NSDI – then, now and whenever
What went wrong?
When the NSDI concept was so sound and visionary, technically correct, well-accepted and most required, then what went wrong?
The first and foremost thing that happened was that in 2003 NSDI “lost the vision and guidance” of its great visionaries and leadersof- class. Dr Rangan left ISRO to take on a more challenging role as Member of Parliament; later Dr Ramamurthy left DST after super-annuation and around that time Mr Pande also left DST. That, according to me in hind-sight, was the biggest loss to NSDI at a crucial time that NSDI could not become operational and positioned at that time. The other thing, from hind-sight, that I feel was that the policy frame-work for NSDI and Map Policy were also not revised at the right time to position NSDI as a mechanism.
The second thing, resulting from the fi rst issue, was the emergence of “ownership confl icts” for NSDI – which was never prevalent till that time (except in jovial-jabs between agencies). Suddenly, we found agencies having differences on who should “lead NSDI” – which, incidentally, was least of the issue at that time in the NSDI concept (what was more relevant was to make NSDI happen).
This, then led to the third issue – what I jovially call, “departmental turf-wars” – true characteristics in the government domain of “two-ducking”. And, as is usual in these scenarios, bureaucratic wrangles were the most prevalent at all levels. These also caused more delays and “confusion” and resulted in not making things happen for the country’s good can we learn from all this? Yes, the message is clear – the collective good of the nation is prime and most important – not of who “owns or leads”. This is the founding principle even for NSDI.
Even as I say all this, I must acknowledge that much has been achieved in the past 6 years. We had the NSDI Metadata and Exchange Standard documents; we also had a NSDI prototype developed in 2003; we have good satellite images (but not yet maps from these images); we have a Map Policy announced; we have regularly had 6 NSDI workshops and in and last year, in 2006, thanks to a very dynamic Minister of S&T and a pragmatic Secretary, DST – who have both seen the NSDI getting approved (through all thick-and-thin) and who both envision that NSDI will be the future of MAPS and GIS in India. Consequently, the NSDI Committee has been announced in 2006 and thus … hope is still there.
I still feel that in the next few years, with renewed thrust, NSDI has the potential to become the model it should have been.
I reproduce here what I have been saying about NSDI years. According to me there are still the same six Founding Principles of NSDI that need to be addressed for the success of NSDI even today. The fi rst, is the availability and easy accessibility to spatial data – unhindered but regulated, maybe, and requiring sound and adaptive policies for spatial data sharing. We need the foundation of good, reliable and basic GIS databases (Make data available and applications, demand, market will follow through). This leads to the second, good “GIS Process Standards” – a standardisation of the entire process of “spatial technology” – images, mapping, GIS database creation, Spatial outputs, Spatial data Quality Assessment and Spatial Services (If all GIS data available is as per common and agreed standards, applications, demand and market development will be easier). The third is technical inter-operability – integration using the Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) and based on Web standards (Spatial data and Application Services will be the order of the day for GIS in the future). The fourth requirement would be spatial modelling and applications which brings new perspectives and visualization of spatial information and new insights to societal and economic processes of society – natural resources management, land planning, engineering and infrastructure, disaster management, education, health services and business (GIS Services will broaden and touch almost all aspects of society and citizens). The fi fth important parameter is partnerships and enterprise for GIS – replete with the infrastructure, mission critical capabilities, and robust architectures associated with other enterprises. The “forced” boundary between Spatial Technology and conventional Information Technology will disappear – and horizontals of a new kind would emerge (the more inclusive GIS will be with other technologies/enterprises the more success for GIS). This leads to the last of the important issue – developing the GIS user communities by educating and orienting levels of society to become Spatial-savvy and benefi t from the spatial technologies (if every citizen learns and benefi ts from GIS, it is he who will ultimately drive GIS technology and its future growth).