NSDI – then, now and whenever
RECENTLY, in July, 2007, I attended yet another NSDI Workshop – I think the 6th one at that since 2001 when the NSDI was “crafted” in India. This time, in the serene and rainy environs of Goa. Amidst the lush green and beautiful orchard-like estate of the hotel held, was a gathering of a few dedicated and committed NSDIites that I have seen for the past many years – holding on and hoping that the day will come when the NSDI will be operational. The passion for nsdi which was evident clearly and obviously.
Through this presentation, I shared what I know of what happened in the past – so that lessons can be learnt. I decided to provide a plain assessment from my technical point of view. I decided that I will once again identify and prescribe what needs to be done even now.
It was great euphoria for almost 300- 400 Indians (and quite a few meshing international experts) SDI professionals when the ”NSDI: Strategy and Action Plan” was adopted in the impressive 1st NSDI workshop in Delhi in Feb, 2001. Fortunately, the great personality of Indian Space – Dr K Kasturirangan and yet another great person – Dr V S Ramamurthy jointly spear-headed this NSDI concept at that time. Mr Amitabha Pande, yet another driving force for NSDI, made all efforts to shape this NSDI concept.
What was NSDI then? As I know of then, it was the same as NSDI is even today. NSDI was of “working together of spatial data agencies”, of the will of “sharing spatial data”, of “using spatial data for national good”, of “integrating images and maps for GIS solutions”, of “an Indian SDI leadership”, of “best of technology for NSDI”, of “rigorous and common standards for spatial data”, of “good spatial data policies”, of “partnerships and GIS enterprises” and of “collective good of all agencies”. Those were the principles on which Dr Rangan, Dr Ramamurthy, Mr Pande and many others from SOI, ISRO, NIC, FSI, GSI, NBSSLUP, NATMO and many other private and academic institutions founded NSDI.
There was no upmanship, no competition, no ownership-confl icts, no departmental differences at that time. NSDI was to have brought about a seamlessness in the spatial fabric of India.
Things moved from 2001 onwards – speedily at the beginning and slowed down later. We soon moved on to Ooty for the 2nd NSDI Conference. Ooty Conference, in July, 2002, was a watershed of a sort for NSDI. Expectations were high and the “iron was hot” (as they say). Six key Secretaries of Government of India (GOI) and about 180 Indian NSDI stakeholders and a fantastic action plan brought a forward-looking Ooty communiqué – which brought the NSDI dream a bit closer to reality. Then started the trudge ahead – Agra in November, 2003 where the NSDI Metadata and Exchange Standards were unveiled; Lucknow in November, 2004 – where the NSDI thrust was renewed; Hyderabad in November, 2005 – where NSDI was called for re-juvenation again and Goa in July, 2007 – where NSDI was almost being seen “as gone down history”.
What should have happened?
In 2001 when NSDI was envisioned, it was planned that in 5-years a major achievement would be made to thrust Indian spatial technology. It was envisaged that NSDI would be approved in 2002; NSDI Metadata/Exchange/Agency- Server/Network/Applications standards published by 2002; NSDI and Map Policy re-defi ned in 2002/03; NSDI Portal established in 2003/04; NSDI Data and Application services operational in 2004/05 and by 2006/07 India would move to position many ENTERPRISEGIS and enable a vibrant and worldleading SPATIAL-BUSINESS sector of images, maps, services and solutions and fi nally products. We had hoped that India, by 2007/08, would have a major share of the world-GIS market which is estimated at more than US$2Billion or more.
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).
Within the above founding principles, I feel that the following 7-point Action- Plan for NSDI will be very relevant:
ONE: Immediately call for the Meeting of the NSDC. The NSDC has been approved from May, 2006 as the NSDI “think-tank” and of all luminaries in the government and supported by private and academic sector. The NSDC is the think-tank that must direct and guide NSDI. The NSDC should consider the Strategy and Action Plan of NSDI, the status of things that have been achieved so far and then set specifi ed actions that must be taken for NSDI.
In this context, positioning a CEO is also of utmost urgency. The CEO has to be a person of leadership, drive, vision, acceptance and technological strength. Finding such a CEO is not diffi cult – give him the charge and also the fl exibility and authority that can bring results.
TWO: Establish the NSDI Portal at the earliest – based on already-defi ned NSDI Metadata and Exchange standards and also the data holdings of various agencies that are available till now. The NSDI portal should be able to have tools that allow search map and image data of the country; allow image and map data access (as per rules); allow NSDI users to publish their image/map data (as per procedures) and even allow customized applications to be undertaken for obtaining fi nal solutions (and not data) by users. This, I feel, is possible as most agencies have already encapsulated their data holding and organizing the Metadata Server, Data Server should not be at all diffi cult. In fact, such a portal has already been show-cased in July, 2002 and later show-cased in NSDI Workshops also. Why not make it open and accessible, now?
THREE: Immediately organize and make available a digital National GIS Foundation Dataset – a set of standardized layers that all users can use to start any of their their GIS applications. Why can India not have a standard national/state/district/village boundary layer on standards that are compatible for various scales of 1:50K, 1:10K and 1:2K? Why cannot there be a standard dataset of roads and other general features on standards that all can use?
I think, NSDI should work for a NATIONAL FOUNDATION GIS dataset (contents can be defi ned carefully) that is an amalgamation of SOI maps, IRS images and available information in the country – and this should be available for the development of the country to any user un-hindered.
FOUR: Standardization is the key to NSDI. The more one standardises – the image formats, the map formats, the map legends, the map planimetry and GIS design, the better for any NSDI. Actually, I feel, that standardisation is the key to NSDI and the standrdisation must be a mission-mode in NSDI.
In another perspective, India has done well in standardization – we have a common NSDI Metadata Standard – allowing a common Metadata format; we have a NSDI Exchange Standard – allowing and Indian format for exchange of spatial data; we have NNRMS Standard – allowing defi nition of image, thematic maps and GIS design formats. We have done well in this regard.
FIVE: Cadastral data is the backbone of administration of land and development in the country. We need a movement in NSDI for a National ECadasrtre – that allows the encapsulation of cadastral maps into the NSDI.
I personally envision that unless land management and individual benefi ciary level data can be touched, a large market of applications of benefi t to farmers, real-estate, urban management and infrastructure, citizens etc will be less-served.
A National E-Cadastre will open up many of the uses of NSDI and images and maps of the country to citizens, farmers, agriculture, land management, development etc and these would be maximised.
SIX: Policies are the crux of NSDI and the use of images and maps in the country. India, today has independent Image and Map policies – and that too that need revision in the context of NSDI and what is happening in the world. These individual policies need to be re-looked holistically to make a meaningful spatial data policy for the nation – be it images, topographical maps, thematic maps or survey data.
We have separate Map Policy and RS Data Policy in position now – but if we look at these there are “contradictions and also gaps” in what technology offers now. For example, while today satellite images provide DEM of levels of 4-5m z-accuracy – leading to ~10m contour easily, how does that cope in the Map Policy? Further, what is the context of “value-addition” to topographic maps – if roads are extracted from satellite images where topographical maps are used as a reference, is it valueaddition to satellite image or to topographic maps? Now, citizens can easily access high-resolution and similar images on the net and can undertake mapping work – what happens to the provisions of RS Data Policy and what happens to such maps in the Map Policy. Like these, there are many such issues that are to be clearly defi ned and an integrated National Spatial Data Policy – encompassing images, maps and all spatial data is urgently required.
What is needed is a clear-cut DOs and DONTs for spatial data in the country – related to acquiring/generating spatial data from surveys/procurement; images and their use; value-addition to spatial data and sharing of spatial data at all scales and resolution etc.
SEVEN: As a forward-visioning exercise, NSDI must fuel an Enterprise- GIS movement in India – supporting various government, private and citizen enterprise requirements. For example, NSDI must be the core for a Farmer’s Information System as an enterprise solution for Farming community; for a routing and navigation System as a Citizen Enterprise solution; Fleet Management Enterprise GIS that manages fl eets of tranport and logistics movements; Emergency Enterprise GIS that allows tackling emergencies and disasters; Land Information System for a Land Enterprise GIS; for a Municipal Enterprise GIS that allows taxation, property assessment and many other activities and so on.
NSDI Whenever …
Even now, NSDI is not late and can be positioned if the above series of urgent steps to take forward the steps already taken are made. But what is important is that we must do it fast and quick and right – making the nation proud and successful on using spatial data – be it satellite images, maps and solutions.
Let us also face it – NSDI can just not be implemented by government alone (and it is not right too when a lot of enterprise/development activities is also done outside government domain). Private enterprise will have to play a vital and complementary role – be it in solutions, be it in joint-venture initiatives with data-owners or in working the way ahead to deliver. Academic will also have to provide advanced research of powerful spatial search engines, spatial data mining tools, modeling tools and many other research inputs.
I also perceive that time has now come for India to act fast, quick and lead the way for NSDI. Else India may well JUST FOLLOW other global-enterprise initiatives (from outside India) that will anyway go-ahead and position earthwide image/map/solution Portals. We have seen how Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other free-domain initiatives, alongwith commercial Portals, are providing images and maps (and solutions) on a global scale (even of India) and on massive Portals – good for them and good for spatial data business.
Will our future generation view and know India only as these outside “initiatives” will portray? If we do not act now, we will be leaving a legacy for our future generation – who will feed on “outside view and offering” and will seldom believe that India also had the capability to establish map and image portals as part of a national infrastructure. It does hurt my conscience, many times. In that sense, I think the last of the chance for India for positioning a good leadership NSDI is just facing us. Make it happen now… or else there will be a good Indian spatial database (images are already there; maps also will be there soon; solutions will also follow soon later) from outside soon. ”Chak De, India, NSDI chak-de!!!”