AGIScotland 2013 – New directions in Geo

The 2013 AGI Scotland event marked a slight change in direction for the AGI, this being the first “showcase” event that they have run. 6 showcase events and the annual GeoCommunity event are scheduled across the year.

It was fitting that the first plenary speaker was from the Scottish Government. Mike Neilson is the Director of Digital and represents the top end of the digital restructuring that has occurred in the Scottish Government. Mike reinforced the importance of digital in governing a country and that there was a push to make more public services available on line. This would encourage the public to get online, but Mike was acutely aware that there was a danger that moving services online would exclude those who could not get online, perhaps due to financial constrains. Improving digital connectivity was important as Scotland, especially Glasgow, currently lags behind the UK average which impacts on the social and economic development of the Country.

At a recent meeting of the Spatial Information Board, 6 priorities were agreed and these will form the focus of activities in the immediate future. These are:

  1. effective use of spatial data thru inspire
  2. data sharing and collaborative procurement
  3. build GIS capabilities capacity
  4. embed spatial data within broader data agenda
  5. promote awareness of benefits of wider use of spatial
  6. mechanism for hosting spatial data

The restructuring of digital data teams in the government seems to make sense and looks to provide sensible, hierarchical structure. However, the Scottish Government are looking for feedback and input from the GI community on what they see as being important and where they think digital data is going.  To provide feedback you can contact shonna or follow them on Twitter @digitalscots

The second plenary speaker was Anne Kemp, Atkins. Anne pointed to the changing role of the GI professional and urged us to step out of our insular groups and comfort zones and to interact with other groups who use spatial data. Anne strongly believes that Building Information Models (BIMs) are the future for many aspects of GIS. BIMs focus on the lifecycle of anything in the built environment, from planning to operational management. Calculations suggest that effective use of BIMs can save 20% in the cost of construction and operation of new infrastructure.  The use of BIMs has been mandated by the government for England and organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Highways Agency, are currently aligning themselves to meet the 2016 target. Interestingly the Scottish Government does not have a similar mandate and seems to have no plan to do so. This raises interesting questions. Many large engineering companies and consultancies are GB wide organisations and tend to operate to organisation wide best practices, of which BIM is almost certainly going to be. Will much of BIMs seems to just represent industry best practice, mandate from central government which then filters down through local government would ensure best practice and potentially interoperability across infrastructure. Certainly the feeling from the floor was that if BIM was being adopted wholesale south of the border and that BIM management was seen as an exportable skill-set, it might be sensible to mandate it in Scotland as well. (cough trams, cough cough Scottish parliament, cough).

Next up was a double act from SEPA’s Dave Watson and Duncan Taylor who introduced Scotland’s Environment Web (http://www.environment.scotland.gov.uk/).  Scotland’s Environment Web (SEWeb) brings together information on Scotland’s environment. It merges environmental data, information and reports, from known and trusted sources, so they can all be viewed in one place. SEWeb links to 30 WMS which are organized in themed groups. Dave and Duncan outlined the pro’s and con’s of this approach.

Good:

  • Each organization is responsible for their own data
  • Reduces development time and maintenance
  • Maintains 1 version of the truth
  • No singl point of failure

Bad:

  • Many points of failure which it is hard to track and sometimes confusing for the user to know who to contact if there are problems

Ugly:

  • No standard look and feel to symbology and styles
  • Issues with data scales.

The current work represents Phase One. Phase Two will allow users to download data and there is a business case to support forestry assessments.  There is a longterm aim to add WFS capabilities to SEWeb.

One of the sites that feeds data into SEWeb is Scotland’s Soils, run by the James Hutton Institute.  The soil map is based on the 1984 1:250,000 mapping and has 580 different mapping units although the web map uses a simplified unit scheme. You can also access the data through an iPhone app which gives you access to the soil structure at over 600 points across Scotland.

It is great to see this data being made available, but I can see the “ugly” issues mentioned by Dave and Duncan.  Just move from Scotland’s Environment to Scotland’s Soils and the maps are very different. From a usability side of things the map controls are completely different.  We, as GIS professionals, have no problem knowing how to use either. They are intuitive to us, but we are experts. The average member of the public may well struggle. Imagine if they finally learn to use 1 map interface then find that the map on the other site is completely different. Not ideal. The solution would be to develop a consistent interface and share the code. However, this would mean that all partners would have to agree to use the same libraries to build their web maps.

Other highlights from the event included Astun Technologies Mike Saunt who talked about “Doing something with this Open Stuff”.  Mike showed how local government was making data available, and importantly, accessible. Councils could then share data feeds automatically therefore saving time and money. However, Mike highlighted some of the problems that arose when making data open with examples where url’s did not resolve because of typo’s. More worryingly was an organization that was promoting it’s WMS but was also serving a WFS. The organization was not promoting or linking to the WFS and Mike suggested that they may not be aware that they were serving the WFS.  The solution is to ensure you understand what you are making available and why. If you don’t have the skills in house then get someone in to ensure everything is set up correctly.  This is kind of what Astun do and using services like theirs is a cost effective way of working.

Another talk that really shone was Crispin Hoult from Link Node. Crispin introduced the concept of GIality which is the use of geospatial data in augmented reality. This makes a lot of sense. You have a location aware device with a host of sensors in it and can use this to visualize changes to a landscape while you are actually in that environment. This semi-immersive technology would certainly help the visualization of developments like windfarms or new housing estates and takes us beyond the “comfortable” use of overlays on paper maps.

The day finished up with Anne Kemp talking about the future of AGI Scotland and the strengthening community of GIS professionals in Scotland.  There was mention of the Chartered Geographer in GIS qualification but it was pointed out that to become chartered you had to join the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) which did not have a remit in Scotland. Anne noted this and said she would look into it.  She also mentioned other recognised professional qualifications such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who offer a GIS orientated qualification. Will be interesting to see how the CGeog GIS issue progresses this year.  It does seem the best suited but is not perfect if you are living and working in Scotland.

About Addy Pope

Addy is a member of the GeoData team at EDINA and work on services such as GoGeo, ShareGeo and the FieldtripGB app. Addy has over 10 years experience as a geospatial analyst. Addy tweets as @go_geo
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