Home Articles UN GGIM – Geospatial industry: Partners in solutions

UN GGIM – Geospatial industry: Partners in solutions

Representatives from government, mapping agencies, international organisations and geospatial industry met in Seoul, Republic of Korea to launch the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Management (GGIM) and to take part in a high level forum on GGIM. The main meeting was preceded by an exchange forum with geospatial industry and mapping agencies. The rather unusual presence of industry at a UN event indicates the recognition given by the UN to the geospatial industry in searching for solutions to global socio-economic problems.

Locationally-referenced databases are increasingly becoming important to the society. Over the past few decades, geospatial industry has played a significant role in promoting and providing technology and solutions to create, manage, analyse and utilise geospatial information worldwide. The search for solutions to global socioeconomic problems is best found through partnerships and geospatial industry and government organisations have key roles to play in this respect. Recognising this, the UN organised an exchange forum as pre-conference activity at Seoul, South Korea to facilitate the involvement of the geospatial industry at the most senior levels in the discussions surrounding GGIM.

The changing face of geospatial technology is increasingly making geo-information an important tool in addressing global socioeconomic challenges. Kyoung-Soo Eom, Chief Cartographic Section, Department of Field Support, United Nations, observed that new technologies have transformed the availability and accessibility of geospatial information and its potential use. Satellite-based imagery and technologies, geo-referenced data, crowdsourced maps have pooled vast amounts of data into the spatial framework. Internet and mobile communications are allowing users to access geo-data from anywhere instantly for any purpose. He added that the use of integrated geospatial data is going beyond national borders, as many natural disasters, pandemic diseases and wars are often cross-border in their impact. The need therefore is to provide integrated geospatial solutions to meet global needs in an effective, timely, efficient and orchestrated way, Kyoung-Soo remarked.

Bryn Fosburgh, Vice President, Trimble observed that geospatial data has evolved from paper maps to GIS and now towards 3D virtual models of the world. The creation of 3D virtual worlds with increasing spatial accuracy requires resolution of policy issues, he opined, adding that the optimum use of technology requires alignment of technology, economic incentives and policy. Juergen Dold, President, Hexagon Geosystems emphasised that the fast changing world, with increasing population, urbanisation and growing middle class, thereby implying the need for more infrastructure and resources, needs ‘actionable information.’ The critical components for GIS therefore, are updating the GIS data and consequently sharing data across multiple sources like agencies and industry. Sanjay Krishna, Vice President – N & CE APAC, Europe & Middle East, Infotech Enterprises Limited, elaborated on factors that necessitate the need to develop common frameworks for geospatial information. Having common frameworks in place, he said, would facilitate maximising the use of spatial data for improved decision making; improve collaboration between agencies, countries and regions; improve efficiency in terms of interoperability /collaboration; facilitate creating data once and using many times and address issues of data volumes and standardisation.

Paulo Bezarra, Managing Director, MSS and GSI, MDA Geospatial Services Inc. highlighted that satellite data gives spatial context to events that otherwise might be assumed to be unconnected and promotes a shared visualisation framework that is independent of language or cultural impediments, a situation critical in cases where the UN is operating in conjunction with local partners and authorities. He therefore stressed on the need to maximise the utility of satellite remote sensing for the management of global challenges and a key requirement in this direction is to address policy related issues faced by the remote sensing satellite industry.

The industry shared its views on factors that can contribute towards successful geospatial programmes and the role of various organisations and institutions in the process. According to Lawrie Jordan, Director of Imagery, Esri, successful geospatial programmes require more than technology: they require vision and leadership, understanding of contribution of geospatial information management support, planning of technical architecture and data models, governance, implementation work, good people and a spirit of collaboration. He also opined that geospatial programmes should showcase an organisation’s services, reflect current events, apply local knowledge and refresh content frequently.

According to Paulo Bezarra, an enabling policy environment for remote sensing data should aim for the following goals: harmonisation of national satellite remote sensing regulatory regimes; harmonisation of commercial data policies; standardisation of data ordering protocols; and standardisation of product formats and product delivery protocols. He also suggested having a single-channel satellite remote sensing data broker to the United Nations. Hwajin Chang, Vice President, Samsung SDS underlines the role of various organisations. The United Nations, he expressed, can establish UN-centred governance for global geospatial information, take the lead in establishing a master plan of global geospatial information use and invest in geospatial information projects for developing countries. The national governments according to him can push for active sharing of public geospatial data and encourage compliance with global standards (like ISO, OGC) in the field of geospatial information. Enterprises can jointly develop a platform for global geospatial information service, support developing countries in geospatial information development projects and build a cooperative and collaborative working framework among companies.

Kyoung-Soo asserted a need for global policy and governance as well as leadership to use geospatial tools as solutions. He added that priority should be given to develop a global policy and framework in the following areas: avoiding duplication and creating synergy, cooperating in a coordinated manner with member states, international and professional organisations, NGOs and private sector and enhancing the involvement of global geospatial leaders in the development of global policy and procedure or mechanism for crisis management, response and relief operations.

Elaborating on international coordination and cooperation in realising the potential of geospatial information in addressing global issues, Willy Govender, CEO, Dataworld observed that the key drivers for global cooperation include making software more affordable and easily available; cloud-based services; data sharing and standardisation of data across government departments; skills development including SDI implementation, capacity building for civil servants and skills for data management and maintenance.

Luiz Paulo Fortes, Director, Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil, cited the example of Brazil and opined that national spatial data infrastructures (NSDI) can provide much of the required institutional and standards framework to boost GI integration and avers that industry has an important role to play in NSDI.

A potential platform for facilitating data sharing is the cloud. Steven Hagen, VP, Product Development, Oracle explained why deploying a geospatial cloud makes sense: it reduces costs, increases storage, offers more flexibility and mobility and is highly automated – allowing IT to shift focus. Arnulf Christl, President, OSGeo, opined that promoting freely available software is useless without data. He observed that the software, the standards and the knowhow are already available, what is lacking is data. Future development, according to him, should therefore focus on open linked data to support true transparency and allow broad participation.

Todd Oseth, President & CEO, InterMap Technologies, stressed that metadata is important in making wise social, economic and environmental decisions. The need is to get to a place where every pixel/post on the planet has tied to it, information and knowledge that can help make wise decisions about social, economic, and environmental issues of pressing importance. David Stevens, Programme Coordinator, UN-SPIDER, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, asserted that there is a need to take advantage of the crowd, the internet and the increasing volume of data being made available.

According to Lawrie, challenges in geospatial programme management include taking cognizance of the needs of multiple stakeholders including citizens, NGOs, private sector and academia, rate of technological innovation, accountability, transparency, complexity and lack of accessibility. According to Kumar Navulur, Chief Technology Officer, DigitalGlobe, some of the issues to be addressed while formulating geospatial policy and institutional arrangements include licensing, the contribution of commercial industry and the necessity of open data standards. Kyoung-Soo highlighted that the challenges in the use of geospatial information towards humanitarian and peacekeeping purposes include lack of geospatial data and infrastructure in affected areas even though technologies exist, a lack of a geospatial component in global policy and mechanisms for crisis management, response and relief operations and a lack of global policies and framework.

Paul Cheung, Director of Statistics Division, United Nations noted that the importance of geospatial information is not fully understood because it is ‘all over the place,’ with many different ministries being responsible in different countries and in many cases lacking coordination.

Adequate human capacities are a prerequisite to efficient usage of geospatial information. According to Prof. Ian Dowman, Editor – Europe, Geospatial World, the organisations involved in capacity building for geographic information include United Nations, governments, intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), nongovernmental organisations, higher education institutions, industry, media and social networks.

Concerted regional focus can also contribute to capacity building. Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director, ICT, Science & Technology Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), suggested that GGIM must adequately reflect African issues and shape its direction and dimension to reflect Africa interest.

The Exchange Forum demonstrated that industry has a great deal to contribute towards greater collaboration in the development of global policies and mechanisms for geospatial data. It can be concluded from the Forum that the United Nations should ensure that the structure of GGIM meetings allows industry to take part and express views which can be taken notice of by governments and decision makers.