Overture's Global Entity Reference System Hopes to Improve Data Interoperability. It's Not There Yet.

Overture Maps have released an update to their building datasets, which now includes a unique ID for each building, the Global Entity Reference System (GERS) ID.

One of the important new features in this release is the introduction of Global Entity Reference System (GERS) IDs. GERS IDs have been assigned to over 1.6 million building footprints across several cities in North America, South America, and Europe.

GERS is a system of encoding map data to a shared universal reference, which provides an easy mechanism to conflate data from different data providers based on a specific GERS ID.

Overture introduced GERS recently; it aims to provide a globally unique reference for every entity that can be mapped. It appears, the idea is that data providers outside of Overture can enrich their data sets with GERS to increase interoperability and ease the effort required to fuse data. An enticing idea, sure, but it seems GERS is of little use outside of Overture’s ecosystem.

Let me explain.

In order to retrieve and enhance a data set with GERS IDs, you have to match your data to Overture’s using geometry intersections. This works, but it’s not a novel approach. We were able to do spatial joins before, and IDs also existed before. If a feature is not yet part of Overture’s data, then the only way to create a GERS ID is to add it to Overture’s data set. GERS practically doesn’t exist outside of Overture data.

And questions remain how GERS keeps up with changing data. What if I knock down my house and build a new one at the same place? Does the original GERS ID continue, or is this a new one. What if I subdivide my property; does this result in two new GERS IDs, or is the existing one applied to one part? How about I buy the property next door and connect the two house so they become one?—New GERS ID or one of the original ones? And what if the GERS ID for an entry changes? How do I keep track of these changes to update the IDs in my dataset? If we look at GERS as a gateway to keep datasets in sync, then these are crucial questions to answer.

It’s early stages and I’m sure there are discussions within Overture to address these concerns. But for now, GERS’ only application will be conflation of data from Overture data donors to produce their building datasets.