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Oman Spatial Data Infrastructure: Obstacles and Opportunities

With development continuing at an unabated pace, the Sultanate of Oman is working towards creating its national spatial date infrastructure in order to ensure sustainable development, offer new and precise data and create an environment of data integrity and exchange. The article takes a look at the obstacles and opportunities of creating a spatial data infrastructure in Oman.

The Sultanate of Oman has taken rapid steps in the wheel of development; yet its strategic plans are oriented towards improving its future income resources. For the same, activating the infrastructure management under a common umbrella has become a prerequisite in order to provide new and precise data and to create an environment for data integrity and exchange. To achieve these vital goals, there are several requirements that must be facilitated and obstacles that should be overcome.

The wide construction activity is accompanied with imbalance in land usage, as the development has greatly focused on some urban areas of great residential concentration, hence causing a lot of problems in planning and construction expansion. As a result, it was a challenge for the country to deliver all its services to the entire regions of the Sultanate due to the varied geographic distribution between mountains, hills and deserts. Accordingly, the Sultanate has targeted itself to the importance of activating a national spatial strategy that aims to rectify this path and find clear visions through which the country can develop remote rural areas and thus improve various income resources in line with its sustainable development ambitions.

This worldwide development witnessed by spatial data in operations (production, storage and use) has created a large sector of producers who deal with such data separately, where production process is done as per a solo vision, specifications and objectives. This has created financial and human burdens, waste of energy resources, and numerous problems such as data duplicity, weakness in participation and data integrity, not to mention the obstacles which have limited the achievement of common environment for the ideal usage of spatial data. Since spatial data represents the major components on which the development of economic, social and disasters management is based on, the government orientations should be based on correct spatial data in order to achieve requirements of the different sectors.

In the Sultanate, there are many organisations and agencies that produce spatial data and provide it to users, especially decision makers. However, with the increasing demand of this data and the expansion of GIS applications in the Sultanate, data production is considered to be an obstacle which resulted in work duplicity and waste of the country’s resources. Therefore, necessity entails finding an idea of a common effort and forming framework for better utilisation of such data.

With many government establishments entering the digital world and their persistence to activate their services digitally, such establishments involved separately in producing data that achieve their requirements. This diversity has brought into existence many important characters such as standards, policies, and organisational arrangements that differ from one establishment to another. Mohammadi H indicated that this discrepancy in point of view between stakeholders and information producers, in any country, is considered as an obstacle toward achieving data integrity from various resources, and this is shown in the common information group produced by different producers who do not adhere to common standards, technical specifications and other associated policies. This has caused each establishment to be dependent on its budget in providing the data who in turn lead this data to be engulfed with secret and administrative complications, hence making this data inaccessible to users and lack of common co-operation between the producers and users establishments.

On the national level, common data is usually identified by a special committee which outlines the information type on basis of the country’s interests and needs. This data is identified by the word “frame” or “fundamental” for the NSDI initiative, which provides services to all civilian and private sectors to fulfill their duties. Accordingly, there must be a “frame” to create a data common source for the production of basic geographic data with respect to requirements and usage, further to the provision of supporting environment for development and data usage. The feature of this “frame” is distinguished by existence of procedures, technology, and instructions to help achieve data exchange and participation with the existence of solid ground of data of unified standards to achieve integrity between them from different sources. The process of organising and managing this frame must be done through finding common relations between establishments, so as to encourage building cooperation and help in maintaining, developing and improving this data.

Every year, thousands of Omani Rials are spent by many establishments in the country in order to obtain data from data making companies which allocate budget for certain projects. Most of this data is of single format and single purpose. However, despite the large availability of data with these establishments, a huge chunk of it is mostly used to solve problems faced by the establishment, or not being managed and newly maintained because that establishment does not have the suitable upgrading means. On the other hand, some organisations can deal with the data, but with different techniques and use different databases and standards, where a certain geographic area may be covered by a number of these organisations. This makes us realise that there is a big problem related to the harmony and integrity of this data with one another. Accordingly, many obstacles have aroused that must be gradually solved for the country’s higher interests.

Many countries have strived to activate the NSDI initiative. While some succeeded in introducing facilities for the data to be used by all users, others have failed. Moreover, some countries kept their initiatives without any tangible advancement. Therefore, the success of such orientation should be built on basis of understanding, cooperation and trust among all participated parties. Furthermore, there must be a gradual advancement in changing the hazy picture about the concept of participation, its nature and boundaries. Accordingly, involvement in the activation of Oman NSDI initiative must be supported by information awareness to include all sections in the spatial data group, starting from the technician level up to the level of decision makers with clear visions for the nature and type of information and standards that must be created and followed to achieve the required integration, as well as the policies helping to activate this participation and data exchange in harmonious environment protected by suitable legal frames.

There are many obstacles that limit the common work between GI community in the Sultanate, which include absence of awareness about the concept of NSDI, lack of basic data availability, metadata- lack of documentation, co-operation & coordination between public/private sectors, absence of unified standards.

NSA’s Role in Activating Spatial Data Infrastructure Initiative

The NSA supervises over the production of spatial data projects for the country’s establishments and possesses the capabilities to check the data specifications agreed upon in implementing these projects; hence the NSA is the major driving engine in activating the national spatial infrastructure initiative.

The NSA strongly understands that achieving integration among the state establishments is a difficult matter, and the exchange of this data will face a lofty administrative complexity. It also realises that subjecting this data under one environment may cause legal problems and may not correspond with many establishments’ capabilities and usages. As a result, the NSA’s interest during the last five years was in line with the necessity of moving the Sultanate from the umbrella of separate entity to the umbrella of collective work towards activating the national spatial data basic initiative. During the last period, the NSA’s work was mainly focused on preparing its data to welcome this technology. There were many projects which are still standing and coincide with this orientation such as:

Transfer from Paper to Digital Format

NSA transferred all hardcopy spatial data into digital format and organised it in to the National Database (NGDB) to go along with the requirements of future spatial data infrastructure. This database includes aerial photographs, satellite imagery, heights data, ground control data and geographic names database

Map production

Currently, the NSA is working on producing maps at scale 1:50.000 and renewing maps at scale 1:100.000 in seamless vector format in line with modern principles and unified data samples.

Projects Activations to Unify the Sultanate Coordinate System

The NSA is currently seeking to activate a number of focal projects which are presented to unify the geo-referencing system in the Sultanate on the basis of existence of a solid ground that enables the state’s establishments to produce their data in order to achieve the objective of data integrity among them in future.

Production Capacities Enhancement

In line with its progress, the NSA has enhanced its line of production with all the necessary equipment and modern software to include enhancement of field survey section, photogrammetry section and development of cartography drawing tools further to introducing check and quality control cell which now has become capable of supervising and producing base maps at large scale for planning purposes. And should the financial funding for this cell become available, the ground referencing system would become totally complete and able to achieve the spatial data infrastructure initiative’s purposes.