Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Presentation at UN-GGIM High Level Forum (October 24, 2014)

Good morning

First, I would like to thank our hosts for their gratious hospitality and to the UN-GGIM for including the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy is this important event.

Second, I want to apologize because my talk is not going to be any way near as entertaining as last night’s performers. 

This morning I am going to some of my thoughts on the key considerations for the geospatial community with regards to dealing with the Big Data Revolution. I am going to specifically discuss four of these considerations and then briefly explain why I think they will be important.

First, the geospatial community is going to consider the needs of numerous other communities that have developed around Big Data. These include Smart Cities, Smart Grids, Intelligent Transportation Systems, the Internet of Things, etc.  There are many others. Each are forming their own coalitions, holding their own conferences, creating their own language. Many are supported by large corporations and at the highest levels of government. And all are dependent upon geoinformation, although many do not know it.

Second, the geospatial community will continue to be required to incorporate new technologies and new actors. Some of these will be quite disruptive. Others are still being developed around the world – from the research facilities in Beijing to garages in Silicon Valley. The geospatial community will need to be both adaptive and proactive with respect to these technologies and actors – as they too will speak different languages and have different perspectives.

Third, the geospatial community will have to share geoinformation with new and different stakeholders, This is a direct result of the first two considerations. As we know, there are challenges today in sharing geoinformation with stakeholders that are in the geospatial community or have worked closely with geoinformation for years. However, I believe these challenges will become even greater when organizations are asked to share geoinformation with new stakeholders in different communities. There will be greater uncertainty as to how the geoinformation is going to be used, and what are the potential risks and rewards. The new stakeholders are not going to fully understand geoinformation and are going to be frustrating to deal with. However, for geoinformation to reach its full potential, these challenges must be addressed an overcome.  

Finally, the geospatial community will become increasingly subject to legal/policy/regulatory frameworks. As geospatial information and Big Data merge, lawyers, policymakers and regulators are going to be taking a harder look at the geospatial community. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as a by-product will be increased awareness of the value of geoinformation. However, it is will require the geospatial community to be more aware of what is taking place in the legal and policy communities.

So why is this important? Because I think the geospatial community has the chance to take a leadership role in the Big Data revolution. Several years ago there was a popular song in the U.S. in which one of the lines was that the singer sang country music before country music was cool (or popular). I would argue that the geospatial community was Big Data before Big Data was cool. However, I don’ t think it can wait for others to ask for assistance. I believe the geospatial community needs to be proactive in taking a leadership role with regards to the challenges and opportunities of Big Data.  That is why the Centre has supported the efforts of the UN-GGIM to both convene geospatial stakeholders and to reach out to other communities, such as the statistical community.

My fear is that if the geospatial community does not take this leadership role, that some of the other communities will. And their concerns and priorities will not necessarily be consistent with the geospatial communities. As a result geoinformation may not reach its full potential. That is not to say that there won’t be some successes at the local and regional level due to the leadership and efforts of key individuals. However, broader of integration of geoinformation with other types of Big Data will be more difficult and take longer than many in this community would like.

Thank you. 

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