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Egypt's first GIS-enabled information portal - Daily News Egypt

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Egypt’s first GIS-enabled information portal

CAIRO: After spending over three years painstakingly mapping out the country’s streets, landmarks, hotels, businesses and virtually every other point of interest, and superimposing this information on a digital map, Digital Egypt has introduced the first information portal powered by Global Information Systems (GIS) to Egypt. Digital Egypt has produced a detailed map of Egypt …

CAIRO: After spending over three years painstakingly mapping out the country’s streets, landmarks, hotels, businesses and virtually every other point of interest, and superimposing this information on a digital map, Digital Egypt has introduced the first information portal powered by Global Information Systems (GIS) to Egypt.

Digital Egypt has produced a detailed map of Egypt superimposed on high resolution satellite imagery, that allows users to search for landmarks such as hotels, universities, government offices, find commercial services, look for real estate, and even view 360 degree panoramic images and photographs of these locations and check the live weather, Raffi Alexanian, the company’s managing director, explained to Daily News Egypt.

With a total capital investment of LE 1.45 million, the portal, which is available in Arabic and English, also permits users to “measure distances and areas, and obtain point coordinates,” all with a few clicks of the mouse.

“What Google is for the world, Digital Egypt will be for Egypt,” Alexanian predicted.

The concept of GIS, however, goes much further than applications like Google Earth or Maps, he explained, calling GIS the “new dimension in information.”

The application, accessed for free online at www.DigitalEG.com, provides a wealth of different benefits to a wide range of users.

“Say for example you are looking for a leather showroom in Heliopolis,” Alexanian continued, “with the GIS system, you can specify this category and search for matching types of businesses, or search directly for a certain store that you know.”

Not only can you find the store’s location, including the address, contact details, and information on nearby sites, but you can also take a tour inside the store, Omar Zarkani, one of the four partners behind Digital Egypt, added.

With Digital Egypt’s commercial advertising capabilities, which use high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic imaging technology, the GIS application allows businesses across Egypt to offer virtual shopping experience from the comforts of one’s living room.

The application also applies this technology to landmarks and important areas of Egyptian cities, allowing people to take a virtual, high-resolution stroll through Cairo’s famous Tahrir Square or outside of the legendary Cairo Museum.

For the real estate industry, developers can list their available properties on Digital Egypt, including pictures, 360-degree tours inside the units, and pricing and contact information. Meanwhile, potential investors can search for these properties based on pricing or location criteria, or by simply viewing the icons representing available real estate on the map. Digital Egypt is also looking into requiring all listed properties to include detailed pictures, in an effort to preempt false listings from spammers, Digital Egypt business partner General Ehab Morsy explained.

Thinking about developing a piece of property along the Red Sea, Alexandria, or Cairo? Digital Egypt also allows users to measure land areas, plot the distances to nearby landmarks and other cities, and even superimpose a yet to be constructed project on the map.

“For real estate developers, it’s really beneficial to have their projects mapped out and to be able to look at it from a birds eye view to see what land is available, and get to know the neighborhood before even visiting [the location],” Osman Zarkani, the fourth partner explained to DNE.

The GIS technology has an abundance of additional uses that Digital Egypt plans to tap into, Omar added, such as placing vehicle motion sensors around Cairo in order to integrate real-time traffic information into the application allowing motorists to find the quickest, traffic-free routes to their destination from a mobile device in the palm of their hand.

“The potential of GIS and Digital Egypt is limitless,” Osman stressed, “There is so much potential, and it will grow based on what people want and how they want to use it.”

Development process

Developing such a comprehensive database and mastering the GIS technology was no easy task, Alexanian, an aerospace engineer who taught himself GIS, described.

“The first step in the process, three and a half years ago, was to come to a decision on whether we wanted to simply use a Google Earth mashup, and basically imposing our information on top of Google’s maps, or doing all the work on our own from scratch.”

Ultimately, the team decided to build the entire system from scratch in order to avoid “being at someone else’s mercy” and updating Digital Egypt only when Google would update its maps.

However, the team didn’t want to “learn on the go” and jump prematurely into the project. With the amount of information needed to be collected and the meticulous work that lay ahead, Alexanian explained that they had to develop a specific system and plan of action, otherwise, there would have been no way to successfully build such a massive database-driven, digital application, given their limited resources.

The process, he went on to explain, started in 2007 with Digital Egypt acquiring official maps produced by the Egyptian government. Next, the team obtained high-resolution satellite imagery and drafted the maps on top of the satellite imagery. Finally, the very difficult work began with the deployment of six surveyors who went out and manually verified the accuracy of the maps and imagery, and collected the desired information from each landmark.

Another key challenge was the requirement of government approval to collect and publish geographic information. In order to conduct its activities in the country, the Digital Egypt team needed to go through "extensive security background checks and acquire special licenses," showing the government that they "were not a threat," Omar explained.

Ultimately, "everything needed to go through the police and the government," he added.

To ensure that Digital Egypt remains up to date, Omar explained that they revisit each landmark every six months, call individuals listing real estate every two weeks to verify that the property is still available, and receive updated official maps from the government every year.

Other future ideas of Digital Egypt include embedding a job listing portal into the system, and working with local governments to improve planning for infrastructure and phone lines, and improving emergency response capabilities, the team described.

As of today, Digital Egypt’s GIS data currently covers the entire governorate of Cairo, the cities of Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada and cities along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Egypt’s other governorates, in addition to another 122 cities, are covered as “points,” allowing businesses and real estate information to be listed across all of Egypt.

Digital Egypt is sister companies with the Z-Group, which includes Z-Aviation Services, Z-Tours and Suma.

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