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October 3rd, 2010
AGI UK Geocommunity ’10

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agu_UK_2010_lgThe annual Association for Geographic Information (AGI) conference in the United Kingdom was held last week in Stratford-Upon-Avon. With about 490 registered for the event, the conference was split into six sessions including Geospatial Foresight, The Power of Free, Geoweb and the Cloud, Governance and Management, Environmental Concerns and Delivering on Policy. 

In practice 4 presentations were delivered in each of Environment Concerns and Geospatial Foresight, and the AGI Foresight Study Panel itself was highlighted. A Solutions Centre operated and provided the opportunity to learn about applications and technology from Ordnance Survey (UK), Esri(UK), Autodesk and Zubed Geospatial.  The conference is highly oriented toward web mapping, use of the Cloud and governance and government IT.

Current UK Economic Climate
There was an over-riding theme running through the event regarding the challenging economic situation within the UK as the government adopts and adapts to the new realities of less spending. Since the UK geocommunity is highly weighted toward government services, it is expected that the road ahead will remain difficult. This was supported by the ecnomic analysis provided by the keynote speaker Lai Wah Co of the Britsh CBI where she acts as head of economic analysis. 

“The future points toward a slow period of growth, returning to normal levels around 2014-15,” she said. Though one would be hard pressed to understand what ‘normal’ means anymore given that structural changes in  business and banking industries have altered the way the landscape lies bothin the UK and Europe.

Having said that, the conference contained many examples of technology and applications that speak to these changes, offering new approaches, changes and rising currents of research and development innovation (see keynotes link).

Richard Waite of Esri (UK) suggested that there is a need to seek out and pursue the potential of GIS, “we need to deliver data to the government with high data quality standards,” he said. “We need to look at where it can be used potentially, and communicate the need.”

Andrew Hudson-Smith of the University College of London indicated that ordinary people need to become closer to GI and geoinformation technology – “without all the technicality.” 

Robert MacFarlane who acts as an advisor to the Cabinet Office of the government indicated more  than a few times that security and contingency professionals need to reolves issues around “clarity of use, and we need to think about helping  each other.” Perhaps MacFarlane summed it up best by saying, “we need to know what situations mean, how do we resolve them and where do we actually wish to go.” “InteropABILITY is the objective.”

The idea of developing technology for technology sake is clearly gone. An increasing focus on ascertaining why technology is being developed and how it is going to be used is replacing the notion that technology alone will survive. This can be better understand in terms of the current business and economic climate, where “doing more with less” is the primary objective, and to position an application or service to do just that is imperative.

MacFarlane mentioned an interesting point. Is a common operating picture (COP) a concept or an objective? He spoke about the National Resilience Extranet (NRE) and issues like standard symbology for emergency applications. This is similar to discussions that I’ve heard from the International Cartographic Association (ICA) who also investigate symbology with respect to emergencies, as do NATO.

Ordnance Survey CEO and Director Vanessa Lawrence also indicated a tightening budget situation across the country. Though she also indicated several advances OS has made in terms of opening data to the public, namely OS OpenData. “There are massive changes taking place in the community in terms of how data is held and patterns of use,” she said. In her view the rising level of transparency is beckoning people to position their organisations to respond pro-actively and to set the path forward through collaboration, partnership and participation.

Looking beyond the UK
I was struck by the fact that Vanessa Lawrence was the only speaker to talk about opportunities outside the UK. I expected others – many more. While I recognise the UK focus of this event, I fail to see how tight ecnomic situations in the country are going to keep business opportunities available in the country. With participation in INSPIRE at such a high level of application and services development, the way forward clearly seems to lie in the wider EU as a leader in geotechnical development and trans-boundary EU applications for governance, web mapping and 
mobile applications. 

A quick glance around Europe will immediately provide an indication that environment, infrastructure, energy and sustainability are key areas being researched, and which are demanding higher levels of governance, government and IT connection. This need coupled to the awareness of what I saw and heard about at this conference clearly seem like opportunity. 

Open data applications
Samuel Jones of West Midlands Cancer Unit gave an interesting presentaiton (Open geographical data, visualisation and dissemination in Public Health Information) talking about the use of OpenStreetMap data as compared to other sources of geodata. He suggested that OpenStreetMap  data in the country is often more complete in terms of pathways and other routes. This completeness led to different perspectives for using health facilities since the data does not stop at administrative borders or boundaries and takes into account all access points.
Nigel Shadbolt who sits on the Cabinet Office Public Sector Transparency Board and is a professor at University of Southampton talked about “open data across cities, regions and organisations” where it is “making waves.” He provided a comparison between the U.S. and the UK, where the former seeks to put data online, while the UK is positioning most effort into the development of catologs that would in effect create digital series of linkages or libraries.

“Eventually, we see data quality as relating to a 4-Star approach where amounts of links, quality of the links and inclusion of all kinds of documents could have the highest ‘authoritative’ quality. Under such a system even the most mundane data or poor quality could have a rating, although quality data would clearly include criteria.

This approach also fits neatly with INSPIRE and other initiatives where different resources and funding are all available to capture, manage and present data under similar legislation efforts. Next year the conference moves to Nottingham. Hope to see you there…


Blogged at this Event:

AGI UK Geocommunity 2010 Opens

AGI UK Geocommunity 2010 – Keynotes



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