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Location – Connecting People, Systems and Data

By John Hartshorn

For those of us that work in the "tech sector", the various restrictions that have been imposed on us this year due to the pandemic have been largely overcome by the "tech" itself. We have pretty much everything we need to work remotely and have adapted to doing so via a fairly seamless transition with smarter data and apps underpinning our fast-evolving and increasingly smarter world.

The pandemic has exerted an evolutionary selection pressure that has brought forward and highlighted an existing need to build (back) better transportation infrastructure, and to build and operate it more sustainably. This headline theme was very much evident throughout the ‘Transport Day’ at 1Spatial’s annual (virtual) conference - ‘Smarter Data Smarter World’.

Location is the ‘primary key’

Designing, building, and then operating and maintaining infrastructure involves knowledge and people from across a wide range of disciplines and it generates a huge amount of content from initial design data, BIM and "digital twin" models, through survey data such as for ecological surveys, and on to "as-built" information. So, it's no surprise that  the popular theme throughout the day was the unique and critically important trait of location in data. It's location that provides the only truly viable reference framework for properly relating and integrating other data from diverse fields of knowledge, people, systems, and all the other inputs that come in from complex, multi-tiered supply chains. It's the location element that puts our understanding of the data within the context of place and time and helps us organise, communicate, and understand our infrastructure assets and the world more widely. Seb Lessware, our CTO, also talked about location in the context of “Location Master Data Management” and how our products and solutions allow users to cleanse, match, synchronise and analyse data from multiple systems to provide organisations with richer insights.

Collaboration as an enabler

Steve Unger from the Geospatial Commission described that the key to post-pandemic green and sustainable growth agendas lies in the innovation that comes from unlocking the power of the location aspect of data, to promote and safeguard its use, and to improve access to it. Luca Budello of KTN (the Knowledge Transfer Network) talked about this as being the mission of building a "new tomorrow" that requires "big science deployed to meet big problems" to help transition society to a model of resource use and economic growth that is better and more sustainable than today. He dived deeply into this by first setting the scene of how rapidly society, our activities, and our economies are being digitised and how unlocking the power of location is critically important to connecting all the dots of all this data so that actionable intelligence and insights can be gleaned from it. Luca reminded us that geospatial data is more than just maps and GIS. It's the link that connects information about objects, people, systems, and the environment. To be meaningful, the data must be contextualised and available when and where it's needed so that actionable intelligence and insight derived from it can be properly understood and trusted. He also pointed out how collaboration is the enabler that is helping us build this new, better tomorrow based on information sharing rather than having it stuck away in inaccessible silos. Paddy Corkery from LMJV extended this idea of better collaboration to the delivery of better data along a multi-tiered supply chain. He talked about how they've deployed a 1Data Gateway "app" to validate ecological survey data that comes in from multiple subcontractors in their supply chain and ensure that the data is complete and valid before LMJV takes ownership of it and subsequently delivers it to their client.

The tangible value your data assets

By way of how this plays out in practice, Davin Crowley-Sweet, Chief Data Officer for Highways England, talked about his organisation's approach to how data is treated and valued. They are on a journey of improving their data maturity in which they want to make more intelligent use of trusted, valued data to support better design, more effective collaboration, and more informed decision making - effectively moving the organisation from being "data-aware" to "date-driven". He explained that data is massively underinvested in traditionally and almost never seen as a tangible asset by financial directors who have traditionally treated data like any other resource - not helped by the fact it cannot be seen (although, clearly, spatial data can be seen when it's published in visual forms as final outputs!). And although not (yet) on Highways England's balance sheet, they have valued their data holdings as being worth £60bn to "UK plc" with the potential to generate substantial value into the future from them. But what about the geospatial data holdings specifically; the ones that reference location? It turns out that they form the highest value as a group of data sets, being valued at around £3.2bn.

These spatial data assets are considered to be the key in helping ensure that Highways England achieves its aims of ensuring a fully joined-up transport system and ensuring good experience for its users. Why? Because, once again, location is the common denominator between data sets given that assets are located somewhere, and transactions by people, objects, and events, all happen somewhere. So, location is, effectively, the primary key tying everything together in the context of place and time. In making data more widely available and generating insight, actionable intelligence, and more value from it, Davin also stressed that understanding what data is needed, when, and at what level of quality is absolutely critical in ensuring that the data is fit for each specific purpose for which it's being used.

Unlocking the power of location data

I have just touched on a few of the  excellent sessions from the days presentations, as they highlighted the importance of the location element of data, and how the collection, availability, dissemination, and use of reliable, trusted, fit-for-purpose spatial data is to building the more sustainable future that everyone is talking about and hoping for. Luca's "new tomorrow", perhaps brought forward into the public consciousness faster and more visibly as a consequence of the pandemic.

And whilst I suspect many of us are not particularly keen now on going back to losing 2 hours a day, every day, to long commutes, I'm sure we all want the journeys we do take, and our wider participation in society, to be entirely within a more sustainable world in which data drives that sustainability and trusted location data is recognised as the best reference framework for integrating and organising, and giving meaningful insight to all other data, people, systems, and events.

If you would like watch the presentations from the day, please follow this link to our on-demand webinars section. Alternatively, if you have a question for us, then please get in touch.