Singapore Land Authority – Interview with Soh Kheng Peng

Singapore Land Authority – Interview with Soh Kheng Peng

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Mr Soh Kheng Peng

Chief Surveyor of Singapore
Singapore Land Authority

1. With your office as a part of the Singapore Land Authority, how different is it from others national mapping organisations (Survey of India, Ordnance Survey, etc.) in terms of functional domains? How different are your issues from those of other NMOs?

SLA is the mapping authority of Singapore just like other national mapping organizations. This role is played synergistically by three functional units in SLA namely, Land Information Centre, Survey Services Department and Land Data Division.

Survey Services (SS) is the regulatory arm of SLA for cadastral survey in Singapore. It focuses on ensuring a high standard of cadastral survey to meet the needs of our customers in property registration and land matters. On mapping function, SS provides the platform for geospatial activities in Singapore through the establishment and maintenance of a reliable and mapping infrastructure that can be used by the public and private sectors for various survey and mapping activities.

An example is the Singapore Satellite Positioning Reference Network (SiReNT), a differential GPS system that SLA put in place in 2006. The primary objective of SiReNT is to offer more variety of applications, data reliability, efficiency and productivity of survey work for land surveyors with the aid of GPS technology. SiReNT provides a wide range of GPS data products and services with various accuracy levels ranging from metres to centimetres to suit different applications that will translate to benefits for the public. It provides many new opportunities to users for various geospatial applications and is poised to improve positioning data in areas of homeland security, transportation and emergency services on land and sea.

SS constantly seeks better ways to reach out to our customers and ensure that we provide services and products which not only meet, but exceed their expectations.

2. Why is SLA (Survey Services) not into the generation of map data products (digital maps, aerial photos, etc.) and their sale?

As mentioned above, three functional units synergistically contribute to SLA’s role as the national mapping organization.

The Land Information Centre (LIC) is the SLA’s arm that generates map data products for sale and use by the general public and companies. The sales of map products are through either private licensing or INLIS (Integrated Land Information Service) run by the LIC.

LIC today produces digitized street maps for licensing to application solution providers, logistic companies, street directory publishers, etc. It also runs free online street map and land ownership query services. The latter is called LandQuery which was synergistically built using data from Survey Services and Land Data Division. Both these services can be found at www.map.gov.sg/streetmap and www.map.gov.sg/landquery or through www.inlis.gov.sg.

Survey Services department today focuses on planning and providing technical platform and infrastructure for the collection of spatial data which are used in map production. For example, Survey Services collates cadastral data and consolidate them into a framework dataset for others, such as the LIC, to build and generate maps and plans.

3. How does SLA (Survey Services) reach out to the public through its services? Have such initiatives/services been useful to the public?

SS constantly reaches out to our stakeholders through various formal and informal dialogue and feedback sessions. Examples are the quarterly tea sessions that we hold for registered surveyors. From these sessions, we manage to gather precious feedback on our services so that we know which areas need improvements, and work on them.

Another example is the recently concluded Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Strategy. SS conducted its first public consultation exercise on a five-year master plan (2007 – 2011) which maps out a strategic plan that covers an integrated survey network, SiReNT, a precise leveling benchmark network and the Geoid Model.

4. With the introduction of Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Strategy, what challenges are SLA set to deal with?

As a world-class survey and mapping infrastructure system is paramount to fulfilling the land information needs of a world-class land authority, the vision of my team at Survey Services of the Singapore Land Authority for Singapore’s survey and mapping infrastructure system is aligned with SLA’s vision: “To be a world-class land authority”. Thus, there is mutual support and recognition between the envisaged position of SLA and the need for a world-class survey and mapping infrastructure system, which is integral to the geospatial industry in order to overcome new challenges ahead.

“Singapore’s Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Strategy 2007-2011” is formulated to to provide a robust, reliable and integrated surveying system for the geospatial industry. The report focuses on Singapore’s survey and mapping infrastructure system, which consists of all methods, processes and infrastructures associated with Singapore’s survey and mapping infrastructure. The strategy, which was drawn after a public consultation, covers the Integrated Survey Network, Singapore Satellite Positioning Reference Network, Singapore Precise Levelling Benchmark Network and the Geoid Model. Ultimately, everyone who has a stake in positioning in Singapore would be able to reap the benefits of Singapore’s survey and mapping infrastructure system for various economic and social activities.

The strategy addresses our long-term planning based on a coordinated framework. To achieve greater clarity, the team has also identified tasks required to achieve our goals for the next 5 years. This would set the directions and priorities for both public sector and private sector in their geospatial initiatives and activities. This is our inaugural plan and we aim to produce and update the plan every 5 years to keep up with the technological advancements and paradigm shifts. We will continually communicate and work with the stakeholders to draw their input in achieving the desirable outcomes.

In terms of technology, SLA intends to move into SiReNT and use new technology such as SMS for the dissemination of information on control markers and 3G wireless technology for the collection and dissemination of information on geospatial information. There will also be more training, collaborations and knowledge-sharing with the private sector.

5. How technologically sound SLA (Survey Services) is, with respect to other NMOs? What new techniques are being implemented in the surveying operations?

SS is constantly improving existing procedures or creating new procedures, of which technology plays an important part. However, we are more of the view that though technology could at times change an entire geospatial landscape, it is just one of the means of satisfying our customers.

If we look at the entire flow of data being translated into information, SS has implemented:

  1. electronic submission of cadastral plans for the Chief Surveyor’s approval;
  2. internal systems for processing cadastral plans;
  3. electronic approval of plans;
  4. database systems to store cadastral information, and;
  5. usage of GIS to manage, plan and analyse land matters.

SiReNT is another infrastructure that we have set up to provide various GPS services to our customers based on their different needs.

SLA has also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, to conduct cooperative R&D and education in the area of spatial information science and technology. SLA hopes that this collaboration will result in a much more extensive use of the GPS and GIS technology and for these technologies to be available to the man-in-the-street eventually.

Q6. Could you comment on Surveying education in Singapore? How do you see Surveying as a career? Do you think some changes are required in the education system that may give impetus to Surveying as a profession?

The Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) conducts regular basic land surveying and cadastral surveying courses to provide those from the surveying and construction industry with the foundations for executing sound surveying practices in Singapore. At a diploma level, land surveying is usually incorporated as one of the modules in the curriculum of most engineering courses at the polytechnics. The Land Surveyors Board (LSB) has recently contacted the polytechnics to take a proactive review to revive the diploma courses. From the academic aspect, the scope of the diploma in land surveying courses, if successfully resumed, must be broadened to encompass modern measurement science, land information science, and spatial data management to reflect the multi-facets of the discipline.

Buoyed by the recent launch of major developments such as the Integrated Resorts and the Business and Financial Centre, the construction industry is definitely looking up. As land surveying is a key backbone to the construction industry, the demand for land surveyors will certainly increase parallel to the construction volume. Land surveyors can look forward to very satisfying careers because everyday presents itself with new challenges. With the constant rate of technology and industry change within Singapore, the amount that one can learn is unlimited.

The LSB has produced a career guidance DVD entitled “The Land Surveyor – A Professional beyond Boundaries” to create more awareness on the exciting work of a land surveyor.

SLA recognizes the vital role land surveyors play in the development of Singapore. To encourage growth in this discipline, SLA awarded scholarships for 2 officers who are civil engineering graduates to pursue a land surveying degree in the United Kingdom.

Q7. Could you give a brief description of the surveying industry in Singapore? How is the public-private partnership model relevant for the Surveying industry with respect to Singapore, and Asia as a whole?

The land surveying industry is a very specialized and niche profession. Land surveying has an impact on everyone. The land surveyor provides an accurate and reliable data framework on which housing projects and basic infrastructure like roads and expressways are constructed. There are presently 72 practising surveyors in Singapore; they are required to upgrade their professional knowledge and skills by participating in compulsory continuing professional development programmes.

8. How do you perceive the situation of Surveying in Asia Pacific vis-a-vis that in Western nations?

In the current global climate, surveying in the Asia Pacific is not so different from Western countries. Rather, mapping agencies worldwide are striving to find ways to improve the quality and variety of services due to higher customer expectations.