Archive for May, 2009

Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) have been around since the mid 1980’s when the Australian Land Information Council was first created.  While somewhat of a generalization – SDI promotion and use has largely been confined to those with a high degree of knowledge of spatial data and technology.

Recent coverage of government transparency and data access in the United States got me thinking about the role spatial information tools and infrastructure play in enabling a broader community of people and organizations to access and understand the value of spatial information.

The concept behind an SDI is that it provides a mechanism for greater accessibility to spatial information with resulting economic (to both the data providers and users) and social benefits to countries or regions implementing SDIs.  Today SDIs have been or are being implemented in well over 100 countries.

sdi-architecture

(modified from Rajabifard et al, 2002)

In their early formulation the focus of SDIs was largely on database creation but in recent years the focus has been more towards user community needs with emphasis on processes for data access, use and dissemination.  This shift can be seen clearly in the refocused mandate of the Canadian GeoConnections program which now concentrates much of its effort (and funding) on encouraging user communities to take advantage of the Canadian SDI (Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure).

Despite the shift in focus, considerable work remains to be done in order to facilitate greater access to data.  Surveys have shown that SDI usage is still predominantly in the world of research and government where knowledge of spatial concepts is on average higher and technology infrastructure greater than in the general public as a whole.

However, the emergence of tools such as Google Earth and other “geo-browser” tools and the associated interest in spatial information among a broader range of users has not gone unnoticed by SDI policy experts and researchers. Today there is considerable discussion about the evolution of SDIs and what can be learned from the Web 2.0 world of spatial information.  The challenge will be to draw the best from both worlds to create an environment where the value of spatial information can be realized more simply and by a broader group of people.

I see at least two threads emerging in this discussion: one around the challenges of evolving SDIs to bring all the value of past investments to a point where a broader group can access it in a user friendly manner and the second around helping users to fully benefit from all spatial information has to offer.

What form will user implementations take, how will they be sustained, and what benefits will users realize?  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Time and again technology companies are reminded that for success their business needs to be defined around business objectives not just technology. This is no less true in the world of spatial information were companies frequently fall in the trap of promoting sophisticated technology rather than identifying true market needs for which they can create products and services from their technological strengths.

I came across a recent announcement about a new service called Go iLawn. In my mind this is a perfect example of a service developed to address a very specific market segment with a percieved need.  Go iLawn is targeted at the landscape services market. The company that developed the service has its roots in the spatial information world and is utilizing high resolution imagery, cadastral data and a user friendly web interface to provide a service to landscape companies that allows them to view the yards of individual customers. With the tools provided by Go iLawn they can calculate lawn area, yard dimensions, locations of trees, shrubs, etc. all neccessary for the landscape company to produce a cost estimate for its customers. Go iLawn provides a service that allows them to respond to customers quicker, reduce costs in preparing quotes and providing services – ultimately leading to a more profitable business.

If you check out the Go iLawn website Go iLawn, you won’t find a lot of information about spatial information technologies – even the GIS company behind the service is only referenced in the copyright and the “Contact Us” section. The Go iLawn website is completely focused on the customers needs and the benefits Go iLawn provides – exactly where the emphasis should be placed.