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Hocking_David_thumbLooking at the world through spatial eyes is the smart way to see into the future.  Spatial connections are everywhere, in everything we do and plan – we just need to know how and where to look for them.

Hocking_DavidLooking at the world through spatial eyes is the smart way to see into the future.  Spatial connections are everywhere, in everything we do and plan – we just need to know how and where to look for them.

The Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) has a specific purpose: to look for and advocate those connections, to see what the community wants and needs and to bring about change by advocating those smart spatial connections.

For example, the Australian government recently began an inquiry into Smart Infrastructure. But if you read the Terms of Reference for this inquiry, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s more about smart technologies than it is about the holistic concept of developing intelligent infrastructures to enable us to make smarter decisions.  In simplistic spatial terms, ‘smart infrastructure’ produces information about something that is located somewhere. Ultimately, it’s ‘smart’ because we use it to make intelligent decisions based on tangible facts – at least, that’s the theory.

SIBA  has participated in more than 20 parliamentary or agency reviews on a range of topics, from space policy to biosecurity and from bushfires to smart infrastructure.

Of particular and recent interest, in early 2010 the federal government’s House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government was asked to consider the issue of Smart Infrastructure, particularly  in the context of four key areas of the economy: transport, energy, water and communications. In its wisdom, the Committee decided to hold a conference of industry experts before it developed a discussion paper on the subject. Although conferencing with industry experts is a novel idea to the Australian parliamentary system, it’s clearly one that makes a lot of sense; and SIBA ensured that proponents of the use of spatial information in energy, water, transport and communications made their point at the Conference. In fact and in short – we made sure the spatial message got through.

From an industry perspective, the key to the smart infrastructure debate is in ensuring people recognise that nothing happens in the infrastructure domains without spatial (or geospatial, if you prefer) data because spatial data is clearly the glue that binds the knowledge together.

SIBA is also responding to a review the Productivity Commission is conducting on Planning, Zoning and Development Assessments on behalf of all Australian governments. SIBA believes that such a review should look at sustainable population growth, water – an obvious issue in this country – and food security,  which in itself is an interesting conundrum, given we lazily continue to construct buildings on high yielding agricultural property in a country that is not particularly well endowed with arable land. All of this data could be managed and shared through smart sensors and smart infrastructure but, sadly, sharing information with each other isn’t something Australian governments are good at.

Similarly, SIBA contributed late last year to a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), which had not until then considered in any depth how valuable smart sensor technologies are or how important spatial information is. Fortunately, albeit at the last minute, we were able to bring spatial information and technologies into the collective consciousness of the Review Committee quite successfully.

SIBA’s approach is to maintain a watching brief on the myriad reviews that may present opportunities for enlightening governments about physical and temporal environments through sensor technologies and smart infrastructure. Good quality spatial data is fundamental to smart infrastructure and our efforts to convey this message are wide and varied.

Governments in Australia have been talking for some time about making public sector information (PSI) available to the community and to business (Government Web 2.0 Taskforce). This is all part of the push to have a more open and inclusive society, one in which citizens can access the information upon which governments base their policies. Sensor networks and smart infrastructure are integral to openness in society if and only if this information is also available to the community.

Imagine open access to data from all those wonderful sensors that monitor our soil, water and air, that provide up-to-date information about problems as they emerge, such as water or soil quality or contamination. Wouldn’t it be nice for all of us to actively participate in the planning process with real-time information (location tagged, of course) that helps us to understand policy decisions and to make informed comments?

We all know the old adage ‘knowledge is power’. However, the real power is not only in acquiring knowledge but in applying it – and that’s what we as an industry need to convey to governments and the wider community.

David Hocking is chief executive officer of the Spatial Industries Business Association (Australia); e-mail: dhocking at


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