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Which is the most geospatial ready country in the world?

While developed nations like the US and UK reap the benefits of adopting geospatial technology, their developing counterparts need to cover a lot of ground, shows the latest edition of Countries Geospatial Readiness Index.  

The United States of America and the United Kingdom have retained their position as the top two geospatial-ready countries, followed by Germany in the third edition of the Countries Geospatial Readiness Index (CGRI 2019). While countries like the Netherlands, Canada and Denmark have improved their rankings in the last two years, China, Singapore and Switzerland have slipped to lower positions.

Countries Geospatial Readiness Index (CGRI) 2019

As we move towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will be powered by several new technologies, the significance of geospatial technology will only grow. It is, therefore, important for countries to adopt geospatial tools in this digital era. With the growing need for a combination of niche technologies (artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, machine learning and geospatial technology), both developing and developed countries must assess their level of preparedness in adopting geospatial technology. A nation’s position on Geospatial Readiness Index is based on a comprehensive study of parameters that are crucial for policymakers to take informed decisions.

In the latest edition of CGRI, the scope of the study has been expanded to 75 countries (+25 from CGRI 2018). The study evaluates the geospatial preparedness of these 75 nations based on five parameters: data infrastructure, policy framework (geospatial and enabling), institutional capacity (education), user adoption and geospatial industry fabric (innovation, incubation and accelerators, and capacity).
The top ten rankings indicate that the Global North is leading, while countries in Asia-Pacific lag behind — only Singapore and China feature in the top ten. The other three regions, Middle East & Central Asia, Africa & South America, and Caribbean, are still “aspiring” to improve their tally.

Regional Overview

As is evident, the United States of America retains its top spot for the third consecutive year, making it the most geospatial-ready country since 2017. From a regional perspective, owing to USA’s 1st position and Canada’s 5th position (up two places from CGRI-18), the North America region continues to dominate the regional geospatial readiness for third straight year. Even though Mexico and Costa Rica rank relatively low globally, these countries are taking several initiatives to become geospatial-ready.

USA has a rich heritage of having highest scale thematic layers (1:200-1:1,250) such as cadastral, topography, utility network, transport network, among others, with almost a monthly update. Additionally, the country is a leader in earth observation (EO) and has its own satellite-based positioning system, GPS, which is still unmatched by the rest of the world. While Canada closely follows USA, Mexico and Costa Rica, the two emerging markets, have been able to successfully begin their National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) journey in recent years. Further, to build up their EO data capabilities, these countries are signing cooperation agreements with space agencies across the globe (ISRO, CNES, NASA), highlighting the willingness to enhance their geospatial readiness.

The European region continues to occupy the second position in the regional assessment of geospatial readiness. Supported by integrated policy frameworks and mechanisms such as the INSPIRE Directive and the European Space Strategy, European countries continue to occupy 25 slots on the index.

The European Union’s healthy approach towards the digital agenda is evident by its adoption of BIM (Building Information Modeling), a task group to transform the construction sector, National Research and Innovation Strategy 2020, and the Horizon 2020 Strategy. These initiatives contribute to the region’s geospatial readiness and serve as the infrastructural backbone for geospatial advancement.
Further, the European Commission is focused on encouraging public-private partnerships as a new business model to remain competitive in the international market. The Commission’s SME initiative, European Space Agency’s (ESA) industrial policy and its business incubation centers are aimed at acknowledging the critical role of the private sector and the need for building a local industry.

The Asia-Pacific region is called “the engine” of the global economy as it continues to outdo its western peers with an above average GDP growth rate of 3% (and more!). As several Asian economies are working towards becoming the next “Silicon Valley”, some of these countries have done exceptionally well in CGRI 2019. Of the total 16 countries assessed, seven, namely China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, are among the top 25 on the index.

Almost all Asia-Pacific countries have been working with an intention to strengthen and improve their geospatial readiness through dedicated policy efforts. Indonesia was the first country in the world to pass the Geospatial Information Act in 2011 to create NSDI and promote spatial data sharing between government agencies.
In terms of EO capabilities, China and India are progressing fast in space research, having carried out memorable missions in space over the past two-three years. Many countries lack EO capabilities of their own, and hence collaborate with international space agencies such as JAXA, ISRO, ESA and NASA to acquire and disseminate data to businesses and citizens.

The technological advantage of the Asian economies is valuable due to the large number of courses being offered by institutes of these countries to develop geospatial-related capabilities. Almost 30% of institutes assessed for the Geospatial Readiness Index are located in the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, the African region continues to hold the fourth position in terms of regional geospatial readiness. Barring South Africa, all other countries have performed rather poorly. While even South Africa has failed to make it to the top 30, Namibia, Uganda and Sudan feature at the bottom of the index at 70, 72 and 75, respectively. The scope for improvement for the Africa region in geospatial readiness is extremely high, though it is impossible to determine how long will these nations take to be fully geospatial-ready.

Under the African Union, the region has a defined common approach to NSDI, i.e. the African Regional Spatial Data Infrastructure (ARSDI) paradigm. However, not much is known about the initiative and its implementation structure. While South Africa, under the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act 2003, has set up its NSDI (SASDI), even after implementation, it figures somewhere between Stage I and II. The law is old, and the implementation guidelines do not conform to recent technology innovations. Further, the region also does not foster easy private sector participation, which is seen as one of the major challenges for these countries.

For the CGRI-19 Policy Framework, the African Space Policy and the African Space Strategy, by and for the African Union countries, have been taken into account. Seen as an initiative by the region to construct a more efficient space infrastructure, the policy is well received from a geospatial readiness perspective. At present, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria are the major space players in the region.
An assessment of institutional capability of the African region reveals that the focus of universities in these countries is to offer diploma and short-term certificate programs in GIS and remote sensing that enable the workforce to be geospatial-ready quickly.

The Middle East and Central Asia region is among the most prolific users of geospatial solutions. However, as far as its readiness is concerned, it is still an aspirer on CGRI 2019. With the exception of Israel and UAE, all other countries in this region have so far underperformed.

Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the only countries that have a functional NSDI in place to facilitate easy access to spatial information and data. In Bahrain, for the implementation of the Bahrain Spatial Data Infrastructure (BSDI), a National GIS Steering Committee (NGISSC) has been established which has also formulated a Data Exchange Policy for this purpose.

In terms of the institutional capability, it is found that many countries in the region such as Azerbaijan, Oman, Kyrgyz Republic and Jordan do not have research-oriented geospatial courses or labs. The number of postgraduate and graduate courses is comparatively low, and the main focus is on certificate and diploma programs.
In the South American and the Caribbean region, Brazil is the only country that continues to excel since last two years, while the rest of the countries are at a moderately lower level of geospatial readiness spectrum.

Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Argentina are a few countries that have a functional NSDI at Stage I with limited effectiveness, i.e. lacking user engagement and uptake of geospatial information. These countries are also backed by policy mechanisms.
Jamaica, Dominican Republic and El Salvador rank extremely low on the Geospatial Readiness Index. While the El Salvador National Geographic Institute was one of the first to launch a Cloud-based map service, lack of data integration at high thematic layers reduces the country’s overall score.

While universities in Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Argentina are focusing more on enhancing geospatial knowledge through postgraduate and graduate inter-disciplinary courses (more focused on GIS), the rest of the countries in the region are mostly offering certificate and diploma programs. These short-term courses are popular among students who want quick employment in the sector, but they do not enable innovation in the country, which in turn affects the growth of the local industry.
Further, the user adoption of geospatial solutions in the region is largely restricted to the public sector, which faces its own challenges.

Latin America has been witnessing steady economic growth, along with a growing understanding of the benefits of geospatial information and technology, which is attracting interests and investments from various multilateral organizations and core geospatial industry players.

The developed countries lead the Countries Geospatial Readiness Index (yet again!), consistently following an integrated approach on advancing geospatial technologies to priority economic sectors and delivering better geo-enabled services to citizens and/or consumers.

Conclusion

Many countries have started undertaking national geospatial readiness assessments to comprehend their strengths and weaknesses in the sector. Debates and discussions have already started at the national level to understand who shall take the leadership role — national geospatial organizations, policymakers, communities at the grassroots or local geospatial industry. Also, countries have begun to recognize the need for developing collaborative frameworks within the geospatial community to derive significant economic and other benefits.