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Is access the only barrier to greater use of geospatial data?

Governments all over the world have made substantial efforts in opening access to geospatial data. Most recently, Ordnance Survey has announced that key parts of the OS MasterMap will be made openly available for the public and businesses to use. And it is estimated that this will boost the UK economy by at least £130m each year, as innovative companies and startups use the data.

Opening access to geospatial data will not only drive economic growth, it also facilitates more inclusive citizen engagement, and support new ideas in innovation and science. Many businesses and not-for-profit organizations are employing open data to create new or improved products and services.

Making geospatial data openly accessible definitely removes a significant barrier to its use. But is this the only barrier that exists?

Geospatial data that is available as open data can be divided into three groups:

Basemap data: This is data that is collected and collated by various agencies from which nationwide datasets can be created with multiple and distinct themes. Most of the time, the data is captured and managed according to individual agency’s fit-for-purpose standards with formats designed to support its own operations and programs. Therefore, basemap data varies widely in its currency, accuracy, and completeness which may make its application in a raw form, unsuitable for business applications.

Dynamic data: The world is constantly changing around us. The value of geospatial data depends on its accuracy in reflecting the real world in real time. Dynamic data is geospatial data that is maintained continually and comprehensively updated; and is of the greatest value to users.

Crowdsourced data: With the advent of various compact devices such as drones and smartphones, geospatial data can be produced by almost anyone. Open data platform such as OpenStreetMap, DigitalGlobe’s Tomnod, and various open source mapping APIs and mashups provide opportunities for non-geospatial users to contribute to solving real-world problems by using geospatial data. Crowdsourced data could be the least sophisticated and may contain anomalies and errors.

Open geospatial data comes at varying levels of accuracy and complexity. At the most simple end of the spectrum, data that is easy to access and use will have limited potential. While at the other end of the spectrum, data with a great deal of potential will require technical expertise and resources to realize its value.

The key is to inspire confidence with the open geospatial data. If the data is in a ‘business-ready’ information infrastructure, businesses will have the confidence to make investments and generate a positive economic activity. Only with such investment, geospatial data can be made valuable and meaningful.

It is imperative for data sharing authorities to align national initiatives alongside other public and private sector open data initiatives. Ways of open geospatial data are being collected, published and used should be supervised. Guidance, tools, and approaches should be continuously updated as per evolving market requirement to ensure open geospatial data is always in a ready-to-use state.

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