Back at the end of June, the O’Reilly media Where 2.0 conference took place in San Francisco and saw presentations from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo amongst others on their perspective of the expanding mainstream GI market. The first audio recording from this conference is now available online at the ITConversations website.
The Past and Future of Mapping is a presentation by David Rumsey a well known map collector and historian who spends 30 minutes looking at the major historical developments in cartography and points out that we are revisiting many of the techniques of the past with the latest generation of web mapping sites. This is a very interest presentation well worth listening to.
I’m just disappointed with a comment David makes at the end of the podcast comparing the situation in the US where USGS makes available geodata at no change, with the OS policy of licensing geodata to fund its operations.
David comments, as do many, that OS geodata should be free – well perhaps he would like to send us all a copy of his book Cartographica Extraordinaire: The Historical Map Transformed” for free rather than charging $80 ? – but then again maybe he needs to recover the publishing costs of the book and make a little profit to expand his collection ?
Unlike the USGS the OS is not funded by the taxpayer, and like David the OS needs to cover its costs.
Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.
7 replies on “First Where 2.0 Podcast online”
I appreciate the disappointment you feel when you hear such comments by David; I feel the same disappointment when I hear your strap line ‘the OS is not funded by the taxpayer’.
The OS was funded by the tax payer for 200 years. The brand name, data, skills and technology acquired during that period where handed over to the OS, in its current incarnation, by a spineless government dodging its responsibilities. Nobody can compete with the OS given the head start they have been given as a private entity trading fund. The OS has a monopoly that would be very hard to break. Its prices are not governed by a free market (as nobody can afford to enter the market) and consequently are expensive and inhibiting.
:: BTW Nice Blog
Thanks for your comments, you are right to point out that the OS was funded by the tax payer until the 1990’s but the development of modern GI products such as OS Mastermap has occured mainly during the period of trading fund status using profits generated from licensing data.
I would argue the price of OS geodata relect the high cost of the capture of current, detailed, large scale mapping and that the market is increasing competitive – indeed the OS has lost a number of key contracts to supply data to local government in the past year to other commerical data providers.
I must say I am also disappointed when I hear OS argue that it is not funded by the taxpayer. The fact that since 1999 OS has been a Trading Fund does not alter the fact that the majority of your income comes from Government contracts (ie taxpayers’ money) which are either not competed at all (Central Government) or competed in a way which makes it virtually impossible for anybody but OS to win (Local Government). The situation is roughly as follows.
The contract for Local Government Mapping was put out to tender for the first time in 2004, but the winning contractor was required to complete mapping for the whole country within a month of the contract award. In addition, the vital databases which name the streets and provide updates on new streets, houses etc (The National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) and the Local Land and Property Gazetteers (LLPG)) were not made available to any contractor except OS. Therefore only the OS could possibly win the mapping contract and, not surprisingly, they did. This contract leaves OS in a monopoly position, being paid taxpayers’ money by the Local Authorities, until 2009.
The contract for Central Government mapping is due to be competed for the first time in 2006, but once again it seems that NLPG and LLPG will not be made available to any bidder except OS.
The OS further cements its position in all core areas by claiming that if any customer changes its mapping supplier, then it cannot transfer any derived data from its old maps to its new maps. It must recompile the data from scratch. As I understand it this means that if, for instance, a local authority has created an asset database by recording trees (position, type, age etc) with reference an OS map, then if it switches its mapping supplier it can no longer use this asset map. It must instead resurvey the trees from scratch. If this is true, then most serious users of OS mapping will be firmly locked in to OS for the forseeable future. A major utility and a Local Government agency estimated that the cost of recomiling their asset registers would run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
It seems to me that OS cannot have it both ways. If OS really wants to open the market to competition and claim that it is not funded by the taxpayer, then it should drop the restriction on recompiling derived data sets, it should allow LLPG and NLPG data to be used (on equal terms) by everybody, and it should encourage competitions which leave time for the winning contractor to compile the maps. But it seems to me that OS is fiercely defending its monopoly position, and while it continues to do so then OS will continue to be largely funded by the tax payer.
I welcome your blog as a forum to debate this issue.
I understand you point of view, and I don’t think we are going to agree – but let me just clarify a number of points you make.
The OS receives less than 50% of its trading revenue from government (both central & local) customers, even if it was the case that the majority of revenue came from government customers, the OS would be no more funded by the taxpayer than many well known organisations in the GI industry like ESRI and Intergraph who obtain a majority of their revenue from government customers…
Both the contract for the supply of data to local government and the upcoming contract to supply central government follow EU procurement regulations and the OS competes with other commercial data producers to fulfil the needs of these customers.
In such a open competition the best product is selected, which is often the OS – but in the case of local authorities 3 of the 9 lots were awarded to suppliers other than the OS, as you know Intermap were awarded the contract to supply a national DTM product to local government. I would not personally argue that this is a monopoly for Intermap ?
The point you make about derived mapping I completely agree with, it would be outrageous for the OS to claim as you suggest that a dataset of trees collected by local authority would need to be re-digitised – the location of trees would be the property of local authority as they collected them.
If you know the details please drop me a line at work and I will try and clarify the situation.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
For me the most shocking aspect of how the OS is now forced to work, is the fact that it is expected to achieve a return on Capital Employed of no less than nine per cent.
I could hardly believe this when I first heard it, but see it is now confirmed in the Annual Reports. I’ve also noted with great interest the argument between the OS and the National Audit Office just how this so called “Capital Fund” be valued, and what ought to have been included in it. Return On Capital Employed can be a method of determining the efficiency of how a business is run, but to my mind this really only come into it own as an indication when judging comparisons between businesses of like nature. No other business can becompared with OS!
Worse though is that OS is now paying a dividend to the Government. Absolutely daft this seems to me. Why? Do we really need State Owned Organisations to collect income for the state – I for one think not.
Any state owned mapping service is a national asset, and should be treated as such. One only needs to travel through countries who are not so fortunate as we are in the UK with OS, to realise its value. All funds needed to run and maintain out state mapping service to the very highest standard, should be provided by taxation.
You did not reply to all Tristram’s points – are they valid? Were the NLPG and LLPGs not made avaible to other bidders and, if so, would the OS be willing to drop this restriction when the PGA comes up?
Should the winning contractor be required to complete mapping for the whole country within a month of the contract award – this implies investment being made prior to winning the contract?
Did the local authorities have time to look for alternative independent suppliers once the deal was made – there was very little time to recommend whether to sign the contract.
Aren’t the licencing agrements combersome – 1/2p for each transaction, etc? Is this decided by lawyers or people on the ground?
And why does OS pay a dividend to the state rather than either charge less or develop new services?
I think there is some confusion here, The NLPG/LLPG is not an OS product it is produced for the Local Goverment community by another commerical company Intelligent Addressing – who are free to market their product to whoever they want, in the same way that any other data provider can do.
The NLPG is created using some OS data and as such this needs to be licensed, but again that is not different to say for example the street network data that Tele-Atlas produces.
The requirements for winning contractors was decided by the local autohirities not the OS.
The licensing arrangements are a commerical decision, but I do agree they are rather complex – I wish it was more simple…
Why does the OS repay a dividend – because we have been told to by our shareholder – The State. This is a political decision.