Home Articles We need to make people understand the importance of Geography and Location

We need to make people understand the importance of Geography and Location


Dr Vanessa Lawrence
Director General & Chief Executive,
Ordnance Survey,United Kingdom
Speech of Dr Vanessa Lawrence in Audio

Over the last few sessions, the participants of this Geospatial Executive Leadership Forum, have discussed issues relating to management, where one can use geographical information as a major tool in decision making. In my talk I will give you some insights of the challenges that I feel this geospatial industry is facing and the ways to overcome them.

We know that the world is changing and so is our industry. We are seeing in Great Britain an increased appetite for our national mapping agency's data. An example is the Mastermap overlayed on top of Google Maps. We also see that local search is becoming very important and people are beginning to understand universally that location and geography are incredibly important for their decision making, from their business to their recreation. Ordnance Survey provides definitive, maintained and reliable information in our country. But today, its all about more people using location. We have seen the use of Ordnance survey in every part of our lives and what we have felt is that a lot of people do not realize that geography, location, geographical information, spatial information; whatever you call it; is now becoming a major factor in the decision making. Everything from traffic management; to underground asset management; to many consumer applications are being addressed by the geospatial professionals. Many of them do not recognize our profession and its underlying importance for their decision making. But, a change can observed today, where in the United Kingdom there were many applications in the public domain, which were becoming main stream. The public is using geospatial information.

One of the biggest challenges we have with very senior management in both Government and local municipality, is making them understand the importance of Geography and how it can be profitably used. Even though, they think about registration in school admission, in understanding building controls etc, they are not realizing that there should be an integrated approach to 'geopractical' information which will make a huge difference and actually deliver what the top management wants. This in turn will lower our costs and make processes and the administration more efficient.

The other challenge for this industry is to try and make sure that people understand that if they have to begin their journey using geopractical information as a leader, they themselves have to start their own enterprise and bear the costs of using geopractical information. What we are doing now is insignificant in comparison to the future. It is extremely difficult to predict the future. But in Ordnance Survey, we work hard to try and understand where the future is leading to. We do that by trying very hard to understand the effect of usage of geospatial information on our society.

Ordnance Survey which is 216 years old organisation and our mandate is to map the whole of Great Britain. We are a Government department and I do directly report to a Government Minister. I have been talking a little bit about the partnerships and like any good business, we actually pay according to our share holdings. The Government dividends equal to 5.5 percent employment each year. Our job is to create and maintain the map of Great Britain and all its features. We make roughly 5000 changes in our maps everyday. This is important as we are now a country with lot of changes taking place which has an impact on the geospatial data set. We have a Government target of 99.6 percent of real changes on the ground that must be captured and updated on our maps within six months. In the last accounting year, we achieved a target of 99.86 percent. Essentially the whole of our business is about collecting change and developing skills on “Changing Intelligence”. The Change Intelligence is incredibly important for Ordnance survey and it helps us direct our field staff and planes to the place, exactly where they would find some changes on the ground. We also make sure that the data is available to people as they want it, in different forms and then we do make some changes in our Mastermap; according to our customer needs.

Well, we not only have to meet today's needs, we also have to anticipate the future. We have about 50 researchers, who are working on what the future of our industry will be in the next 5 to 10 years. We also host successful conferences, where we don't speak but futurologist come and state their plans. In the last conference, Tim Berners Lee; the founder of the World Wide Web, was actually interested in the work of Ordnance survey. He spent a considerable amount of time with our researchers looking at how geospatial is important in web 2.0.

We also make sure that we do understand the working details of our research labs and we are looking very much at products and ideas, which are for the future and some of our employees are working at ideas at the moment, which we can include very much realizing that geographical information for the future is not just mapping, its more about the surrounding information. We are trying to understand, what the people want and what's the cost of collecting those additional attributes? We are working towards using real time and near real time capture into databases – processes which will be a reality very soon.. We are also looking at 3D data capture for the future and that is what we will be investing in for the next 5 years.

Realizing that naming was important, people described areas in one way, but possibly they have a local understanding of that and if you are providing public services, it is very important that within the database, people in a call center are able to understand the different ways that an area can be expressed.

What we know is that there are more than four million excavations for people to look into and see it under the road every year. The Institution of Civil Engineers has decided that all services should now on be captured at DNF (Digital National Framework) standards and principles. So, what they are saying is that people calculate their data to particular standards and connect a Mastermap, which is important. They can provide data, in which people are interested. But it is important that they should have accurate and up to date live information from very reliable source. And what we have also done is to equip those organizations, with some of our other products like historical mapping, boundary information and aerial photography.

We very much believe that the partnership is important in our business. The upstream part of our business is related to tenders, which is all about the world and its opportunities to the suppliers. In the upstream business we have structured it in a way that anyone can become a partner of Ordnance survey as long as they meet certain criteria.

We are witnessing great usage of geographical information happening in Great Britain. So, as medium and long term suggestion to the Government, we set up a panel of experts in other Government departments and also in the private sector which I was asked to 'Chair'. What we were doing was focus on the strategy to underpin the public sector in Great Britain. These strategies have been forwarded to the senior group of civil servants and will go to the Public Expenditure Minister. What we are hoping is that there will be a comprehensive location strategy for the United Kingdom in place within next 24 months.

These are the issues which I think the geospatial industry face, very much from my own perspective of being a leader of a national mapping agency.