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Issue 3 |  September 2018

 A view from the helm


Welcome to the Bionet Newsletter.

Many of you may have attended the NSW Ecological Consultants Association annual conference recently held at Shoal Bay. OEH was very proud to showcase the history and value of biodiversity and vegetation information for an interested and insightful group of professional consultants. We had a very full house for the pre-conference workshop where the team provided insights into the map data accuracy, Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) determinations, State Vegetation Mapping Program, NSW East Coast survey and Plant Community Type (PCT) Classification project. We also provided live demonstrations of SEED and BioNet Systems to support their operational needs.

This event was instigated to address your numerous requests through the BioNet roadmap process to provide better advice and support for interpretation and use of data products. We also captured active feedback and questions from the audience during the sessions to ensure we captured a wide range of perspectives or important questions to help co-design the future of BioNet.

In this newsletter we have interviewed several innovators who are taking BioNet open data service and generating benefits for their own businesses.

 
Jeremy Black | Director Native Vegetation Information Science
Updates

Release Notes capturing changes to BioNet systems from both August 2017 and December 2017 have been published. These cover the major enhancements to BioNet data and systems to support the Biodiversity Conservation Act, Local Land Services Act and the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) in August 2017, as well as resolving a number of additional issues discovered post go-live in December 2017. Read more here.

> The
release of BioNet Web Services in December 2017, included the addition of a number of new fields to align with the BAM requirements as well as a new metadata field to indicate the date a record first became available in BioNet. The new Web Service 3.1 Release Notes and updated Data Standards are available here.

> In response to requests for advice on accessing BioNet Vegetation Maps via Web Map Services and browsers, we have published a new quick guide, available here.
We have been progressively adding Web Map Services for the most popular vegetation maps in SEED.

Recent additions include
the Sydney Metropolitan Area, Cumberland Plain West, Southeast NSW Native Vegetation Classification and Mapping (SCIVI), Critically Endangered Ecological Communities, Greater Hunter Native Vegetation Mapping, CRAFTI Lower North East Floristics, CRAFTI Upper North East Floristics, South Eastern Wollemi National Park and the Native Vegetation of Yengo and Parr Reserves and surrounds.
Did you know?
 
#1. Remember when logging in to Bionet Vegetation Classification to type in your Login Id and Password. Please do not use copy and paste or it won't work.

#2. Did you know that you can use the Power Query function in Microsoft Excel to extract BioNet data via the web services? The most exciting feature is that they are instantly refreshable! That means you only have to build a query once and save the file. Next time you need up-to-date data, just open the file and click 'Refresh All'. Voila! Sample queries have been set up for PCT-TEC data, complete with Vegetation Class and IBRA filters. Just email us at bionet@environment.nsw.gov.au.
Innovators corner
 
In this special series the BioNet team had the pleasure of speaking with two companies that are using BioNet data to drive innovation. First up is Peter Rodgers and David Williams of LotSearch.
 
Hi Peter and David, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us about Lotsearch and the services it provides?

Sure, thanks for the chance to chat. Lotsearch is four years old, having started in 2014. Our first product is an environmental risk and planning report, primarily used by environmental consultants. We source a range of data such as contamination, groundwater, geology, soils, planning, heritage and ecological information from a variety of government agencies and private companies. We then add value by mapping the data and packaging up into easily digestible reports.

We provide our service to NSW, ACT, VIC, WA and QLD. In NT and TAS we currently provide a cut down report of aerial imagery only.


Where do you see your business developing over the next few years?

We are looking to offer our current product range nationwide and to branch out to New Zealand. We are also exploring other uses for the data. This includes targeting different markets that could use the mapped data and incorporating new datasets and new products that could be built on the same platform.


As an industry innovator, what have been the main challenges in accessing reliable data to support your application?
 

The main challenges have been in accessing data that is placed on a well-defined interface. A lot of the data we obtain needs to be downloaded manually or scraped (i.e. a script created to pull the data directly off a website). This is time consuming as it involves developing individual solutions for each dataset you need to scrape. Additionally, some datasets don’t even have unique ID’s, or for those that have ID’s they may lack metadata so there is no clearly defined definition of what a field refers to.

 

As we increase the number of datasets we incorporate into our services, a bigger challenge is in ensuring that data currency is constantly maintained as datasets are updated at the source. Capturing the information about how data is changing can be very challenging for us, depending on how the source data is structured.

 

We have found that many government agencies have built business models around their data which contradicts the Federal Government’s open data policy aimed at encouraging innovation and growing the digital economy. Inconsistencies between states also mean that a particular dataset is openly available in one state, though in others it is locked under a user pays model. Contaminated land information is a prefect example of this, with most states providing open access to this important information, except for Queensland which charges a fee.


What advice do you have for governments seeking to publish their data openly?

We would love to see more government agencies move to an open data model. BioNet is the first we have come across where we have been able to access a well-defined interface. Using the BioNet Species Sightings table via OData has allowed us to implement a higher level of automation in our business processes, as the data is both easier to extract and maintain.

If governments use a well-defined standard such as OData, this gives businesses the opportunity to reduce duplication in terms of development. Additionally, having a well-defined change process means that any planned changes to the government system can be tested in advance to determine likely impact on our system. In the case of recent changes in the BioNet Web Services, prior to any changes to BioNet taking place, we received the new data definition, were given time to review draft and then plug into the test system to check whether changes to BioNet were going to break our current system.
 
Ultimately, we actively encourage and welcome closer collaboration with government agencies when it comes to opening up their data. By moving to open data standards, well defined APIs, and an inclusive change process, government agencies can have a positive impact on our business in terms of productivity and quality of service. It allows us to rapidly integrate new datasets into our products, and efficiently maintain them to ensure data integrity and business continuity. This is becoming increasingly important as the number of datasets we use continues to grow.
For more information go to www.lotsearch.com.au.
Next up, we spoke with Lucas McKinnon, Director and Principal Ecologist at EcoPlanning, about the field app 'EcoServer'.

Hi Lucas, thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I started off working in Government, having worked on a range of projects including native vegetation reforms and then coastal floodplain

EEC recovery project, followed by a short stint in Private Native Forestry. In 2008 I switched to consultancy and in 2014 I set up Ecoplanning P/L where I am Director and one of our Principal Ecologists.

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

In my experience undertaking flora and fauna surveys, the current workflow of recording location and sighting details on paper, then manually entering these data into the system once back in the office is a tedious process – it’s time consuming, open to transcription errors and there is also the potential for loss of data sheets. Uploading data into BioNet has also historically been time consuming and tedious, so we wanted to build a tool to talk more directly to BioNet, saving time and meeting licence requirements simultaneously.

By developing your solution, what benefits are you able to provide?

In 2015 we began developing a field app which morphed into what we now call EcoServer, which is a live data entry portal that enables environmental professionals to enter their survey information directly on their iPhone or iPad in the field. As a cloud-based data collection platform, this data is uploaded from the field and immediately available from your desktop (you can follow along as your field people walk their transects if you like). For remote locations there’s offline and sync later as well.


The cloud back-end  includes the exact data tables held in BioNet, so we can ensure the collected data correlates with the BioNet schema. Validating on entry with no need for re-entry from paper sheets virtually eliminates transcription errors, so the data is more robust. And we can export straight away to formats for client reports or BioNet upload, without messing about in Excel. The temptation to stockpile data for annual Scientific licence renewal is reduced, and getting data into BioNet faster benefits everyone.

EcoServer contains a number of modules that are tailored for various environmental monitoring tasks. EcoPlot for floristic surveys; EcoTransect for collecting other Biobanking and the new Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) metrics (these export into compatible Excel files for direct input to OEH calculators). We also have EcoRoadside for road reserve vegetation management, and EcoRiparian for waterway and floodplain. We’ll be adding some new modules in the next 12 months, supporting data collection for fauna and water quality too.


How has BioNet enabled you to do that?

The release of BioNet Web Services with well-structured data tables means we can now tap into BioNet and easily keep reference data up-to-date. By incorporating BioNet tables directly, field data is validated on input by matching against pre-populated value tables (standard species nomenclature and plant community types [PCTs], for example) and related data (% cleared for Mitchell landscapes and PCTs, per-species stratum data, etc), which we use for things like the roadside assessment app.
Before today’s BioNet, finding this kind of information meant trawling through numerous agency websites, searching and downloading piecemeal data (diagnostic species and benchmarks for individual PCTs for example) and laboriously building tables by hand. Now, the BioNet data tables are fully documented, comprehensive and ready to go. And we can refresh every week (or every day) to keep things current via semi-automatic query.

Pro-active support from BioNet team has made this possible and much easier. In the future, we’re hoping to implement a wider range of direct queries from the field (what species records are there in a given radius, or what PCT am I heading into, for example). And we’re looking forward to direct export of collected data from the field to OEH as well..

For more information contact Lucas McKinnon on 0421603549 or email ecoserver@icloud.com.
Copyright © 2018 DPIE BioNet, All rights reserved.
Banner photo: The vulnerable Dusky woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus cyanopterus), photo credit Michael Todd



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