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The Value of Geospatial Data

Boston Consulting Group, working on behalf of the Cabinet Office, has valued geospatial data at £11 billion. This value can only be realised however when it is combined with other data to produce new insight, products or services.

Future Cities Catapult’s work with data providers, local authorities and the producers of geospatially driven products and services (GrowthPlanner, Tombolo, our current work lowering barriers to entry for SME builders in Gateshead) suggests that there needs to be a sharper focus both on access to geospatial data and awareness of its usages – specifically:

  • better communication of availability and known use cases for existing open geospatial data;
  • more efforts to bring geospatial professionals into problem-solving and decision-making spaces;
  • support to enable new suppliers to access and disrupt the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software market.

One practical way to increase the exposure of existing geospatial data to innovators and entrepreneurs would be to tackle the lack of standardisation, detailed metadata and data collection mechanisms, as well as the lack of semantic categorisation in geospatial data sets. A good first step would be for the Government’s Geospatial Commission to specify a consistent framework to which data collection organisations should adhere when generating and managing geospatial data.

Our research also suggests there needs to be more investment to chart the ‘unknown unknowns’, including:

  • Switching from the current focus on the productivity of individual sectors to a mission-led approach around specific (cross-sector) challenges;
  • Speculative research into as yet unimagined applications and uses of geospatial data.
    Tech firms in different fields are chipping away at the comparative advantage of the UK’s expertise in geospatial data.

For example:

  • Google can map cities in more detail than some organisations;
  • Some self driving car innovators are using ground-penetrating radar to navigate, which might soon generate better utility location data than organisations like Thames Water.

The impact of the Geospatial Commission is constrained by being limited in remit to the narrow range of geospatial data held by the partner bodies under its supervision.

To be a true force for transformation, the Commission should look to expand to include the wealth of Earth Observation (EO) data held by the UK’s universities and Met Office.

Similarly, as location-based services become increasingly specific, so does the need for detailed location data on scales relevant to specific challenges or services, such as individual accessibility and delivery optimisation.

We welcome the establishment of the Geospatial Commission and encourage it to be bold in its thinking if it is to enable the UK to maintain its advantage in the field. This may be by becoming more radically open, it may be something else, but incrementalism isn’t going to work in the short or long term.

This blog is based on comments made by Future Cities Catapult CEO Nicola Yates OBE at a Geospatial Tech Breakfast hosted by Jimmy McLoughlin, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister and Rt. Hon. Jeremy Wright MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at 10 Downing Street on Thursday 25 October 2018.