Vanessa Lawrence CB
Director General and Chief Executive
How and what data is Ordnance Survey providing to stimulate innovation in economy and society?
As a government agency we are charged with encouraging and stimulating innovation within Ordnance Survey, its partners, stakeholders and wider community. Goal 1 of our business strategy, launched in April 2009, underlines that. The UK Location Strategy, launched in November 2008, states that ‘everything happens somewhere,’ which is a belief that Ordnance Survey has had for a number of years. High quality spatial information plays an incredibly important role in all three sectors of the economy: public, private and the third sector. It underpins many parts of the economy – transport, banking and finance and decision making in local authorities.
Ordnance Survey is therefore concentrating on enabling ease of access to and ease of use of geographic information along the value chain to facilitate user communities to help themselves. Specifically over the last year, we have introduced innovation licences that enable our users to discover, evaluate and develop applications using extracts of Ordnance Survey data, with no upfront fee – encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to innovate with our data. We have also been engaging in the government’s data.gov.uk initiative, enabling more to have access to public sector information to draw on the power and creativity of user communities to innovate in the development of applications and services. In April 2009, we launched the enhanced OS OpenSpace which is an innovative web mapping service. The OS Open- Space API is a free service that allows users to build mash-ups for their own websites using Ordnance Survey data. There were over 3700 registered developers at the end of 2009.
Another key development has been the launch of GeoVation, a social innovation network which ‘encourages and supports innovation for social, economic and environmental benefit using geography.’ By the end of December 2009, the online network had nearly 350 members, more than 140 ideas, and more than 40 ventures. As part of GeoVation we have launched the GeoVation Awards Programme (to be showcased at the RGS in London on 26 January 2010). The best ventures will receive development funding and mentoring to make them a reality.
Ordnance Survey is also focussed on revamping its product development processes based on propositions driven by needs identified externally. We are engaging the users in prototyping as part of the product development process to ensure our products are in tune with user needs and requirements. OS Insight enables users to test products before they are officially released – in advance of launch.
What are the initiatives of OS to be more pro-active in roping in non-traditional users?
Ordnance Survey has a very large customer base and partner programme which allows it to reach new markets. Our partner programme allows organisations to license data and create new products by adding value to Ordnance Survey data. The products are then sold to specific markets. This programme allows partners with specialist skills and experience to produce products and services for their markets. GI is relied on by diverse range of markets and it is impossible for Ordnance Survey to have in-depth knowledge of all these areas. We therefore rely on our partners to create products and services to meet the needs of customers in these markets. A good example is a new partner who has created an innovative mobile phone based locating service using Ordnance Survey data. The new product, called Locatorz, works by using a mobile phone’s GSM connection to transmit its position to the Locatorz server by sending a GPS signal. From this signal Locatorz plots the information on to an Ordnance Survey map and sends it to a viewable, secure Internet page.
Another way of attracting non traditional users has been achieved via information frameworks, innovation platforms such as OS OpenSpace and innovation networks like GeoVation, all of which enable non-traditional users to proactively engage with Ordnance Survey. We have also been engaged with www.d ata.gov.uk, looking at ways to make public sector data more widely available.
How are IPR and copyright issues dealt with by OS?
Ordnance Survey has licenses for all data – even if it is free. This explains what and how people can use it. It is important that Ordnance Survey defends its copyright – this enables people to understand the value of the data. It also ensures a sustainable income stream which is essential in funding the continuous updating of the mapping database.
How is OS balancing development needs with security concerns?
Ordnance Survey has many products covering a variety of scales which show a tremendous amount of detail. In Great Britain, government does not see mapping as a security issue as thousands of people and businesses rely on mapping data. Recent research highlighted that GI data underpins £100 billion of economic activity in Great Britain. Therefore, the benefits of having up-to-date, accurate and accessible mapping data far outweigh any security concerns.
What are the future challenges for OS and other mapping agencies?
The objective must be to get all stakeholders utilising the benefits of web 2.0 and other rapidly advancing technologies, plus the associated skills and expertise to ‘provide the information frameworks, innovation platforms, ease of access and ease of use of GI in addressing local to global challenges, efficiently and effectively.’ Technology now allows that mix of experimentation, rapid prototyping, design, innovation and creativity, collaboration and user contribution. The trick is to determine how to use that mix in order to create social and economic value to the benefit of all.
A country’s national mapping organisation (NMO) is a valuable asset of the nation. However, the role of NMOs is changing massively – advances in other sectors have meant the GI industry has had to develop and change. On November 17, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that some Ordnance Survey data would be made completely free. The announcement does not include large scale data.
The GI industry is changing rapidly and it is important that NMOs continue to invest. Over the last nine years Ordnance Survey has invested over £200 million towards better technology, more up-to-date data and catering to greater demand from customers. The challenge is to ensure that NMOs continue to invest heavily to meet customers' needs.
How can geospatial information contribute to better understand issues and challenges facing the world?
Against the background of rapid technological developments, the world today faces unprecedented global challenges: sustainable (one planet) living and working, climate change, aging populations, competition for scarce resources and the effects of globalisation.
Tackling these ‘grand’ challenges requires unprecedented local to global collaboration, between governments, businesses, communities and ourselves as individuals. Whilst the technological developments have led to an explosion in the availability of data, captured and served by many, they have made the information management task, in tackling such grand challenges, more complex.
There is the need of greater degree of cooperation between various national mapping agencies. In Europe, I am proud to be a member of EuroGeographics which brings together nearly 50 countries to cooperate. The issue is that different NMOs have different specifications, maintenance programmes, update plans, supply and access channels. All these raise different challenges which the group is working on to find a solution. A good example is PSMA in Australia that makes all the states in the country come together as one.
GIS Development is completing 150 editions. What more do you think we can do to better disseminate knowledge and information and connect world geospatial communities?
I would like to congratulate GIS Development on completing 150 editions – this is a major achievement. Keep up the good work. Good Luck!