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EditorSpeak: Middle East’s commitment to SDI

Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
[email protected]

As we look at the implementation of SDIs in the Middle East, one is struck by the commitment across the length and breadth of the governments. The hunger for geospatial solutions was the result of the need for rapid development of infrastructure and utilities. Without a local geospatial industrial base, individual government departments made their own applications for in-house use. At some point of time the leap was made from these infrastructure and utilities projects to economic planning, e-governance and diversification into other areas of commerce. It was this jump that accelerated the move towards SDI.

Some common factors stand out. First is the strong patronage by the highest authorities of the effort put in by the engineers and scientists. Such support is crucial. The second is the lack of the baggage of legacy systems which has enabled the countries to adopt the latest technologies and apply them to infrastructure and utilities applications. The transition from these applications to all other areas of application was the next logical step. Legacy systems include people who are used to doing things in a particular way and fear change. They include data on paper designed in a manner to enable easy and efficient storage and retrieval. Conversion of such data to digital form and organising their storage and retrieval which make the best use of modern digital technology poses enormous problems. SDI also enables transparency which is troublesome for a section of old style administrators who would like to control information to wield power.

Access rules seem to be a sticking point even in forward looking governments. Thus while data is accessible to government functionaries, access to the public is another story. Administrators need to view information as an enabler at all levels of operation from governance to public use. We also see issues relating to data acquisition because different applications have their own data collection frequencies.

The other notable feature of the SDIs is the way they are integrated into other systems. SDIs are being used for developing plans for economic diversification, as well as for planning and management in environment, governance, infrastructure and utilities sectors. This is one of the factors for success. SDIs cannot exist in isolation but need to have the sustenance of being used in the brick and mortar world for design, engineering, maintenance and operations. SDIs must deliver that vital commodity to the real world – information.

I have observed this before and I need to repeat that observation again that SDIs seem to succeed in small countries and countries which do not have the crippling baggage of legacy systems. Is there a lesson here? Should large countries subdivide their SDI effort? Should we discard the baggage of legacy and recreate data? Something to ponder on.