GeoBusiness 2014 – review

GeoBusinessA couple of weeks back I attended the first GeoBusiness conference in London.  It was an interesting event and I have been meaning to write up my thoughts on it but keep getting snowed under with last minute jobs.  I have finally managed to clear some time and can report back to you all what happened at the event.

I decided to go to the conference to see what the public and commercial sectors were working on and what they thought should be the current focus for the GI sector.  Neil Ackroyd, the Acting Director General and Chief Executive of the Ordnance Survey opened proceedings by summarising the view of the sector from the main data provider’s perspective.  Condensing his talk to a few key points I would say the OS were focusing on networks (in terms of geographical networks such as rivers, railways and paths) and collaboration.  They are increasingly working directly with organisations to deliver bespoke data that can be used to support large building infrastructure projects, or for events such as the Olympics.  The OS are currently working on hosting data in the cloud, essentially having unstructured data that is accessible to users.  Storing the data as “unstructured” means that you can apply structure as it is accessed and tailor this to the clients needs.  The advantage is that you have one definitive source rather than multiple versions that are subtly different but which al require maintaining.  Neil closed with two take-away thoughts:

  1. Know your market
  2. Simplify things for them

After a short coffee break I attended the Making data Deliverable Strand.  The first talk of the session was given by Paul Hart (Black & Veatch) who discussed the use of GIS visualisations to convey complex information to the public. The examples centred around flood alleviation schemes where different scenarios and their resulting benefits, could be presented in an interactive way.  The use of 3D views that used true colour aerial image back drops allowed non-geo experts to engage with the data.  The output summarised several hundred model scenario runs in an easy to digest way. I did have a couple of issues with the visalisation, the first being the use of red and green which, while intuitive in terms of good/bad,  would not be particularly colour blind friendly.  The visualisation didn’t really convey uncertainty.  Including uncertainty would possibly complicate the visualisation, but the public may incorrectly assume that the flood outlines were accurate rather than the best estimate from modelling.  I questioned Paul about this and he explained that the maps were presented to a closed audience with experts on-hand to explain them.  He agreed that displaying uncertainty on such maps could over-complicate them.

This was followed by another talk focused on visualising data. Lingli Zhu from the National Land Survey of Finland demonstrated the work they had been doing to visualise landscapes using the Unity game engine.   Unity has been used in popular games such as Gut and Glory, but can be easily adapted to produce realistic simulations and can help users visualise environment change.  However, Unity does not allow user to specify a real-world geographic reference frame which means any geographic data has to be shoe-horned into the virtual world.

The second part of the session focused on BIMs.  BIMs (Building Information Modeling) have been the subject of several events over the past couple of years and they seem to make sense, but they seem to span

First up was David Philip, Head of BIM Implementation at the Cabinet Office.  David gave a great overview of BIM implementation with a presentation that was peppered with light humour.  David detailed the “3 tribes” living in the BIM World: CAD users ?GIS users and BIM users.  BIMs should be an open, shareable asset that unites CAD and GIS users. David pointed out the importance of BIMs throughout the life of a building as the cost of building (capex) is much smaller than the cost of running or operating (opex) a building.  Therefore, the BIM is a critical tool in maximising the efficiency of a building throughout its lifecycle and should aim to be an “open shareable asset information system”.

BIM

BIM Task Group

David closed by pointing out that we often suffer from “Infobesity” and we should better understand which data we need to retain and which we can get rid of.  Keeping everything is just not a sustainable approach.

The second two presentations in this session provided insight into actually implementing BIMs in the commercial sector.  Peter Folwell (Plowman Craven), Matthew McCarter (London Underground) and Casey Rutland (Arup) gave honest opinions of the highs and lows of working with BIMs.  The consensus from these presentations was to implement a BIM early rather than as an after-thought that ticks a box. Setting up a BIM early will allow the project to reap the benefits in terms of organisation, data flow and cost savings.  Also, 3D scanning seemed to be seemed to be at the heart of the BIM but this should not be seen as a one-off task, regular scanning can help partners visualise the evolution of a project and help identify potential issues.  However, multiple scans need not man multiple BIMs, just add them to the existing BIM.  One aspect that surprised me was the strength of the BIM community on social media.  There seems to be an active community lurking in Twitter that are happy to share best practise and offer general advice.  Just search for hashtags such as : #ukbimcrew / #laserscanning / #pointclouds.  If you want to find out more about BIMs then look at the BIM Task Group website

After lunch I attended the Global Trends session which had a wide range of talks from legal issues surrounding geospatial data, to downstream service opportunities from remote sensing data.  Ingo Baumann discussed the legal constraints surrounding geospatial data, focusing particularly on open data licences and issues around personal data.  One of the key problems is a lack of consistency between countries.  Google has discovered this publically while rolling out StreetView across Europe.  There is no specific geospatial law, but it is coming.  Until then, I will be keeping an eye on useful blogs such as Spatial Law and Policy.

Carla Filotico (SPRL) highlighted the value of remote sensing data and the downstream service opportunities.  The Argi business could benefit hugely from data from new satellites such as Copernicus and it is estimated that this is worth €2.8 billion market in the EU.  For more information on the Copernicus mission and its recent launches of Sentinel satellites, please refer to the ESA website.

The final session I attended was on Survey operations and system integration.  The first talk by Dipaneeta Das was well delivered but I felt it was pitched at the wrong level. Much of the time was spent explaining web mapping but I suspect nearly all of the attendees already knew about the advantages web mapping offers for disseminating information to the public.  The other two talks were really interesting and focused on data acquisition.  John McCreedy (IIC Technology) walked the group through the pros and cons of various survey techniques including Laser Scanning, Lidar and structured light (think Xbox Kinect). One interesting snippet that came out was that often aerial photography captured more detail than other “newer” techniques.  This sentiment was echoed by James Eddy (Bluesky) who continue to collect hi-res aerial photography of the UK and beyond.  You can even collect aerial images at night.  Why you might ask?  Well to capture information about light pollution and to monitor “dark spots” in cities. This information can then feed into spatial analysis on crime and anti-social behaviour helping the police and councils target resources.

BlueskyNight

Bluesky’s Night Aerial Images – courtesy of Bluesky

The takeaway message from this session was that clients are increasingly specifying technology when commissioning surveys. This may not be wise and it is often better to specify what they expect as a final product and leave decisions on which technology to the experts who will ensure that the most appropriate technology is selected.  I suppose that is, and always has been, the role of the expert in any field.

Summary

GeoBusiness 2014 seemed to be a success.  The talks were interesting, the audiences engaged and you could see that there was a whole heap of networking going on.  I will write a more detailed post on how I see this event in terms of the academic sector, but it just remains for me to thank the conference team for putting together a great event.  I am looking forward to GeoBusiness 2015.

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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