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Interview: ‘Data sharing still a challenge’

Fuziah Bt. Hj. Abu Hanifah
Fuziah Bt. Hj. Abu Hanifah
Director, Malaysian Centre for Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MaCGDI)

What is the status of the operationalisation of MyGDI? How is the response from all the stakeholders?
MaCGDI’s main project is called MyGDI, the Malaysian Geospatial Data Infrastructure. We started our project in 1998. At that time, we were known as National Infrastructure for Land Information System (NaLIS), and three agencies; Land Office, JUPEM, and the evaluation Office, were our focus. We developed the land information data sharing only for these three agencies but currently we have more than 100 agencies participating in our infrastructure, from the federal government and the local authority.

I would say that the response has been very good. Now-a-days organisations, especially in urban development and planning activities, have realised the importance of geospatial data for their own businesses. Most of the agencies are already taking up GIS projects. We have our own rule whereby we propose that data sharing between government agencies should be free. One problem we face here is that local agencies don’t have specific GIS units. Unlike the federal agencies, local agencies don’t have enough resources to focus on GIS projects. They are now taking initiatives and hoping that they can have special units for GIS so that they can focus on the project better.

We have seen many instances where stakeholders feel they own the data and do not want to share it. How is the situation in Malaysia?
Earlier, organisations didn’t like to share their data but gradually they have realised that they can’t stand alone. They need others’ data as much as others need theirs. As the data is very expensive, agencies are encouraging data sharing to some extent but there are security aspects. In Malaysia there is a lot of problem of data sharing and data collection. The situation however is getting better gradually. We organise community gatherings, meetings and workshops which are helping us easing the situation.

One of the basic issues in spatial data infrastructure is about standards and improbability of data. How are you tackling these issues?
Currently, we are developing our national geospatial data centre. We are going to develop the State Geospatial Data Centre (SGDC) and also the Local Geospatial Data Centre (LGDC) according to our national standards on feature attribute codes (MS1759). The data will be published through MyGDI in accordance with the standards. Everybody agrees that standards are important where sharing is concerned. We can’t just share the data so one of the ideas is the development of NGDC and LGDC according to our standards, feature and attribute codes. At GDI, we have many levels including national, state, and local levels, so we design the data accordingly.

Do you see a role for private organisations and industry at SDI level?
MyGDI is not only limited to the government. Most of the private sectors are now involved in utility development using JUPEM data. Utility is also a part of MyGDI. For evolving sharing procedures, we have to discuss with the providers from the private sector. Private sector is keen to join the national conference organised by us. They are very active in geospatial data activities.

What are the challenges you see in getting more stakeholders and more participation from the stakeholders?
There are many challenges. When we started NaLIS in 1998, the first challenge was regarding awareness of the importance of geospatial data. Another challenge was regarding the stakeholders from the top management. We had to show them how geospatial data can benefit the country and contribute in the planning.

Other challenges were the availability of resources including human resources, monetary constraints, and the availability of digital data. Not many agencies had data in digital form; many still don’t. Data sharing is also a big challenge. Now we share both data and resources. Updation of the imageries is another concern as the land keeps changing.

Lack of trained manpower is another challenge though we educate people parallely. We train people at all levels, from basic to the advanced level. We give free training to our stakeholders. We do seminars, visit top management and do some promotion. Stakeholders and top management realised that they gain from these activities. It provides them with a platform to share their views and problems.

What are the plans of MaCGDI in the next few years so that the uptake of these technologies is more?
We have to go along with latest technologies. Currently we are trying to adopt an SOA technology to publish our services. It is much better than sharing the raw data. We are also trying to adopt ISO standards as it is very important for data sharing.

For the framework data sharing we are still at the beginning of NGDC, LGDC and SGDC. We will move forward in few years to get our framework data. This framework will be for every one. Currently we manage to take off with only 4-5 data themes.

There is a continuous capacity building programme. We are going to organise our national GIS conference next year.

We also provide metadata for imagery. We are doing many workshops on metadata and trying to educate our stakeholders and agencies.

We have a specific organisation so we work smoothly. I haven’t come across other countries that have such specific SDI organisation. Most of them are either under survey department or under natural resources. We have quite a number of skilled staff. I think Malaysia is doing quite well in that sense. Earlier, students taking up geoinfomatics course in universities didn’t have specific scheme for the public sector. We are working with JUPEM to start this special scheme now. This scheme can take care of the problem of human resources.

Is MaCGDI working on to bring out such a policy change that it gets mandatory for every organisation to share its data?
We have our own circulars. Any circular or procedure that is endorsed by our top committee is circulated among the stakeholders. It is not mandatory nor like an Act. We are still working on the agreement because when we develop a circular we involve the stakeholders. We have a mutual understanding. We are working towards making it compulsory.