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“The wireless market can transform the way people do business”

Apr 2006 | Comments Off on “The wireless market can transform the way people do business”

says Dr Vanessa Lawrence, Director General and Chief Executive while discussing the latest trends and activities at Ordnance Survey


What’s the latest in Ordnance Survey?

We are taking several important steps towards an enhanced data capture, management and supply process focused on the needs of our customers and partners. Pressing ahead with plans for an integrated IT architecture and data model will enable seamless data collection, storage and management to address the growing demand for location information. The new system will manage a greater volume of data while enabling more efficient collection, boosting the potential for new products while ensuring currency and consistency between all existing datasets. We are completing a comprehensive six-year programme of positional accuracy improvement (PAI) affecting around 155,000 square kilometres of Great Britain. The programme was prompted by advances in surveying technology that made it difficult to align higher-accuracy work to rural mapping previously surveyed at 1:2 500 scale. PAI, which has involved extensive customer contact, is a vital underlying element in ensuring our product portfolio remains interoperable.

The last year has seen a large increase in the numbers of customers and partners moving from dependency on older large-scale products to OS MasterMap, our latest generation of data surveyed at 1:1250. In so doing, customer and partners gain the scope to use structured, intelligent and well maintained geographic data as a fully integrated business database.

Enhancements soon to be incorporated into our most highly detailed address data – OS MasterMap Address Layer – will add 1.3 million buildings to the spatial dataset. Address Layer 2 will include a geographic alternative such as the locality or district name and alias details, such as the name of the property as well as its number and street. Previously “non-addressable” properties – those without letterboxes such as utilities plant, community halls, churches and public conveniences – will prove vital references for emergency response, civil contingency planning, risk assessment, asset insurance, planning, customer services and asset maintenance. Each building will be classified as “residential” or “commercial”, and a cross-reference table will link our data with that of other key address providers.

“Freedom of Information” what do you mean by this?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 came into law in Great Britain in January 2005. It gives the right to any person making a request of a public authority (including Ordnance Survey) to be told whether it has the information they are interested in and to have that information given to them. The aim is to ensure there is openness and public accountability in government activity, balanced with the need to protect legitimate confidential information. Since the Act came into operation, Ordnance Survey has responded to almost 200 requests from individuals and organisations. Government analysis has consistently found our response rate to meet or approach 100% within the standard statutory deadline of 20 days.

However, I want to make it clear that prior to the FOIA, we already had an established customer contact centre handling in excess of 2,500 enquiries per month, demonstrating our commitment to operating within the spirit of the legislation even before it came into force.

Tell us about the National GPS Network

The National GPS Network is an infrastructure of active and passive Global Positioning System (GPS) reference stations enabling surveyors to determine precise coordinates in GPS and British National Grid spatial reference systems. Over recent years, considerable progress has been made in enabling the use of GPS technology within the National Grid by defining published coordinate transformations, most recently OSTN02.

In December 2005 we launched OS Net, a publicly available GPS correction network, enabling up to centimetre-accuracy data collection and a range of positioning services both in real time and for postprocess

applications. This 90- strong base station network is the country’s most comprehensive highaccuracy positioning framework and has already delivered significant efficiency improvements for our 285 field surveyors.

The network has been trialled by major utility companies, and partners can add their technical and commercial expertise to develop positioning applications tailored to their customers’ requirements. This means utilities, construction companies and other users of high-level positioning

services no longer have to set out their own base station network to use

centimetre- or decimetre-level GPS. Potential benefits include cost savings in hardware, set-up and maintenance for industries including construction, land survey and agriculture.

It is said that with the services offered by the website, you can achieve high absolute positioning accuracy throughout Great Britain. Please elaborate.

The GPS website (www.gps.gov. uk) provides a coordinate converter to transform horizontal and vertical coordinates to ETRS89 (GPS) coordinates and vice-versa. The precise transformations can be downloaded free of charge and incorporated into third-party software packages. The website also gives access to a database of passive stations with precisely measured GPS coordinates and there is a facility to download data from active GPS stations for post-processing user data to improve the level of precision.

The GPS correction network has boosted the amount of free raw data available on the website by 90% for GPS users including civil engineers and surveyors, asset managers, engineers and academics.

Data from individual OS Net stations is fed to the website directly from one central server held at our head office rather than from each one individually. This has speeded and streamlined the delivery of realtime data to customers, safeguarding accuracy through direct data flow.

How active is private sector in the activities of Ordnance Survey?

As Great Britain’s national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey operates as a public sector trading fund which means we are financed through data licensing rather than direct funding from the tax-payer. The aim is to provide a sharper focus on achieving value for money and providing key services and supplies more effectively. Last year we returned a trading revenue of £100.4 million. We receive more than half of our trading revenue from the private sector and work alongside partners and customers to develop and deliver our products and services.

Our geographic information underpins an array of tasks such as performance analysis, asset management, consumer profiling, routing and supply chain management. The accessibility and flexibility of our digital data presents new and exciting possibilities for customers and partners and can help inform policy and planning, deliver improved services, join up dispar datasets and boost process efficiencies.

Awareness and use of location information is growing rapidly across the private sector, with GI underpinning a growing number of services and processes across many markets. We collaborate with a wide range of partners and developers who evolve products and services based on our GI. System suppliers develop data-enabling tools, software and services to enable the management and integration of our data.

Given the terrorist attack last year in London, do you think that there is a need to restrict spatial data access to genuine users only?

You have to understand that Ordnance Survey information underpins £100 billion of economic activity in Great Britain every year. That is about 8% of GDP. It is used in a vast range of applications from educational provision to emergency services. To restrict this information would have a great impact on our economy. The issue is to make sure that all our data is licensed to end users. We will continue to highlight the benefits of GI as location data moves further into the mainstream. As this information is being handled by an increasing number of people with less specialist GIS knowledge, systems will become easier to use. Like any other data business, we are well aware of the balance to be struck between providing data for the legitimate user of information and protecting society from perceived threats. Our view is that the potential for misuse is overwhelmingly outweighed by the tremendous benefits that our data brings to society.

Our Mapping for Emergencies scheme supplies paper map products and GI to national organisations and emergency services to support their response to major civil crises. In the immediate aftermath of the London bombings, we worked alongside other government agencies to produce a range of wall maps, flyers and handouts incorporating London Transport data. In the weeks that followed, we supplied a number of organisations with full national coverage of requested data products to inform their contingency planning.

Galileo will be able to break the existing US monopoly. Comment.

Ordnance Survey strongly supports the evolving Galileo satellite navigation system. Galileo is still some years away but it has the potential to deliver major advances to the location industry and beyond. The ideal scenario will be if the European and US systems can be made as interoperable as possible. Combining the two will benefit mobile internet services, positioning and navigation systems, road charging schemes and many other applications, physically providing greater signal availability, redundancy, acquisition speed and accuracy over and above GPS on its own.

While assurances have been made regarding GPS availability, there are no guarantees. Galileo has been developed by the European Union to specifically benefit the European citizen. It will have guaranteed levels of service and the legally binding operational assurances that are needed for public safety as well as commercial services. Galileo will therefore provide a stable satellite navigation system, delivering the consumer confidence necessary to stimulate investment in the development of end user applications. Increased redundancy and integrity will create the potential to derive a wider breadth of services.

Galileo will facilitate efficiencies in our field data capture process, while all professional users of satellite navigation will enjoy greater signal availability, acquisition speed and accuracy to enable or support initiatives including improving personal safety, reducing traffic congestion and the location and relocation of utility assets.

How do you see the emerging market of LBS?

The wireless market can transform the way people do business, with mobile and fixed broadband connections enabling customers tozz transfer and receive a mass of information. GI can greatly boost this market, adding valuable context to information disseminated via high-bandwidth wireless connections helping companies to make services relevant and personal to a customer’s physical location.

Beyond information delivery, geographic data can greatly assist in the planning and implementation of wireless infrastructure, aiding the rollout of masts by assessing their physical locations. Projects can be managed remotely, saving time and costs by identifying potential issues at the planning stage.

The LBS market is estimated to reach 200 million EUR by 2007 and wireless carriers around the world are locationenabling their networks to facilitate worldwide demand for LBS services such as social networking, gaming, personal navigation and directions.

GIS provides the tools to deliver and administer base map data such as manmade structures (streets, buildings) and terrain (mountains, rivers). It is also used to manage points-of-interest data such as the location of petrol stations, restaurants and nightclubs.

The rollout of 3G mobile phone systems has been somewhat slower than anticipated due to the cost and complexity of the new access network the technology requires. This has reciprocally affected the growth of location-based technologies. However, Galileo will offer a good platform for them, especially if more handheld devices are fitted with GPS.

What are your future plans in Ordnance Survey?

A central part of our future vision is a new corporate headquarters suitable for a forward-looking information and technology organisation. In December 2005 we announced plans to move from our current building in Southampton to a development site on the edge of the city. This is a sound investment which means we can continue to offer efficient, attractive working conditions in the area for staff. Such is the scale and complexity of the project that we are not likely to move until 2008.

Our products and services will continue to be driven and shaped by customer demand and it is a priority to continue to respond to their evolving needs. As a government trading fund, our activities are financed through data licensing rather than direct funding from the taxpayer. This gives us the scope to deliver products and services that reflect market demand while completing essential activities vital to the national interest but which cannot be justified on purely commercial grounds.

The Digital National Framework (DNF) is becoming the de facto enabling standard facilitating the sharing and integration of GI from multiple sources. The collection and use of mapping data to DNF standards will facilitate the linking up of disparate datasets belonging to a range of organisations. Promoting the potential of cooperation across the GI community will facilitate, I believe, greater use of geographic data for decision-making within both the public and private sectors.

Medium-term research into future applications to evolve data capture techniques, boost data interoperability and add spatial intelligence to navigation, gaming, asset management and tourist information products has a considerable focus at Ordnance Survey.

A number of pioneering ideas are under development within our Research and Innovation department and with external commercial and academic partners.

1Vanessa Lawrence is Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national mapping agency.

A world renowned geographer, she is responsible for creating and maintaining the master map of the entire country, from which Ordnance Survey produces its intelligent geographic information, digital map data and paper maps. As the head of Ordnance Survey, Vanessa is adviser to the UK Government on mapping, surveying and geographic information. On her appointment to head Ordnance Survey in 2000, she was described by the Government Minister responsible for the mapping agency as “a world-class professional known in both the private and public sectors for her vision, dynamism and wealth of knowledge.”

Since then, she has helped reshape and restructure Ordnance Survey to make it much more customer focused and led a comprehensive strategy to transform it into an e-business technologically, commercially and culturally. The strategy has won distinguished praise from Ministers, and as a result Vanessa has been personally appointed one of the government’s official e-champions. In addition, she was made a non-executive director of the Board of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). Another key highlight of the past five years has been

the complete restructuring of the topographic database that underpins mapping in Great Britain; this involved a large IT project delivered on time and to budget. The launch of OS MasterMap, the new definitive map database backed by an online service, means information from both the public and private sector can be successfully ‘joined-up’ offering potential benefits to the whole nation.

Following a degree in Geography at the University of Sheffield, Vanessa gained an MSc in remote sensing, image processing and the application of geographic information systems at the University of Dundee. In 1996 she joined Autodesk; firstly as Regional Business Development Manager and then Global Manager – Strategic Marketing and Communications for the GIS Solutions Division. She has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate at Oxford Brookes University and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Dundee. In addition, she has been awarded Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Science from the University of Sheffield, Kingston University, the University of Glasgow and The Nottingham Trent University. She is a Visiting Professor at Kingston University and the University of Southampton. She was appointed a member of the Council of the University of Southampton in 2002. She is

a companion of the Chartered Management Institute, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society.

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