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Archive for the ‘geospatial professions’ Category

Clare van ZwietenRevolution is in the air, and it has nothing to do with President Zuma.  Industry disruptors are continuing to head our way in a series of waves; transforming the business world and rocking the comfort zones of established, successful organisations across all business sectors. No-one is immune.

Following the enthusiastic embracing of Uber and Airbnb by consumers, traditional industries are re-examining their organisations and attempting to identify vulnerabilities to technological disruptors as well as opportunities to become their own disruptors.

Fuelled by innovative digital technologies in conjunction with machine-learning capabilities, new ground is being broken every day, creating opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals to carve a niche for themselves in the world of business. Attending the MTN Business Digital Entrepreneur Masterclass recently, it was eye-opening to see how many people, from all walks of life, are ready to embrace this opportunity.

The delegates came in their hundreds to learn from industry experts how to harness the digital industrial revolution and stimulate the growth of their businesses. They were urged to embrace technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, augmented reality, and big data analytics, in order to ensure that they would remain relevant in this evolving world. They were not worried about losing their jobs; far from it. They were concerned with growing their businesses and identifying opportunities to get ahead of competitors.

Geomatics professionals pride themselves on the learning and training they have undergone in order to reach their elevated status as knowledge workers; however all of this will eventually count for naught unless they too embrace this technological wave. A switch in mind-set is required, with an emphasis on identifying the business value and opportunities for innovation arising from the increased array of enhanced technological offerings.

It is a fact that machine learning is going to result in humans losing jobs, especially people doing repetitive, mundane tasks. But machines are also going to free people up, enabling them to be more innovative and creative with the knowledge that they have acquired.

Whether you work with geographical information systems and geospatial data; whether you work as an engineering, land, or mine surveyor; whether you work as a remote sensing scientist or a hydrographer; you need to accept that the machines are coming. If you are an employer, you will have to up your game in order to identify and seize new business opportunities as they open up, and if you are an employee, you will need to do the same in order to justify your relevance to your organisation.

As December heads our way and we become increasingly concerned about South Africa and its future, take heart from the fact that not even Zuma can stand in the way of this tsunami of technological disruption. Innovation is going to take place, with or without him.

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Clare van ZwietenTechnological disrupters are increasingly commonplace and geospatial professionals need to be alert to developments arising from the Internet of Things (IoT) and the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).

Growth has been identified by research company, Gartner, as the foremost strategic priority for many businesses over the next two years, and to achieve this growth, decision makers will require insights into data and information to facilitate decisions that will boost productivity, efficiency and profitability. Not surprisingly, Industry 4.0 technologies are being seen as the answer to this quest for growth.

According to the World Economic Forum, the fourth industrial revolution, which includes developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets, with enormous change predicted in the skill sets required.

In order to thrive in this new world, geospatial professionals need to assess the potential impact of Industry 4.0 technologies on their traditional roles and decide on the skill-set adaptions that they will be required to make.

A key component of Industry 4.0 is digital data, and geospatial professionals are adept at handling large datasets. They also understand the benefits of data sharing and the need for data standards to facilitate data interoperability. It is not surprising then that geospatial experts feature, along with data analysts, in the 2016 World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, as job categories that are expected to become critically important by the year 2020

Further good news is provided by Ordnance Survey Ireland’s Hugh Mangan, who believes that the core GIS industry will remain a highly specialised and complex area, requiring domain expertise, particularly in the power, water, property, telecoms, transport, health and environment sectors. In addition, he states that the creation and maintenance of authoritative core geospatial databases will continue to play an important role for many public sector and commercial organisations.

However, the problem is that geospatial professionals tend to work with historic data, and what the business world is crying out for is future predictability with IoT and Industry 4.0 seen as key to achieving this.

Consequently, geospatial professionals seeking to play a significant role in an Industry 4.0 world are advised to adapt to the changing times and requirements. According to Mangan, geospatial specialists will need to understand the provenance of data and the inter-relationships between complex data models, and they must also be able to leverage geospatial technologies across many application domains. He states that increasing numbers of computer science and data science graduates will take on geospatial tasks, and advises geospatial professionals to extend their careers by adopting data driven, as opposed to cartography driven geospatial technical competencies.

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Clare van ZwietenThe recent elections in France, and not so recently in the US, have exposed how data can be used to influence the results of elections. Companies like Google and Facebook are acquiring massive global repositories of data resources and developing algorithms to analyse and filter data which can then be used by commercial and political interests to further their particular goals. (A recent article in The Guardian is very illuminating on this point.)

While it is concerning that data is being used to subvert democracies, there are also many instances where data collaboration and analysis are helping to change our world for the better. The recent International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment 2017 held in Pretoria, highlighted how scientific data is being collected and analysed by an international assortment of space agencies and projects in order to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals which seek to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

At this august gathering which showcased how satellite imagery and data can be used to have a positive impact on our world, it was somewhat surprising to hear comments about remote sensing data not being shared in developed countries such as Britain and Norway. While complaints about data silos are common in South Africa, it is often assumed that the rest of the developed world is playing nicely and sharing their data for the benefit of their societies. This however, appears not to be the case.

Inadequate sharing of data is actually an international problem. Data silos exist everywhere and it is important to realise that in many instances they are not deliberately created to prevent data sharing, but are created by a combination of ignorance, inability and inertia. To put it simply, these stockpiles of underutilised geo-intelligence data are gathering dust because the immense socio-economic potential of geospatial data and remote sensing imagery is not yet fully understood by many leaders of organisations, businesses and societies.

Geospatial and remote sensing scientists are sitting on a treasure trove of data which is capable of radically transforming our societies for the better. In order to effectively use this data for the public good, these specialists need to do much more to highlight the socio-economic potential and value of this data and the extensive benefits that can be derived from using and sharing it.

Geo-intelligence professionals are going to have to work together, in their official capacities and informally, to actively promote the use of geospatial data and remote sensing imagery. They also need to identify new and innovative ways of doing this in order to get their message heard by the people who count, the decision makers.

If they don’t, it is likely that the data scales will tip dangerously in favour of vested interests that understand the commercial and political benefits, but won’t necessarily have the greater good in mind.

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2016 is shaping up to be a very tough year. There’s no water, there’s no money, jobs are dwindling, local elections are looming, and political infighting is intensifying. This year we will all be paying the price for inadequate planning, and for allowing corruption and inefficiencies to take root.

The sooner we all acknowledge that it’s time to stop passing the buck, time to stop turning a blind eye, the better. South Africa needs all hands on deck, and in particular, it needs its geographic information specialists to come to the rescue.

The gloomy economic scenario facing South Africa needs to be fought head on with systems that will enable optimisation of efficiencies for asset and resource management, revenue protection, budget expenditure, monitoring and logistics, utility maintenance and so on. Geospatial personnel, geodata infrastructure and geo-tools hold the key to enabling this efficiency optimisation.

In previous boom times, decision makers weren’t too concerned about efficiencies as there was enough fat in their budgets to obscure mismanagement and/or wasteful expenditure. In these trying times though, budgets are fat-free. Decision makers wanting to keep their jobs need to identify how to extract maximum value from limited budgets to ensure that their business units fulfill their mandated responsibilities.

It is clear that the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, intends fulfilling his mandated responsibility – the prudent fiscal management of South Africa. Just like his courageous predecessor, Nhlanhla Nene, Gordhan has stood up against the monetary waywardness at South African Airways and, unlike Nene, he hasn’t been fired. Running on with Nene’s baton, Gordhan is continuing the race for financial prudence and we can expect a very tight budget for 2016.

Bearing this in mind, geospatial practitioners across all sectors, whether working with minerals, energy, water, education, transport, health, local government, environmental affairs, social services etc., need to understand the business value of their work. If they don’t understand the financial implications of their work, they need to make it their responsibility to ascribe a value to their efforts. In addition, geospatial specialists need to communicate this business value effectively to the executive management structures of the organisation they work for.

Geospatial practitioners are experts in geospatial matters but it is imperative that they understand the money principle; that when money talks, people listen, and that when Pravin is on the warpath, people’s listening improves dramatically.

There is also strength in numbers, and geomatics colleagues from across government departments need to collaborate, to join forces, and communicate with the finance minister. They need to use policy maps and geo-visualisation tools to show how geospatial personnel, geospatial tools and geospatial technologies are being used and how they can be better utilised to ensure efficient financial management of our country and its resources on behalf of all its people.

In order to weather the storms of 2016 and beyond, all members of the South African geomatics community need to make a concerted effort to get decision-makers in their respective organisations on to the geospatial highway as soon as possible.

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The announcement of the appointment of members to the Geomatics Council by Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of rural development and land reform, has been broadly welcomed by the geomatics community. A revisit to a paper by former PLATO president, Paul Marshall, entitled “The way forward for PLATO as a statutory body in the transitionary period towards the new SA Geomatics Council” provides some answers as to what lies ahead.

The first meeting of the Geomatics Council needs to take place within 30 days of the 22 May 2015 publication in the Government Gazette, and this date will then be the commencement date of the new Geomatics Profession Act. Members of the Geomatics Council have been appointed for four years as opposed to the previous council term of two years.

The main difference between the new Act and the 1984 Act is that the new Geomatics Council will becontrolled by the minister while the PLATO council was answerable to the minister. The Geomatics Council is required to meet twice a year as opposed to the previous arrangement of once a year, and it will be funded to a much larger extent by the department. The PLATO council was self-funded and was therefore largely independent of state funding. The new Geomatics Council is obliged to honour all existing commitments made by the PLATO Council.

One of the first new responsibilities of the Geomatics Council will be the publishing, within 90 days of its first meeting, of a code of conduct for its members. Until this new code of conduct is drafted and approved by the minister, the existing PLATO rules will remain in place. Should a conflict between the new Act and the existing rules occur, the Act will prevail. Marshall warned in his paper that while this arrangement will alleviate some of the immediate pressure to draft the code of conduct, it could lead to this matter not being treated with the necessary urgency.

The current Education Advisory Committee is likely to remain in place until a suitable Education and Training Committee is established. Marshall advised in his paper that this committee will need suitable and sufficient permanent members, and will need the backing of the minister to properly carry out its functions, especially the two yearly accreditation of qualifications at institutions offering surveying, mine surveying and geo-information science.

The establishment of a continuing professional development (CPD) programme is a specified duty of the new Geomatics Council and as such it will have much more authority when it comes to enforcing participation in the CPD programme.

A major challenge for the new Geomatics Council is that the Geomatics Act provides for the publishing of a recommended tariff of fees.  While this has generally been viewed as a positive development, the drafting of a “One Tariff Fits All” for the geomatics industry was identified by Marshall as being one of the more difficult tasks to be faced by the new Geomatics Council.

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Not surprisingly, land surveying, engineering surveying and geomatics have been identified as scarce skills by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in its “Skills for and through SIPs” report. Occupational teams preparing the report first analysed the 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) making up the National Infrastructure Plan, identified the projected scarce skills and provided suggestions on how to address the skills scarcity.

With regard to schooling, the teams suggested that numeracy programmes be introduced at primary school to insure that all secondary school entrants have the basic numeracy skills in place. They propose that Maths and Physical Science be given priority, that teachers undergo training in their subjects, and that teachers be rewarded for successful outputs. They advise that an equivalent of Maths Higher/Standard Grade be re-introduced in preference to Maths Literacy. They also recommend that Senior Certificate results, in particular for Maths and Physical Science, not be adjusted to achieve a higher pass rate, and that matric outcomes be better aligned with higher education requirements.

In terms of theory, the report suggests that increased funding be made available to accommodate higher enrolment numbers and to provide the necessary infrastructure. It recommends that salaries for lecturing staff be increased by at least 25%, that additional staff be employed, and that minimum qualification requirements for lecturing staff at universities of technology (UoTs) be dropped while simultaneously developing their capacity at a postgraduate level.

The professional occupational teams advise that major workshops be convened with industry to determine the required qualifications and courses, as well as the most sought after graduate attributes. They also suggest that institutions needing to roll out new courses be encouraged to start working with the DHET and industry on content.

The report proposes that the most effective teaching tools and methods be identified, and then be introduced nationally. It calls for student tutoring support to be expanded, and for numeracy programmes be rolled out at UoTs. That summer/winter schools be introduced and that “killer subjects” be repeated in each semester. It further proposes that admission policies, assessment methods and targets be reviewed with a view to improving throughput, and that the number of bursaries for SIP Professionals should be expanded.

However, if the proposals outlined in this report are to have any chance of sustainable success, it is essential that the Department of Basic Education get its house in order, as this is where the rot first sets in.

Primary school children need to be taught by teachers who know their subject matter and who are held accountable for their output. Primary school teachers must be allocated reasonably-sized classes and provided with the necessary tools and resources. Struggling learners need to be given more assistance in the primary stages, and promoting pupils who do not meet the required standard has to stop.

Solutions can be devised to assist students at secondary and tertiary level who are not up to scratch, but sustainably enhancing our SIPs skills capacity, for both professional and non-professional occupations, requires a refocusing of our primary school education system, and a clear determination to get education working from the bottom up.

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The South African geospatial industry needs to participate in the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) regulatory process driven by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). This process seeks to govern the use of UAS in South Africa with the initial establishment of interim regulations in 2015. By participating in this process, the geospatial industry and its representatives will be able to ensure that the requirements of the sector, whether UAS suppliers, UAS operators, data collectors and/or data users, are met by the interim regulations and ultimately the final regulations.

Like it or not, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS), or UAS are here to stay. As technology has advanced, these systems have become increasingly sophisticated. These days UAS feature lightweight airframes and advanced propulsion systems with built-in accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS and altimeters. They are capable of carrying payloads that include high resolution/hyperspectral/lidar cameras, and can operate for significant distances, at high altitudes, out of line-of-sight, and are efficient to operate and require little maintenance.

With the increasing popularity of UAS, it is not surprising that a major concern for civil aviation bodies around the world is the safe and responsible operation of UAS. Few will disagree that this needs to be addressed, but many worldwide are concerned about the lengthy delays in regulating their use.

The Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that the economic impact of integrating UAS into US air space will result in an economic impact of US$13,6-billion in the first three years resulting in the creation of 34 000 manufacturing jobs and more than 70 000 jobs in the first three years of integration. AUVSI is of the opinion that every year that the US delays, it loses over US$10-billion in potential economic impact. While these figures may not be as great in South Africa, they will probably still be very significant and it seems a great pity that South Africans are being held back in their attempts to get this potential growth sector up and running.

Clearly, it is vital that the geospatial industry, in the form of individuals, companies and associations, gets involved in the UAS regulatory process to ensure that the regulations cover the needs that the geospatial sector will require of this burgeoning UAS technology.  It is essential that the regulations do not impinge unnecessarily on the potential quality of data collected by today’s UAS, and the UAS of the future. Already issues regarding night flights, out of line-of-sight flights and payloads are a concern, and these are factors that will impact on UAS operators seeking to service the geospatial sector.

By participating actively in this regulatory process, the South African geospatial sector will be well placed to educate its members on the responsible handling and optimal use of UAS. Keeping in touch with developments in this arena will also ensure that the geospatial industry is well positioned to take advantage of the potential economic benefit of UAS technologies.

For additional information see: Unmanned aerial operator body discusses way forward

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