Rector, ITC, Enschede, The Netherlands
Sjaak J J Beerens
Director, External Affairs, ITC, Enschede,
Over the last two decades there has been a growing awareness of the role of Geospatial Data Infrastructure (GDI) in civil society. As a result the role of geo-informatics and with that of the GI-community has been developing accordingly. GI organizations, i.e. organizations that acquire, process and/or use geo-information (GI) need several types of professionals
The past 50 years have shown the gradual development of earth observation to a stage where it has become an integral component of geo-spatial information handling. This has been the result of both supply- and demand-driven conditions. Originally largely supply-driven, scientific and technological developments in earth observation applications have rapidly accelerated, presenting the following general dimensions.
In terms of:
- Data acquisition we are observing developments from mono-sensor to multipurpose satellites, which has eventually lead to multisensor platforms
- Resolution we observe a development from low to high resolution
- Space technologies we observe the development from insular to synergetic technologies, integrating earth observation with communication and navigation
- Use we see a shift from data to information, placing emphasis on the value-adding chain from earth observation data to information with value
- Users we see a shift from scientific users of data to civil society as a user of information. The strengthening of civil society requires a shift from theme (as a toy of scientists) to infrastructure (as part of governance).
Governments have an obligation to facilitate access and promote the broadest possible application of fundamental geo-information. This includes an obligation to provide descriptions of data in order to enable all users, including the private sector and civil society organisations, to make a judgement about fitness for use. The mechanisms through which this obligation can be met are called Geospatial Data Infrastructures (GDIs), schematically presented by Groot and McLaughlin (2000) as follows:
The scientific field of this geo-information community has shown fast professional and technological developments, which confront us with new problems and opportunities.
The information components of the GDIs are generally still based on the traditional map paradigm. But within this paradigm we see the development of new products and services. The old concept of maps has evolved into digital maps and from there into seamless databases and presently we see scale-less databases emerging, slowly but surely. The line map is more and more replaced by object-structured representations. The dimensionality evolves from 2D via 2.5D to 3D and 4 D and users have access to data and services that allow them to create rectified or draped high-resolution images according to their own needs. Core data are also provided through new delivery mechanisms that support the present fast development of location based services and mobile GIS (Molenaar, 2004)
The institutional environment in which professional GI-organisations operate is also rapidly changing. The last two decades other providers in both (semi-) public and private sectors have emerged. Governments are outsourcing many tasks especially production tasks and specific services. In this line many NMAs have outsourced activities like data acquisition and map data production and a new industry develops for the provision of geo-data based services and added value products. Furthermore we see that users of geo-data including geographical core data are required to pay for these data and services and this of course implies that they want to have a say in the specification of the products. This means a more intensive interaction between the different parties involved in geo-information infrastructures.
We see a rapid transformation from a supply driven to a demand driven market. Spatial information provision is no longer just a national issue. Regional and international initiatives to tackle cross boundary issues require the harmonization and specification of production of geo-spatial core data as well as business models. Mapping is no longer a national but an international issue.
Professional GI-organizations facing new challenges
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