Making SDIs work !

Excuse my voice I had flown in the night before and I had a case of “airplace flu” and two hours sleep, nevertheless a reasonably coherent discussion of the future of Spatial Data Infrastructure development for the new Geobuiz channel.

Has the SDI community turned the corner ?

Yesterday I made a presentation at the 13th GSDI Conference in Quebec (thanks to Geoff for his commentary), it was only a flying visit but I left in a more positive frame of mind that I expected.

The high level message of my presentation was, we need to think more about the I in SDI e.g. infrastructure,  that we already have a well adopted information infrastructure we can use called the World Wide Web, to use it Geo people just have to be better web citizens.

For too long the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure community has been dominated by the producers of geospatial data, the Mapping Agencies, Cadastres and the Technology companies that serve their perceived needs. As a result discussions of Spatial Data, quality, standards and policy dominated.

I was pleased to see this observation reflected in a number of the plenary presentations, and the obvious logical extension that more focus needs to be concentrated on the potential users of SDI’s and their needs. This point was made brilliantly clear by Gilberto Câmara director of Brazils National Space Research Institute, INPE.

He introduced four questions any SDI supporter should answer..

  1. How much is your SDI being used to build a modern state ?
  2. How much is your SDI being used to enforce the rule of law ?
  3. How much is your SDI being used to support public accountability ?
  4. Is data from your SDI reaching those that need it ?

Key to answering these questions positively is I think a recognition that the true beneficiaries of a successful SDI, are not other data producers, governments, or public sector bodies, but society as a whole.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

My Talk at the INSPIRE 2011 Conference

I was invited to speak at the annual INSPIRE conference in Edinburgh last month. INSPIRE remember is the European Commission programme supported by national legislation to build a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) for European Environmental data. I was asked specifically to address how INSPIRE can foster innovation and “smart growth”.

These are excellent topics to discuss in relation to SDI development, SDI’s I’m afraid are still designed and where built operated almost solely from the perspective of data providers rather than users. INSPIRE is in some ways a victim of this mindset, although there is a clearly defined user in the form of European Commission organisations. Here the issue is one of scope to really maximise the innovative potential INSPIRE, organisations need to gone beyond the strict requirement to make their information available to the Commission and share as widely as possible by adopting the principles of Open Government Data.

Written and submitted from the Google Offices, New York, USA (40.741N, 74.004W)

Let my plumber Jez build your SDI..

The 11th Spatial Data Infrastructure Conference was held last week in Rotterdam, and like many SDI conference the focus of presentations and the profile of attendees was largely from the pubic sector, and in many cases public sector data producers.

Many of the sessions investigated in depth, progress to date across the many local, regional and global efforts to develop SDI’s, other focused on the building blocks of data standards and interoperability, metadata, portal design and legal/policy decisions.

I sensed, as I’m sure many others did, the missing perspective of the actual intended users of these SDI’s; who represented the users and consumers of these complex systems? who was providing the use cases, as to what sort of information was actually needed?  and how would people like to access SDI’s and what might they want to do with the information.

The citizen as a potential user of SDI’s was almost completely ignored.

In my presentation I made the point that there is also a lack of emphasis on the development of the very necessary network and storage infrastructure needed to allow distributed users to find, access and use spatial data across the web, and made the offer than Google and I’m sure the other geoweb companies would be happy to host data on behalf of public sector bodies.

SDI people like the SD but ignore the I !

This was developed into a useful metaphor by someone in the audience, when I likened this type of infrastructure to domestic plumbing, vital but often invisible until it breaks.

It seems that at the moment much of the industries emphasis is on producing the best quality water that is possible ,while at the same time developing and agreeing on a method to illustrate how pure and clear the water is. To be fair we may also now be discussing the size and shape of bottles we might use to store our water and the colour and design of the labels we will put on the bottles.

As to how we might distribute the water efficiently, there is still little discussion beyond the vague idea that it will obviously need some pipes, valves and taps of a standardised size..

plumber-spanerThis is all good stuff, but if you ask my plumber Jez, to put in a plumbing system into your house, he will ask you some very pertinent questions first..

He will ask, how many bathrooms will the house have and where are their situated, do you need radiators or under floor heating, are you sure you want a power shower on the top floor of your house,  do you need to run a garden hose.

These are, if  your are following the metaphor, the applications that will use the SDI..

What Jez would not do is just go ahead and lay 150m of  Hep2o 22mm water pipes around your house, install a Taco circulating pump, and connect all to a tanker full of Evian water outside your house, and then leave you without fitting any fixtures!

OK so this metaphor is a little facetious, but it can be extended, how about connecting my and my neighbours houses plumbing together to create a regional SDI… the point is that an infrastructure developed in isolation to it use runs the major risk of not meeting the users needs.

My second point and this is an important one also, is that we are beginning to see many applications outside of the SDI community really adopt the “cloud computing” model, where in addition to local repositories of data used to build and maintain data, data itself is published to the cloud and makes use of the robust and scaleable infrastructure that commercial operators like Amazon and Google and even ESRI are making available.

This type of architecture is perfect for deploying SDI’s as it has the potential to scale with need, Information is my design easy to find and share, and of course it’s cheap !

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

Footnote : Still unsure of what an SDI is, read the SDI cookbook

Richmond Maps nearly everything…

Its great to see my own local authority making great use of Google Maps, as pointed out  by the Mapperz team , Richmond Council have produced a series of maps using Google Maps to illustrate most of their local services, including a pet subject of mine Recycling sites


There is much to be said for a very simple approach like this, the maps are straight forward and communicate a single type of service each, and therefore are simple to use.

Behind the scenes the locations could also be  indexed and become part of the ever increasing geoweb discovered by other websites and services, remember key to the success of the web is the ability to consume information via different channels. 

Such an approach also illustrates the potential for developing a UK Spatial Data Infrastructure from the ground up, at least one focused at the needs of citizen in contrast to the more formal approach developing SDI’s for professional use.

The next step would be for Richmond to publish these points of interest as a feed (KML/GeoRSS), so they would be more easily accessible to anyone wanting to integrate local services in to their own applications. But for the residents of Richmond having this information easily accessible in this way is an important step forward..

Well done Richmond !!

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.