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Industry – Cashing in on awareness

Bhanu Rekha


Bhanu Rekha
Associate Editor
Email: [email protected]
Data providers are euphoric about the status of the availability of geospatial data in the country and the initiatives they have been taking to raise the level of utility of geospatial technologies. But it is the solution providers who are witness to ground realities – both with respect to the data providers and the users. And the verdict stands divided.

Technology uptake
For a country on the fast-track of development, Malaysia is eyes wide open to latest technologies. Nor Azman Baharum, CEO/MD, Antaragrafik Systems Sdn Bhd, a service provider involved in developing a variety of applications for government organisations says, “Organistions like JUPEM, Tenaga Nasional and Indah Water are well informed and open to new applications. We do not have to convince them. The only constraints in these cases are of budget and bureaucracy.”

As awareness is on the rise, solution providers in Malaysia are finding it easy to approach users with latest technologies. Aeroscan Precision, which is providing services in hyperspectral imaging for coral mapping, plantation study and plant species mapping, finds its clients to be more accepting. Ahmad Farik Rahman, Operation Manager, says, “It has now become easier for us to convince our clients than it was five years back. Government is quite supportive in investing in latest technologies like hyperspectral and LiDAR.”

Extending on Farik’s views, Dr Noordin Bin Ahmad, Principal Consultant, GeoInfo Services Sdn Bhd says, “The reception is good. But the understanding is varied. Some people demand high-end technologies but their budgets are small. We face problems in customising the application.” But Sam Majid of Ennoble Consultancy Pty Ltd, a company which is into providing GIS-based asset management solutions from casinos to universities and local governments, begs to differ from Farik and Noordin. Sam feels the uptake is ‘slow and catching up’ but quickly adds that his company is into a niche area, which can neither be categorised as IT nor traditional GIS and so educating the clients gets necessary.

Daniel Boey, Country Manager, ESRISouth Asia Sdn Bhd says, “By and large Malaysia is relatively new in terms of adoption but ideas are well received and accepted. Users are also seeing enterprise trends leveraging on Web 2.0 and beginning to be widely employed by many business systems at G2B, B2B, B2C, etc. Non-traditional users are seeing greater value in location information from geospatial technologies as added business intelligence that would improve their overall business advantage.”

     A major challenge is the varied understanding of the range of technologies within implementing agencies. This has resulted in data being non-useable and end users rejecting the otherwise-suitable technologies
– David Jonas, AAMHatch
     

But digressing from the above view, David Jonas, Business Development Manager-Asia, AAMHatch says, “A major challenge is the varied understanding of the range of geospatial technologies within the key implementing agencies, such as DID, JKR, DOA, DOE, etc. This has resulted in these technologies being deployed ineffectively, resulting in data being non-useable and end users eventually rejecting the otherwise-suitable technologies.”

The Malaysian user community is also sceptical over the capabilities and success of proposed SOA projects. This is also traceable to the fact that recent local history is littered with examples of GIS systems where client expectations were not met, David Jonas opines and adds that Malaysian service providers deploying new technologies need to transition users to new geospatial technologies. Whilst users are generally keen to take advantage of new datasets, more information, improved flexibility, more reliable results and cost efficiencies, they prefer to do so incrementally. New technologies can be carefully implemented so that they satisfy current needs, current formats and current work-practices, yet still offer additional performance and cost efficiencies.

     Most of the non-traditional users are taking up GIS on trial and error basis. They do not have the human resources to update and manage their GIS systems. So, they bank on the vendors to help them
– Dr Noordin Bin Ahmad, GeoInfo Services Sdn Bhd
     

Going by the impression of industry players, even the non-traditional users of GIS are showing keen interest in using these technologies. Says Noordin, “Most of them are taking up GIS on trial and error basis. They trust the vendors to come in and help them as they are new to these applications.

But they do not have the human resources to update and manage their GIS systems. So, they have to outsource the task.” Baharum concurs. “We are doing a Web-based project for the Ministry of Health to map the incidence of sensitive diseases like bird flu, dengue, vector-borne diseases and give them a temporal analysis of these diseases. It is getting very difficult for the ministry to run it or manage.” Brushing these away as teething troubles, Baharum continues, “Initially, Tenaga Nasional too did not have organisational structure to manage their GIS systems. But today, they have a geomatics division so that they can implement the projects and maintain them well.”

Level of projects
With many government departments and private companies opening to second mover advantage and opting enterprise level solutions, industry is quite buoyant on that count.

Says Noordin, “We have several enterprise level projects. For example, PETRONAS integrates many of their systems. But government organisations have small projects in individual departments/ sections.” According to Mohd Asrul Abdul Aziz, CTO of Orogenic GeoSolutions, a geosolution and engineering service providing company, Orogenic is also into lot of integration and providing enterprise level solutions in exploration and production of oil and gas.

Concurring with Noordin, Daniel Boey, says, “Over the years, there are an increasing number of organisations who are developing or migrating towards enterprise level GIS that requires more access to GIS information delivered through browser based applications over the Web.”

     Availability of GIS data is improving. However, challenges to provide high-quality, verified, useful semantic data that are affordable and relevant to any geospatial application still remain
– Daniel Boey, ESRI South Asia Sdn Bhd
     

Data Availability
Availability of geospatial data is the primary prerequisite for greater usage and application development. A mixed bag of opinions emerged on the availability of data while talking to industry leaders. Dr Noordin says, “We do not have much problem in securing data. We advise our customers to go for data with resolutions that are suitable for the specific applications. We can get cadastral maps offthe- shelf. The only problem is topography maps.” Concurring with him, Daniel Boey says, “The availability of GIS data has been improving over the years. However, challenges to provide high-quality, verified, useful semantic data that are affordable and relevant to any geospatial application still remain. More advanced and speedier processing of GIS data (videos, geo-text, etc.) and transforming these to geographic knowledge for use in government and business are being undertaken by many data vendors today.”

Presenting the situation as a matter-of-fact, David Jonas of AAMHatch says, “All aerial topographical survey data of Malaysia is captured, processed, stored and delivered under permission from JUPEM. Most (but not all) aerial survey data collected by AAMHatch is able to be supplied to other users, but only after obtaining the necessary JUPEM approvals.”

Opportunities & Challenges
Opportunities abound in Malaysia. At the same, challenges that are encountered here are not much different from those experienced in other countries, both developed and developing economies. Says David Jonas, “Stimulus packages and regional development corridor programmes by the government are investing significant funds into infrastructure and development initiatives. The wider Malaysian industry is beginning to accept spatial data’s value proposition.”

David is as critical about the challenges as he is positive about the opportunities. According to him, one challenge is: who should take the technical and commercial responsibility of aerial survey projects? If a project has aerial and field survey components, should one organisation be held technically responsible for the work of the other? Or should the professional responsibility be divided according to their professional contribution?

Another challenge facing Malaysia’s adoption on high tech spatial solutions involves the approach to major survey projects. Traditional field survey is generally labourintensive and requires a cash flow to support an even project expenditure across the life of the project. High- tech aerial surveys differ significantly as the majority of costs (aviation and equipment) are frequently encountered at the start of the project. Equipment or expertise may need to be imported (although this requirement is lessening with recent successes in local capacity building and technology transfer). Aerial survey requires paying for aviation services, an expensive and often “in advance” cash requirement.

If Malaysian industry is unable or unwilling to cover the different payment requirements for high tech projects, and to meet their contractual obligations for the same, then commercial realities will guarantee that the industry will be unable to deploy these services in the country.

The industry is now experiencing a wide range of financial offers that run the risk of not been able to deliver geospatial data that meet the intended purposes. The lack of understanding and knowledge of the technologies will result in mistakes when awarding airborne projects and the integrity of the data captured is questionable. The above if not addressed will hinder the growth of geospatial industry in Malaysia, concludes David.

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I am a well-rounded communications, writing and media professional with top-of-the-line experience in all forms of media. Spent the last 11+ years of my productive career in geospatial industry understanding, writing, speaking and advocating for the technology and business dynamics and seeing the positive change constructive communication can bring about in a niche domain. I can balance my intellectual instincts vis-à-vis business needs very well and find them complementing and synergistic. Am equipped with good verbal and written communication skills; am agile and a quick learner; have an eye for detail; ability to build and lead successful teams; strategise, plan, produce and launch - print editions, market studies and marketing campaigns.