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Jeff Thurston — “Business has a primary role in the development of Global Spatial Data Infrastructure. It brings innovative technology to the table, an understanding of spatial information processing and distribution as well as the willingness and passion to risk and invest. All of these are tempered with a genuine concern to solve problems ranging from environmental sustainability to hunger and health.”

Matt Ball — “SDI is an empowering technology for the developing world to begin addressing issues of poverty, economic development, disease prevention, transportation, communication, disaster preparedness, and land ownership. Without a framework for recording and distributing spatial data, these important society-building endeavors are hampered. And without easy access to this information, there’s a greater chance of exploitation of the powerless.”


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Business has a primary role in the development of Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI). It brings innovative technology to the table, an understanding of spatial information processing and distribution as well as the willingness and passion to risk and invest. All of these are tempered with a genuine concern to solve problems ranging from environmental sustainability to hunger and health.

A significant amount of research resources exist within the business community which can also be leveraged toward GSDI pursuits. In addition, private industry offer broad application experience suitable to aid in policy development along with educational expertise that can be harnessed for building capacity.

“The GSDI Association is an inclusive organization of organizations, agencies, firms, and individuals from around the world. The purpose of the organization is to promote international cooperation and collaboration in support of local, national and international spatial data infrastructure developments that will allow nations to better address social, economic, and environmental issues of pressing importance.” [1]

Other organizations exist and are contributing toward the goals of GSDI and many conferences and workshops on the topic include a wide range of private industry participants and sponsorship. Examples include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) [2], Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) [3], the International Federation of Surveyors [4], Group on Earth Observations [5] and the International Oceanographic Commission [6]. In each of these cases, and there are many more organizations; industry and business is visible.

You will find that most of the policy items are often handled through local, regional or national governments. In an earlier ‘Perspectives‘ [7] column we delved into the question of Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI). 

However, the question being asked in this column causes me to think a bit differently.

I see business as playing an integral role in GSDI. Without business and private industry on board, I think GSDI will fail. While sounding ominous, the simple truth is that industry brings the nuts and bolts that enable the solutions to be constructed. Without the tools of spatial technology, and the experience of operating them, GSDI is just a bunch of ideas about people working together. And try as we might to legislate that working together, most legislators are not on the ground in the field, whereas most industry representatives are – they circulate daily in the field and therefore have an integral role in building capacity toward common bottom-up participation, practically. 

But I also want to mention the need for partnership – true partnership. Different people hold different views of partnership and how these work. In some cases partnership is simply viewed as a ‘give us your funds and leave us alone’ sort of approach. In other cases, partnership means sitting at the table and taking ownership of the problems at hand and assuming equal part of the responsibility for resolving them. This often means business and private industry partnerships that put all members at the same table together. These tend to be the partnerships that work best, although they are the hardest to create, maintain and operate. Nevertheless, their benefits can be enormous. 

When we ask what is the role of business in GSDI I think it has to do with partnership. The issues involved are complex, crossing cultures and space and they demand unique approaches – true partnerships. The tools and knowledge business bring to the table are not only add-on’s or something that can be attached after the fact, but they are essential ingredients in the formulation of strategy and policy decision making.

This is, of course, not easy to master. It takes patience, commitment, willingness to learn and good communication. It can mean failure at points in the evolution sometimes. So it demands a willingness to dust off ones pants and carry-on when getting bucked off. 

Business is very adept at goal setting, determining project success step-by-step and brings a sense of practical discipline to the issues of GSDI that can tend to veer and wander in political-correctness, sometimes.

Progress is being made toward GSDI and global environmental issues and geospatial issues are not alienated from the wider debates that move through inter-governmental agencies and countries. Ideally we will see spatial information and the importance of geographic information systems (GIS) and the technologies associated with shared and collaborative technologies and data become commonplace.

All of this will take time, perseverance and the realization that the objectives are worth it in the end as it will leave the world in a more sustainable place for kids tomorrow, next year and next century.

References:

[1] Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association
[2] International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

[3] Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) – State of Play
[4] International Federation of Surveyors
[5] Group on Earth Observations
[6] International Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO
[7] Are Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) Moving Forward?

 

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-16, Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) is the geospatial data, metadata, human resources, standards, policies, and the tools required to acquire, process, distribute, use, maintain and preserve spatial data. While this framework specifically refers to an individual nation’s spatial data assets, it’s a universal description for SDI. The framework is also an important starting point for discussion of the broader global requirements and partnerships for creating Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI).

Global Spatial Data Infrastructure is an extension of SDI that requires the standardization and sharing of spatial data across country boundaries, regions and the world. The driving purpose for GSDI is to address social, economic and environmental issues among countries and regions. This organization also fosters the development of spatial data infrastructure, particularly in countries that are without this framework.

SDI is an empowering technology for the developing world to begin addressing issues of poverty, economic development, disease prevention, transportation, communication, disaster preparedness, and land ownership. Without a framework for recording and distributing spatial data, these important society-building endeavors are hampered. And without easy access to this information by entire populations, there’s a greater chance of corruption and exploitation of the powerless.

The organization toward GSDI in the developed world facilitates universal standards for data, policies for data sharing and a springboard to address pressing issues of a global scale. The coordinated efforts also foster and drive continued technological development that stand to benefit all.

Business has a large and ongoing role to play in all phases of spatial data infrastructure. Not only in developing software tools, but also in creating hardware used to acquire spatial data and the machines used to maintain and preserve the data.

Data Capture and Collection

The capture of data at the country scale involves remotely sensed imagery (whether aerial, satellite or both). While countries have purchased their own sensors, the requirements for efficient and consistent collection of imagery predominantly involves a private supplier or many private suppliers.

Suppliers are able to make the investment to purchase, maintain and update equipment that national governments cannot. This is particularly the case when there’s considerable risk, and there’s only a need for data. When ongoing monitoring is required, there’s justification for a long-term sensor investment.

While a coordinated effort with local and regional government is an efficient means for broadscale collection, often country-wide collection to a single specification is necessary for consistency and complete coverage. Projects of this scope require tight management that can best be handled by a private-sector partner.

Data Storage, Dissemination and Analysis

Database software providers and consultants that install, update and maintain spatial databases have a large role to play in the storage of spatial data. The storage and maintenance of data requires specialized software tools and computer hardware that are supplied by vendors outside of government.

The dissemination of spatial data is largely done via the Web now, and spatial data portals for SDI warehousing and dissemination have become the norm. The framework for a spatial data portal is complex, and requires considerable setup and ongoing maintenance. This expertise typically resides outside of government and is contracted to the private sector.

The analysis of spatial data is an acquired skill that is fraught with potential pitfalls in novice hands. There are agencies with ongoing expertise and capacity for detailed spatial analysis, but there are also needs for project-based analysis. Consulting groups fill a void to assist on custom reporting and information processing, as well as the creation of analytical tools and dashboards.

De Facto GSDI?

When considering the ongoing need for a global spatial data infrastructure to address social, economic and environmental issues, it’s hard to imagine a system that could encompass all inputs from all countries. The coordination and need for a multi-lingual interface that adhered to social custom is just too complex to build. Instead the approach is to share information on an as-needed basis through interoperable Web services. But at this point the tools don’t yet match the vision, particularly when faced with an issue that requires quick action.

The commercial remote sensing companies (GeoEye, Digital Globe and others) have been quick to act for the greater good by providing their imagery for free in many disasters of international scope. These companies and others have rallied around the need for quick and accurate dissemination of data to come to grips with such disasters as earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, tsunamis and terrorist attacks. The quick and benevolent action of data capture companies such as these fulfill a vital role. The also carry out one of the principal objectives of GSDI, “to promote the responsible use of geographic information and spatial technology for the benefit of society.”

In similar situations of international interest, the geoexploration platforms (Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth, ESRI ArcGIS Explorer, Skyline Globe and others) provide a means to explore and share information related to these events. In these platforms the data has been harmonized and standardized at a global scale, eliminating the need for rapid amalgamation of disparate data sources. The easy-to-use interfaces provide a quick and simple means for many untrained individuals to have quick access to information.

While professional analysis and more tailored systems are needed for agency-specific work, I’d argue that the geoexploration tools fulfill a GSDI role in the face of human disaster. By providing a central rallying point for government and citizens, they communicate need and coordinate action.

The upcoming GSDI-10 Conference is set to take place in Trinidad later this month with the theme, “Small Island Perspectives on Global Challenges: The Role of Spatial Data in Supporting a Sustainable Future.” The theme and program address important areas of geospatial development, and remind us of how far we have yet to go to realize the full vision of GSDI.

 

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