Inside decades of geospatial technology and software expertise


Onboard Informatics would like to wish a happy 60th anniversary to its leadership staff from the geographic information systems (GIS) space, including:

  • Peter Goldey, CIO & CKO
  • Bing Han, Senior Software Architect
  • Sonny Ouyang, Application Development Director
  • Scott Petronis, Chief Product Officer

“We go back to the days when none of this was in the database and you had to do much of this by hand,” said Scott Petronis (while aging himself rather quickly).

Today there are tons of options available to developers from commercial databases like Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server; to open source databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL and MongoDB; to web mapping tools like Google Maps, Bing Maps and OpenLayers; there are more options than ever. But even with all the technology available, making everything work together can still be tricky business. So Onboard tries to simplify much of this with various up front processing of geographic relationships.

What is geo-referencing?

Onboard has millions of data points in our system that are disparate by nature. But even though they may come from various sources and represent various types of information, most of them are geographically related. In order to help our clients more easily search across all these data points and understand which points relate to what geographies, we go through various steps before the data ever goes out the door.

Several steps are taken to “geo-reference” the data and bring it all together:

  1. All data points are processed through our geocoding system and referenced against other points, such as address information and point values (Listings, POI, Tax Roll data). This process ensures that all addresses have latitude/longitude coordinates so they may be further related and mapped.
  2. All points are then related to geographic boundaries. Any given point might fall into many boundaries (such as a ZIP Code, Neighborhood, School Attendance Zone, etc.). We create all these relationships every time a point or boundary changes so clients can quickly pull back all information related to any area.
  3. All boundaries are related to other boundaries. This way it’s easy to tell what boundaries overlap, which ones are near each other and even what ones fully contain others. For example. You can quickly tell what neighborhoods every attendance zone boundary overlaps with.

“All of those relationships are built in,” said Sonny Ouyang. “While looking at one neighborhood you can see all the schools related to that area. For a listing, here are the actual zoning assignments for each school.”

What does geo-referencing do for Onboard clients?

With all of the data geo-referenced and interrelated, clients can then take advantage of all this content is a variety of ways.

“If a potential home buyer is looking at a property in a highly-rated school, you can easily show them similar properties nearby in schools that are rated equally, for example,” said Petronis.  “Many times buyers don’t know an area well so these relationships help to highlight options that may not be obvious to the typical website visitor."

All these relationships mean even more when looking at things from an SEO perspective. One person may start a search on Google using neighborhood names, another by ZIP Code and another using city or town names. All of these approaches (and many more) are correct. By relating everything together, regardless of how the search started, a user’s search can return relevant resulting pages. So whether a person searched for Chicago, Downtown Chicago, The Loop or 60606 there should be content available. Likewise, when someone gets to a website as a result of and of these search terms, they can be presented with information not just pertaining to their exact search, but also what’s relevant nearby.

“We built the relationships in so you don’t have to deal with the complexity of the geospatial space,” Petronis said. Clients are able to leverage Onboard’s expertise to tie this data together as new listings and even additional data feeds are added.  This way listings may be “tagged” with various geographic references, for example.

Beyond geo-referencing…

While all these relationships are crucial and massively beneficial, Onboard also performs spatial calculations and aggregations in the boundaries to calculate values like median and average home sale prices, income distributions based on population density, the types of properties that are in an area and loads more. This type of number crunching allows our clients to communicate what’s really going on in any given area, not just the basics that are provided by the Census Bureau.

What is the difference between living in the Financial District vs. Battery Park City? If you simply relied on something like a ZIP Code, you’d think “not much.” But because Onboard calculates values based on each specific geographic area, you can get (and provide) a perspective that doesn’t jump off the page to people otherwise.

“We specialize in this relational data aggregation so Onboard clients don’t have to,” said Petronis.

All this geospatial work means one thing: Onboard clients can spend their energy on what they do best from user experience to marketing and lead generation/nurturing to closing business.