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Ordnance Survey has a clear customer focus

We are presenting here her brief profile followed by her interview which gives insights to the current activities and future plans of Ordnance Survey, UKDr Vanessa Lawrence
Dr Vanessa Lawrence
Director General and CEO of Ordnance Survey, UK

Dr Vanessa Lawrence is working as Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey since September 2000. We are presenting here her brief profile followed by her interview which gives insights to the current activities and future plans of Ordnance Survey, UK

  • Vanessa Lawrence lives in Guildford, Surrey and was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. From 1981-84 she studied for her BA honours degree in geography at the University of Sheffield and subsequently was awarded an MSc in remote sensing, image processing and its applications by the University of Dundee. The first eleven years of her career were in publishing, first with the Longman Group UK Ltd and then as the Technical Director of GeoInformation International – a division of Pearson Professional Ltd, specialising in the provision of information in all media to people working in the GIS market.

    In 1996 she joined Autodesk as Regional Business Development Manager covering areas including UK, Ireland, the Middle East and Africa, where she worked with both private sector and government organisations to spread the use of GIS – computers that can integrate and analyse and interpret information from many sources. Projects included helping to create one of the largest GIS in the world to help organise and run the 1999 General Election in South Africa, right down to local ward level.

    In February 2000, she was appointed to the post of Global Manager, Strategic Marketing and Communications, in Autodesk’s GIS Solutions Division.

    This role gave her a world-wide remit to position Autodesk and its GIS division strategically with major organisations such as governments, national mapping organisations and new customers.

    When she took up her post as Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey in September 2000, the Government Minister responsible for Ordnance Survey, Beverley Hughes, said, “Vanessa Lawrence is a world-class professional, known in both the private and public sectors for her vision, dynamism and wealth of knowledge. I am delighted that she is to lead OS and drive forward the work which has already established it as the world’s leading national mapping organisation.” In the UK, she was elected as the 1999 chair of the AGI, the professional association representing the industry on which she has been a council member since 1996. During the year she wrote and published more than 20 articles commenting on the geographical information industry. Previous honorary posts have included being a council member of the Institute of British Geographers (1994-95), council member of the Remote Sensing Society (1991-94), and member of the Research Resources Board of the Economic and Social Research Council (1995-99). Currently, she is also an external examiner with University College, London, for its MSc geographic information science course; was appointed a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton in September 2000 and elected a member of the Court of the University of Southampton in March this year. In addition, she holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Sheffield , an Honorary Doctorate from the School of Planning at Oxford Brookes University and has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors.

    Her out of work interests include scuba diving, sailing, tennis – and she is interested in antique maps.
    ‘Ordnance Survey has a clear customer focus’
    Dr Vanessa Lawrence discusses the vision, activities and future plans of Ordnance Survey, UK

    • Tell us about the vision and key activities of Ordnance Survey.
      Our vision is to work with our partners to be the number one choice for location-based information in today’s information economy. Our key activities involve maintaining and updating the master map of Great Britain, from which we offer definitive, consistent and accessible mapping for businesses, government organisations, and millions of consumers. We are constantly revising our data, with teams of our surveyors making around 5,000 changes to our database every day.
    • You joined Ordnance Survey in September 2000. What changes have you introduced into the functioning of your organisation?
      We have set in train a radically new business model to reshape Ordnance Survey and give it a much clearer customer focus offering more choice and value. The approach has been to transform Ordnance Survey technologically, commercially and culturally. We have launched our most intensive investment programme yet so that we can fund new developments on the journey towards our vision.  
    • Tell us something about the products of Ordnance Survey.
      Our extensive digital portfolio is designed to ensure that our customers’ business decisions, strategies and services are underpinned by accurate, reliable locational information. They can gain a competitive edge by using our data to simplify the integration, analysis, presentation and sharing of their own information. Our product range includes highly detailed data and site-centred business-to-business mapping. The latest product, OS MasterMap, combines definitive digital map data and an online service. It is already setting new standards by providing the most detailed, flexible and intelligent mapping Britain has ever seen. A central part of our vision is to encourage the growth of a licensed partner community to add value to our data.
    My view is that the potential for misuse of spatial data is overwhelmingly outweighed by the tremendous benefits that it brings to society

    • How accessible is the data generated by Ordnance Survey, especially by the private sector?
      All our products are supported by our approach to customer service. We are opening up new ways of previewing, ordering and delivering our mapping. As well as user-friendly online initiatives, we have dedicated, professional account managers. We have streamlined our pricing and licensing arrangements to meet the changing needs of customers, whichever sector they are in. Our products are used in marketing, location-based services, risk assessment, property development, asset management, distribution and route planning, as well as improving the delivery of public services.
    • What is the pricing structure? Do you have a uniform pricing structure for your products or do you sell them at subsidised rates, for example, to government and educational institutions?
      We produce appropriate pricing models for the different markets in which our data is used. We constantly review our pricing to ensure it remains fair and transparent. A key element of OS MasterMap, for example, is to offer customers the chance to pick and mix the data they want rather than receive pre-defined geographical areas. We do not sell products at subsidised rates, but we do supply more than 570 local authorities with consistent, national data at a range of scales through a central agreement which naturally allows for discount off list prices. We are working to create a similar agreement for central government.
    • How do you manage to keep track of the changing needs of users? Do you have some in-built mechanism to do that? And more importantly do you think that Ordnance Survey has been able to meet the requirements of users?
      We do a lot of research into product and market developments to help us meet the needs of users. We consult a number of user groups in both the business and consumer sectors and have developed partnerships with the academic community, other parts of government, and other national mapping agencies. We are being proactive and our feedback is positive, but we recognise that we have much still to do before we can say we have achieved our vision.
    • Since April 1999, Ordnance Survey has gained the status of Trading Fund. What does this mean and what are its implications?
      It means we are wholly responsible for balancing our revenue and expenditure. We have to make a return on capital and cannot go to government if we fall short of funds. However, we have more freedom to invest our money in the business as we see fit. The government has recently reviewed out status and decided to continue our Trading Fund status with some added freedoms and flexibilities.
    • Electronic data now makes up some 80% of Ordnance Survey’s turnover. Also, it is mentioned on your website that Ordnance Survey data now underpins more than £100 billion worth of economic activity in Britain every year. Can you elaborate more on this?
      More and more businesses and public services are using computer-based GIS to integrate and analyse information from different sources. It is becoming a mainstream tool for running all kinds of organisations. The £100 billion figure comes from a report by independent experts which looked at the use of Ordnance Survey data in both the public and private sectors. Our data is used in an enormous number of ways. Examples in the public sector include locating suitable derelict land for house building, controlling the flow of urban traffic, helping the police detect crime patterns. In the private sector, it helps businesses to target their marketing efforts, calculate insurance risks, manage their property portfolios, and develop in-car navigation systems.     
    • What complications do you feel will arise in putting spatial data in the public domain given the security threats perceived by some countries and also in the context of the post September 11, 2001 scenario?
      There is obviously a balance to be struck between providing data for the legitimate user of information and protecting society from perceived threats. This is nothing new. My view is that the potential for misuse is overwhelmingly outweighed by the tremendous benefits that spatial data brings to society.
    • Do you also have such security concerns? If yes, how has Ordnance Survey managed to strike a balance between developmental needs and security issues pertaining to spatial data? What policy does Ordnance Survey have in this area?
      We have been a successful map publisher for a very long time. We only publish civilian mapping, not military mapping. Our approach is always to follow the guidance of government on security issues.
    • When a government agency generates data, it does so at the expense of public money. How comfortable are you about the idea of charging people again for a product they have already paid for?
      We work on the ‘user pays’ model rather than through public funds. We therefore do not charge people for products they have already paid for. As a Trading Fund, we have to cover our costs through income generation rather than government funding.  
    • Do you engage the private sector in your activities? If yes, in what activities and why?
      We encourage the take-up of our mapping data by an increasing number of partners who add their specialist skills for the benefit of end users. These partners carry out a range of commercial activities including publishing, data reselling, the provision of customised data and the creation of entirely new products and services. One partner produces a package to help monitor and tackle pollution patterns, while others have created software to help plan effective distribution by haulage companies. Many traditional publishers rely on Ordnance Survey data as the base mapping to which they add value in producing atlases, guides and other publications. We also have a network of retail agents linked to our main database and equipped to supply customers with the latest mapping data on demand.
    • What are the challenges Ordnance Survey has before itself today and what strategies do you have to meet them?
      We must continue to raise awareness of the power of geographical information. Despite the global economic slowdown, there is scope for optimism with more and more customers turning to geographical information to help them make decisions and form business plans and strategies. There is a specific challenge in promoting the use of GI within the development of 3G technology. Our key strategy is to press on with developments that are important to the British economy, particularly enhancements to OS MasterMap, and the growth of our partner network.   
    • You have vast experience in publishing and in the private sector. How has that experience helped you in your job as Director General of Ordnance Survey?
      As someone who used to be a private sector partner of Ordnance Survey I have an insight into what it was like to deal with the organisation before it was reshaped. I am determined that Ordnance Survey is easier to do business with, and I believe it is now much more customer focused and in the best position to deliver even more benefits to Britain.
    • Website: www.ordsvy.gov.uk/