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Miles to go…

Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
[email protected]

Last week I was in Singapore to attend the twelfth Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Conference, GSDI-12. The theme was ‘Realising Spatially Enabled Societies’. It was a grand four-day event with 650 participants from 67 countries. The implication is that 67 countries around the world thought that the idea of realising spatially enabled societies was important enough to send participants to the conference. Singapore was an apt venue. SG Space, Singapore’s SDI has tied together all the government departments on to a common spatial base under the concept of ‘whole of government’. The concept is based on the fact that studies showed that 83 percent of the departments needed spatial data but only 35 percent had access to such data and of this only 40 percent was shared. This indicated two facts; one, that 60 percent of data was not shared and therefore was being unnecessarily replicated and two, nearly 50 percent of the users needed spatial data but had no access. While SG Space caters to the government users, the Singapore public, in fact the world public is served by One Map, an Internet service to enable people to get around Singapore, find places of interest and whatever else a spatially-inquisitive citizen needs. For example, sitting in Ahmedabad, I could locate my hotel, the conference venue and the best possible route from one to the other.

While one could see this trend in one other implementation, that of the Bahrain SDI, most of the other SDIs were very much tied to government use. The implication might be that after all the citizen is served by the government and therefore such SDIs do ‘spatially enable’ its citizens. The roles of government, industry and wider society have to be recognised in the regulatory framework. The role of the individual as a ‘sensor’ is something that SDIs must recognise and thus interactivity at the citizen level is necessary. Therefore one of the facts brought out amply by the conference, meriting a place in the list of takeaways, is that volunteer information is an important part of any SDI. Technologically, the cloud is the next big disruptive technology to impact SDI realisation because cloud computing makes available those services that a spatially enabled society needs in terms of easy access, security and interactivity. The role of industry remains vague. While the need for industry to provide the technology and services is acknowledged, any other substantial role is still not envisaged and only the usual platitudes about ‘the importance of industry’ are mouthed.
At the moment, most SDIs are about managing spatial information and thus do not go beyond the established users. To make this leap, SDIs have to begin to manage information spatially, that is become an instrument of enablement of many applications like healthcare, homeland security and business processes. Success stories clearly show that the need is to start small but move quickly to implement services and these have to match the requirements. A single monolithic design cannot satisfy all users. The most contentious question is ‘who pays?’ At the moment, it is the government that is picking up the tab but with the expansion of services, all players can turn contributors.

In short, we have come a long way in realising the importance of SDIs and the opportunities and pitfalls that await us but we have a longer way to go.