Navigation, Positioning

Using positional and navigational technology in Australia

Jul 2005 | Comments Off on Using positional and navigational technology in Australia

The Australian community, industry and government benefit from location based technologies being used to resolve their issues

While digital techniques were introduced to map production in the 1970’s, the driver for utilising digital tools to manage this wide range of activities was the land administration functions of the six states and two territories. Developed in concert by the legal and surveying professions, these state and territory based land administrations functions led to digital land valuation systems as early as 1968 in South Australia. Building upon such initiatives; government guaranteed computerised land registration and automated valuation systems have been built.

While these initial land parcel based systems contained a wealth of locational data (eg land use, building details, sale prices etc) they relied on hard copy maps and plans for their graphical modules. This need to utilise digital graphical modules to display and analyse land parcel data led to all states and territories building and maintaining a digital cadastral databases. These data bases were completed from 1986 (South Australia) to 1998 (Tasmania) and form the backbone of the data used by locational technologies in Australia.

National recognition of digital cadastral data

Integrated data combining the individual digital cadastres and road centre lines are now available from a joint consortium. The last two national censuses were successfully conducted using digital data from this consortium. Seeking to combine commercial goals and government responsibilities, the consortium provides these data to business and governments. In addition these data are also distributed (under licence) through software suppliers.

Environmental and natural resource applications

During these cadastral developments, natural resource data was increasingly captured and analysed using locational technologies. Environmental agencies have developed sophisticated models to predict a variety of threats (eg locus, fire, salinity etc) and are essential to natural resource management. Paralleling the work of environmental agencies the mining agencies and industry have developed 3D location based technologies.

Utility applications

Highway engineers have developed PC based pavement management systems which use Microsoft products (eg Access and Excel). By partitioning a road into fixed length segments and allocating roughness and condition ratings these tools are used to plan, cost and maintain roads to agreed standards within constrained budgets.

Utility infrastructure business (public and private) have digitally captured the location, function and interconnections of their assets. These data are then overlaid on the cadastre and topographic data to analyse asset decay, failure and demand. Utilising such analysis, service availability is improved and costs contained.Route analysis tools are used by public transport providers and the waste disposal business (mostly public)to minimise travel distances and maximise loads for each journey.

Commercial applications

With few exceptions, private companies have been reluctant to publicise how they utilise locational technologies. Those companies that will admit to using these technologies argue that to discuss such use and the outcomes will undermine any commercial advantage gained by their initiative.

However it is known that locational technologies have
been used by companies to:

· Focus their marketing on those locations most likely to purchase their product;

· Identify locations of a higher insurance risk (eg criminal activity, fire etc.);

· Identify non-commercial bank branches (i.e. a mismatch between bank products and the population’s characteristics);

· Evaluate site suitability (particularly the fast food chains); and

· Manage their vineyards.

Some of these tasks are undertaken by third party companies, such as a company which undertakes street address based data cleansing. This process uses a clean and complete street address data base to correct the commonly used location key of street address in a company’s files. Then duplicate records are removed from their client company’s customer data base and the client company is able to more effectively market their products to their existing customers.

Integration of mobile and management applications

While emergency services are using locational technologies to reduce response times and the size of their fleet, these technologies are also being used for counter terrorism purposes. The locational technologies used by these services are usually integrated with other information technology to provide a more complete management system, which will typically include a locational analysis module. Some of these services also have a GPS enabled fleet to provide real time fleet monitoring

Social applications

The location of health service delivery (both the actual location and the services delivered at each location) is analysed using locational technologies. This analysis is then used to relocate services in a more socially equitable and efficient way. Similar analysis is also performed by education and social services agencies has resulted in the development of a “remoteness” index which is now used by the Australian government across a number of portfolios for the delivery of services.

Defence applications

The Australian defence forces were the first body to develop automated digital mapping techniques for map production in the early 1970s. The military continues to have a high commitment to the use of locational technologies across a range of logistics, training and combat applications.

Policy barriers

At the same time there are still a significant number of public and private sector entities that are yet to use, or underutilise, location based technologies. Hence there remain many opportunities toexpand the use of these technologies in Australia. Many see these opportunities restricted by locational information being sold by public agencies (including to other public sector agencies) on the “user pays” principle. These critics see locational information as a fundamental infrastructure of a modern economy.

Until the advent of digital locational information (i.e. topographic, cadastral, census and environmental data); locational data in hard copy
map formats were seen as part of the fundamental infrastructure of a modern economy. However the speed of dissemination and the additional cost of creating and maintaining digital data fuelled the view that the user should pay this additional overhead to government. This debate continues in each of the jurisdictions that collect and distribute digital locational data (i.e. each of the six Australian states, two territories and within the Australian government).

Whatever the accuracy of the criticism the only barriers to open access to locational data in Australia are price and the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act stops public access to any records that contain sensitive personal information (name, address, health, finance), but allows public access to consolidated data (from which you can not identify individuals).

However, while not being a barrier to data access, the various formats and data standards add to the cost of integrating locational data. There are more and more tools being developed to address this data integration issue; however unless each data set’s Metadata is carefully considered it is unlikely that data from a variety of sources can be successfully integrated.

In addition unless the data access is governed by robust and well administered policies, a potential user may not be able to access the data they require for their task. The on-going attempts to have common data access and use policies for Australia are yet to be realised (in practice) by all of the jurisdictions.

Typical professional attitudes

The acceptance of locational technologies into every day applications has (and is) driven by the passion of the locational enthusiasts. These enthusiasts have included: map makers, land valuers, land registration officers, environmentalists, town planners, civil engineers, geographers and surveyors.

The most resistant professions to the introduction of locational technologies have been those with little or no background in graphical analysis (eg accountants and professional managers). To overcome this resistance Price Waterhouse and Coopers were commissioned to undertake a national cost benefit analysis of land information and its uses. As this study by a major management consulting company identified significant benefits, it is often quoted when seeking “treasury” approval for new locational projects.

Many of the organisations that introduce locational technologies focus on more efficient processes and delay the decision support applications. A typical more efficient process is reducing the staff time and effort to contact those living within a specific location. This function is required by planning regulators to contact abutting land owners during a planning approval process; or for civil engineers to contact those about to impacted by a civil engineering works.

However, once the technology is delivering real identifiable benefits, the technology’s critics become willing supporters of expanding its use to decision support. This change in attitude is seldom quick, but once converted to the value of locational technologies the initial critics can become its major sponsor in an organisation. Such a change of attitude has led one state to merge its locational technology policy development into its general information technology policies and strategies.

Relevance to Indian Debate

These summary reflections of the development and challenges of fully utilising locational technologies are not offered as a blue print. Rather these reflections are offered to assist the Indian debate of the most effective way to gain widespread acceptance positional and navigational technologies in your jurisdictions.


photo57Allan K Barnes has worked on major locational systems with the South Australian Government; including the state’s digital cadastral data base and the Spatial Information Industry Program. He also served as Deputy RegistrarGeneral and Manager of the state’s Information Technology strategy, and is now Principal Consultant of Change Matters.

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