Project Mexican development

Project Mexican development

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Can you tell us about the products and services provided by Sistemas De Información Geografica, S.A? Sistemas De Información Geografica, S.A (SIGSA) started in 1980 as a mapping company. Initially, our services included photogrammetry mapping, map editing

Ing. Carlos Salman Gonzalez
Ing. Carlos Salman Gonzalez
Director General
Sistemas De Información Geografica, S.A. DE C.V., Mexico

Can you tell us about the products and services provided by Sistemas De Información Geografica, S.A?
Sistemas De Información Geografica, S.A (SIGSA) started in 1980 as a mapping company. Initially, our services included photogrammetry mapping, map editing, publishing and also printing. We produced large scale maps for urban and rural cadastral applications. We also offered services for field completion in cadastral processes. When the company was 8-9 years into its operations, we became Mexican distributors for ESRI ArcInfo.

While we have undertaken some activities in other regions of Latin America, our key focus area is Mexico. In Mexico, we have been very active with State governments and municipal governments. Our focus areas are the energy sector including oil and electricity companies, utilities including water and gas and also telecom.

SIGSA provides services on various platforms like Web, enterprise GIS etc. What is the level of acceptability of this new kind of technology in Mexico?
Right now it is well accepted but in the beginning it was not so. To be successful in GIS, one needs to adopt a 10- point approach.

The primary requirement is design. Second comes data, not only in terms of map but research into the ownership of land parcels or data integration. Third is the data workflow – how the data is transforming into information including the software that are needed. Then comes equipment. Fifth is trained manpower to operate GIS. We are very clear that successful and efficient GIS needs people who are trained. One cannot leave everything to outsourcing. Then comes inter-organisation coordination. Even if trained manpower is available, one needs proper coordination among different departments of a city like municipality, cadastral, urban development or tax collection. The political and technical leadership comes at seventh position. Often there are political clashes between different agencies and there is requirement of clear understanding of who is the champion of the project. Quality control and performance measurement take the next position. There should be a clarity on exactly why the system is required – tax collection for example – and whether the system is delivering. Number 9 is actual usage of the system. Sometimes potential users in developing countries buy the system but they do not use it. Last but not the least is updation.

This is also our approach at SIGSA. Though we are a private company, we are focussed on the development of Mexico. That is the reason for the existence of SIGSA.

What are the challenge areas?
Where data is concerned, data/map production is not a challenge but the challenge is in field completion. This is because of paucity of adequately trained technicians who can be sent to the field and conduct research about parcels etc. Human resource is another challenge – the agencies designing GIS can spend huge amounts of money on hardware and software but they don’t want to employ people because there is a trend to downsize. GIS is useless if one doesn’t have employees that can take advantage of it. The other challenge is making different departments work together as they don’t cooperate with each other. Finally, political leadership is a big challenge. The mayor / leader of the city should be aware that he has to orchestrate the work of different employees.

You have undertaken a national-scale project called Projecto Mexico. Kindly elaborate on it.
In 1999, the Gulf of Mexico was heavily flooded. I was deeply shocked to see the loss of people and property and wanted to do something about it. SIGSA organised a GIS for emergency management campaign and brought to the forefront the issue of map availability. At that time, INEGI, the national mapping agency, was focussed on the cadastral projects rather than undertaking the mapping that was needed for this kind of emergency management. Also, they were not provided sufficient resources. In such a situation, we decided to produce a cartographic structure of Mexico at 1:10,000/ 1:20,000 scale and sell it as a licensed product. At the onset, it did not seem a practical thing to do because we had no customers and no precedence. But we decided to do it nevertheless because we realised that the country will need these maps in crisis. We will be finishing the project this year.

SIGSA is a private company, and the mandate to prepare maps is that of national mapping agencies. Were you allowed to prepare maps at 1: 20,000 scale?
We do not face such limitation in Mexico. In the past, such a limitation was there because the maps were prepared by the Army. Now however map production is in civilian domain and these agencies are very open-minded and supportive. They want Mexicans to have a lot of information and statistical maps for development. They have made available a lot of geodetic data. They make the guidelines and specifications to try to have a more focussed and quality approach to mapping.

How aware and knowledgeable is the political leadership or bureaucracy at various government levels like federal, state and provincial governments to ensure right kind of policies for the growth of geospatial industry?
More than trying to help the industry per se, they are becoming aware of the advantages of using geographic information systems / geospatial technologies for the applications. In the past, Mexico has witnessed a lot of repercussions of bad policies. So this awareness can be a welcome step.

SIGSA undertakes a lot of capacity building activities. What is the mission behind this?
We do focus a lot on capacity building. We have been providing training for 15 years and train more than 4000 people every year. We strongly believe that there is no point in inducting GIS in an organization if it doesn’t get used. Also, technology has to be pervasive and transparent – something like a cellular phone where one doesn’t always know the technology behind it, but can just push some buttons and get the functionality.

We are also involved in geospatial education at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We receive lot of students and we show them our work. In association with Esri, we have donated software to universities that can be used for training.

What are the other focus areas for SIGSA?
One of our main focus areas is process development. I feel frustrated that we have not succeeded in the way we had set out to. My purpose of starting this company was not financial benefit or even map making in itself. The dream of me, my trainers and like-minded people has been that Mexico could use the land and water towards social development – to produce enough food so that children are healthy, smart and well educated.

The reason this has not happened is because we didn’t see the processes. It is not maps or mapping or even GIS, but the government processes which are not efficient but are corrupt. The focus of SIGSA, besides GIS, is to expand our platform through government processes management.