatic map feature classification algorithms.
  • Artificial intelligence assisted automatic unstructured data analysis algorithms.

 

Can’t we just do this with ESRI software?

Many organisations already have mapping software provided by the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). Zirkarta is designed to enable mass use of mapping software without specialised training while ESRI software is primarily designed for use by specialists with advanced training. Consequently, it is true that there is a range of higher end functionality available in ESRI software that is not available in Zirkarta.

There is no existing ESRI product that provides the range of integrated functionality that is provided in Zirkarta and providing such functionality using ESRI software would require the development of a customised solution. In addition, the fundamental foundations on which Zirkarta and ESRI software are built are different which would make it difficult to build a customised ESRI solution incorporating the same functionality. Finally, Zirkarta owns the intellectual property behind a number of the functionalities (e.g. the artificial intelligence algorithms which enable the system to spatially learn) which means this functionality cannot be built into an ESRI based solution.

However, in recognition of its market dominance in desktop mapping software, Zirkarta is being built to import and export ESRI shapefiles.

 

Can I include data from more than one map in a dashboard?

Yes. In some systems data from only a single map can be included in dashboards.

In Zirkarta the user may create and store a filter and data from maps that meet the specified filter criteria (e.g. maps created after a specified date) are included in the dashboard (and displayed in the overview map and included in the executive summary). Hence, you control which maps are included in the dashboard.

 

Do I need to purchase desktop software to configure the system?

No. Some software requires the purchase of separate desktop software which is used to configure a system with those changes then being published to the web where it may be used by other users. In such cases, configuration can only be undertaken on the individual devices that have the desktop software installed. This model is often used by companies who built their software prior to the web and rather than rebuilding their software to be web-centric have simply adapted their existing desktop software to be used with the web.

Zirkarta is true web-centric software and the system can be configured on any web enabled device without the need to install any software on that individual device.

 

Do I need to purchase multiple products?

No. Some developers of software require you to purchase multiple products to create a comprehensive solution. For example, one product for use on desktop computers, another for mobile use and a third for use on servers.

Zirkarta is a single product that provides, desktop, mobile and server functionality in a single package.

 

We are already committed to something else

It is acknowledged that it is very difficult to change to a different path if you are already on a path to a different solution. For this reason, Zirkarta makes it easy to evaluate the system before committing to changing from the path you are already on. This includes:

  • Offering obligation free trials.
  • The system does not require the purchase of any specific hardware – it runs on any standard desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
  • There is no software to download onto individual devices and keep updated.
  • The system has a very low training overhead – if you can use Google maps it is likely you will be able to use the system with 5 minutes of instruction.

 

How do I get system updates?

Zirkarta is cloud based software (although it can be installed on private servers if required). We plan to continue building additional functionality into the system. As soon as you log onto the system you will automatically have access to this new functionality.

 

Are there different levels of permissions?

Yes. The system has four levels of permission:

  • Administrator – Can set up templates which control how the system behaves in your organisation.
  • Editor – Has access to add and change most data in the system (e.g. the allocation of people in rosters and who are members of workgroups) but cannot change templates.
  • Member – The main permission level in the system who can change data on maps and but can only view data in most other modules.
  • Viewer – Can view data in the system but cannot change it.

A user may change the permission level of other users up to, but not beyond, their own permission level.

In the future, different security levels will be built into the system which will enable the maps and map features visible to individual users to be managed.

 

How many users can the system handle?

The system is hosted on a server that monitors the number of users logged into the system and automatically increases the Central Processing Unit resources allocated to the system as the number of users increases. In this way, the system automatically scales to handle many thousand of simultaneous logged in users.

 

Do I need to archive the data in the system?

No. The cloud server on which the system is hosted automatically backs up the system database in a different location (this backup will be used to restore the database in the unlikely event that the main database becomes corrupted). The ability of modern databases to store vast amounts of data (many millions of records) and automatic cloud backups makes archiving unnecessary.

 

Do I need to buy specific hardware?

No. The system operates on any web enabled device including desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. The system is cloud hosted so you do not need to purchase any servers. If you choose to have the system installed on your own server rather than being cloud hosted, the system will run on most servers and a specific server is not required.