Geospatial technology has been around since the mid-1980s. Originally because of the graphical user interface requirements the technology was proprietary and the data was stored in specialised formats outside the mainstream databases and corporate systems.
Bodies such as AGI (Association for Geographic Information, a European wide movement) and OGC (the Open Geospatial Consortium, a worldwide supplier led standards forum) exist to reduce the friction caused by the proprietary nature of the data formats and to socialise the technology within mainstream applications.
This has had partial success - many people are more aware of geospatial issues than ever before, however, this is due to the impact of web-based mapping most prominently from Google, Bing and Yahoo. Geospatial data is still outside the mainstream and geospatial data still generally sits outside enterprise systems in specialised formats.
Location has become much more prominent in the public view and the media as a consequence of the launch of Google Earth and other Google and Microsoft geospatial sites, and the increasing availability of in-car navigation systems and location-based services on mobile phones.
There is also a rapid growth of location enabled mobile apps, with players including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and smaller players such as Foursquare, Gowalla etc. The number of mobile apps with location in them is enormous and growing, however, very few of them are from GIS vendors.
The existing Geospatial SG has members who are also involved with informal groups such as Geomob (geospatial mobile application developers). However, many apps are developed by organisations with no background in Geospatial issues or awareness of what the industry has achieved to date.
Location has two meanings in this context:
- producing GPS tracks of where people are (raising significant debates over privacy);
- identifying where people are in relation to each other or to ‘points of interest’ / place.
There has been a major growth of interest in developing ‘points of interest’ data and there is a W3C committee developing web-based standards for this.
Websites such as Geonames provide open source location data through a variety of web-based interfaces including supporting linked data.
To see this in perspective, geospatial technology has been mission critical for a number of industries, particularly the utilities (there was during the 1980s and 1990s a specific branch dedicated to this subject (known as asset management / facilities management, or AM/FM), and is a key business tool for forward-thinking organisations in other sectors such as retail and insurance.
This has given rise to the term spatial analytics where location information is a key part of decision-making and reducing risk.
Government interest in location information is also rising fast. Originally a part of the eGovernment and transformational agenda (under the Blair administrations), location information has a key role to play in the transparency agenda where government entities seek to reduce costs by sharing services.
There has also been a growth in open source location-based and geospatial data, the best known example of this being the Open Street Map project that has produced generally crowd-sourced street level mapping under a creative commons licence.
The democratic nature of this data was demonstrated during the Haiti crisis when the open format allowed volunteers around the world to update and improve the mapping of Haiti to show the devastating impact of the earthquake and assist the emergency services in producing up to date maps to support their efforts.
Location information is a key part of the UK’s location strategy, which is a response to the INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community Directive. This calls for the consolidation of geospatial information in support of other EU Directives (e.g. WISE). Common schemas exist with a push (led by the UK) to create unique references for location data based on linked data (or RDF triples).
Linked data is supported by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (as a practical approach to creating the semantic web) and is part of the government’s transparency agenda. Finally linked data principles have been worked on by the digital national framework (DNF) for the last 10 years and this Location Information SG will bring these things together. The SG has a lot of work to do to support the UK lead in these matters and also to provide a forum for:
- geospatial practitioners to work out how to step into the spatial analytics and Linked Data domains;
- other BCS members to support through mainstream IT understanding thereby keeping the UK in the lead.
The group will also encompass the work that has defined best practice on DNF. The vision of DNF is the ability to combine or use different information based upon a common location (and to do this reliably and easily) is critical in solving regular business tasks.
The DNF provides technical methods and guidance to support these operations and is aligned with national strategies and international standards. By adopting a set of principles and using best practice, such integration is independent of who is responsible for its maintenance and where the work is undertaken, thus achieving the goal of plug and play information
This strand of the specialist group will deliver a set of guides, including a set of guidelines for best practice. These guides will be maintained in association with a group of industry partners and a key aspect of this activity will be to work with these partners to ensure that these guidelines are kept up-to-ate and relevant.
The Cabinet Office has just announced a consultation for Making Open Data Real and location data is a key part of this. The new group will respond to this consultation via the BCS and through the various members.
We’d like to hear from you about the direction in which we are moving and also hear your thoughts on this and related consultations.