‘Fit for Purpose’: Where’s the scale?

‘Fit for Purpose’: Where’s the scale?


I just returned from the 2014 Geospatial World Forum. Congratulations to Geospatial Media & Communications – the organizers, for putting on a terrific conference. As my dinner mate Owen Hawkins from Surrey Satellite Technology verbalized during the gala dinner, “It’s hard to do interactive yodeling.” He was referring to the Swiss entertainment for the evening. This statement well represented the spirit and intent of the conference: that was to couple geospatial industry experts with vertical industry leaders, such as from land administration, construction, and energy sectors. Meshing different industry perspectives into a harmonized note is not an easy endeavor, but when it works it does sound awfully good.

Following the plenary, I participated in the land symposium which was co-organized with the United Nations for Economic Commission for Europe, specifically their Housing and Land Management Unit.

Discussed was the ‘Fit for Purpose Land Administration’ paper produced by the FIG and the World Bank. There’s much merit to be weaned from this paper, specifically that we need to be more creative and also pragmatic in how we secure rights for those that until now have not had their rights secured, be it either in a statutory system or along a tenure continuum.

However, during the Land Symposium, on a couple of occasions, speakers declared that standard technology is not right for countries. Rather, they concluded, we need to consider ‘Fit for Purpose’ approaches.

I’m confused by such declarations. Why is it that standard technology, so to speak technology tools, cannot be configured for purpose?

Even more confusing is how the same organizations calling for ‘Fit for Purpose’ have written or else endorsed ISO standards for open data interoperability – standard data models such as the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) or Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM). Isn’t this effort meant to encourage a standardization of methods and procedures, invariably through the use of information systems?

As I understand it, the main message behind the ‘Fit for Purpose’ movement is a call for a more pragmatic approach on how to select technology and methods to record, document, and map rights so as to maximize the impact for those that are all too often disenfranchised, or else excluded, from the having their rights recorded. So if we’re looking to be more cost effective, more accurate, and more efficient, how has standardization become a— so to speak, bad thing. After all, doesn’t standardization imply scale, such as shared learning, shared experiences, and shared resources? With scale you diffuse the initial costs to build out technology with each additional implementation.

I think the real question we should be asking is whether we are actually customizing too much in technology deployments. Information systems and equipment have been selected as if it were a ‘wish-list’ recommended by a design-consultant without a clear path for how it would be institutionalized or supported in the future. We see this time-in and time-out in projects released for tender.

I’m not sure when and how this notion of ‘One Size Fits All’ really, if ever, was a valid notion considered within the industry. Nearly every land administration, cadastre, valuation, and property tax project requires some degree of configuration to meet the workflow specific requirements for governments or else communities—accounting for the various rights, responsibilities or else restrictions to land.

I will say, though, there are plenty of examples of standard segmented sizes or characteristics, be they defined as enterprise, workgroup, desktop, or field – or whatever the characteristics may be, that are applicable for groups of governments or else communities with either a very similar or else a comparable set of needs and requirements. You can segment according to tenure type with corresponding accuracy requirements, as an example.

At Thomson Reuters we are striving to deliver more sustainable, secure, and scalable technology solutions. Having products tried, tested, and proven by a group of peers, we see an opportunity to derive an incremental benefit, including diffused costs, for additional governments and communities based on that shared experience. This is how we believe that scale, through standardization, better fits with purpose.