WSO2Con Insights: Transforming the Ordnance Survey with WSO2’s Open Source Enterprise Middleware Platform

The British Ordnance Survey officially began in 1791.  Unofficially, it began some years before, when King George II commissioned a military survey of the Scottish Highlands. The work never really stopped. Today, over two hundred years later, Ordnance Survey Ltd is Great Britain’s national mapping agency: a 100% publicly owned, government-run company that’s one of the world’s largest producers of maps. They’re in the Guiness Book for the largest Minecraft map ever made – an 83-billion block behemoth that boggles map-makers around the globe.

Over the centuries, Ordnance Survey produced and sold some of the finest paper maps in the business. However they soon had a problem: people didn’t buy maps anymore. People downloaded maps. People accessed maps on a website. They just weren’t huge fans of the print and CD maps that the Ordnance Survey produced day in and day out.

The fault in our maps

Of course, the OS had to evolve. To solve the problem, they realized they had to move beyond retail and into selling data maps. The OS has a database called MasterMap, which is possibly the largest geospatial database in the world; it contains maps accurate to a single centimeter, updated some 10,000 times a day, underpinning some £100 billion worth of business activity in the UK alone. The OS wanted to make this database accessible. They needed a way to sell this data over the Internet; they wanted delivery mechanisms and a strategy.

The OS had been introducing technology to the map-making process since the 70’s, but this challenge was different. Their maps had to be supremely accessible – web pages, mobile phones, even someone on the highway looking for the next gas station, should all have to be able to access Ordnance Survey data without a fuss. They needed a system that understood context – the user on the smartphone might be using an official OS app for it; the user on the highway might be using something installed by the manufacturer or dealer who sold them the car; all of them would have to be treated and billed accordingly.

To do all this, they needed a robust API management solution that could recognize context, run the request into a system and deliver an output very, very fast.

Which is where WSO2 came in.

The wheels in motion

Initially, the OS worked with WSO2’s competition – Apigee. Apigee had a good APIM system, but they weren’t as good as the WSO2 platform in connecting to everything else. The initial QuickStart program proved WSO2 could do everything they wanted: within just two weeks, the OS had a POC system on their hands using WSO2 Complex Event Processor, WSO2 Identity Server, WSO2 API Manager and WSO2 Business Analytics Monitor, connected to Magento, which the OS was using.

WSO2’s comprehensive platform made everything significantly easier for the Ordnance Survey. Since the products integrated perfectly with each other, they no longer needed to look at many different vendors for everything they needed.

“When evaluating the vendors, we were looking for flexibility, we were looking for a willingness to get involved, to share information – to be on our side, I guess – and we were looking for a rich resource. Not a single product vendor with a range of products that would meet our needs,” said Hillary Corney, of the Ordnance Survey at WSO2Con Eu 2015.

The Ordnance Survey also liked the fact that WSO2 provided open-source without a premium price. Because Magento was also open source, and they had complete access to the code of the WSO2 solution, the OS team could very tightly integrate the two via SAML and SCIM.

“WSO2 is an open source platform, which allowed us to experiment early and learn in-depth without going through a complex procurement process, because in the government we have to go adhere to the EU tender process. And it’s a rich suite of products, which gave us confidence and allowed us to meet whatever circumstance we came up against,” added Corney. “The value add is really the speed of development; the fact that it’s open-source allows us to integrate, to customize it and bend the source code to our requirements in a way that’s not possible with straightforward off-the-shelf software. So I think that’s the biggest value for us – the flexibility.”

Ordnance – and the fact that it’s public sector – brought with it its own set of insights for WSO2 – especially in how public institutions work and the moving parts involved. As the engineers at WSO2 got used to these processes, we developed ways to get the project rolling without inflating the price, and WSO2 delivered exactly as promised. The Ordnance Survey is now working on not one, but two API delivery production environments with WSO2 software.

“The WSO2 team were embedded in our trenches, and the overall impression was that they really knew their stuff. It was one of the fastest proof of concept builds we’ve ever had; at the end of two weeks we were able to demonstrate almost everything – from start to finish.”

For further information on Ordnance Survey’s open source journey see Hillary Corney’s presentation slides at WSO2Con EU 2015.