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Archive for the ‘geospatial professions’ Category

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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While the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in South Africa has taken off in recent years, it is actually illegal to fly or operate UAS or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in South Africa. Reiterating this point, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) recently warned that it intends clamping down on the flying of UAS. The SACAA’s threat of a clampdown is pretty toothless however, as it is unable to detect UAS use via radar. No mention was made in the SACAA statement either of going after UAS distributors and service providers. Diluting the warning still further is the fact that to date, no-one has been prosecuted for flying UAS / RPAs in South Africa.

All is not lost though. Over the last few years South Africa has been working under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to integrate UAS into the civil aviation sector. Part of this process involves the development of robust standards to regulate classes of UAS; certification and airworthiness requirements; command control and communication systems; licencing and training of remote pilots; accident detection and avoidance systems; as well as the allocation of a secure frequency spectrum to ensure protection from unintentional or unlawful interference. The ultimate aim of all this being to create a regulatory framework that supports the evolution of UAS whilst ensuring that they are operated in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner, as is the case with manned operations.

While the goals of this integration process are laudable, it is unfortunately a very lengthy process with the ICAO anticipating the publication of the minimum requirements with which member states must comply by the end of 2018, and full integration to take place by 2028. Clearly, it will be quite some time before a complete set of regulations can be put into place to regulate South Africa’s UAS sector. And where will the technological frontier be by then?

A major advantage of the ICAO and the SACAA taking this standards-based regulatory approach, however, is that once the framework is eventually adopted it will be possible to update UAS regulations by simply updating the standards, thereby avoiding the necessity of repeating the lengthy integration process currently underway.

Understanding that the UAS sector cannot be held in limbo until 2028, the SACAA is in the process of putting together an interim guidance document as a provisional solution to enable restricted operational approval on a case-by-case basis. The SACAA reports that significant progress has been made on this document, and its release is dependent on the ironing out of processes before it can be released for public consumption.

In a national safety seminar dealing with the Draft White Paper on Civil Aviation, Zakhele Thwala, the deputy director general of civil aviation at the Department of Transport, states that the current draft UAS Policy statements are under review and that the following matters, amongst others, have been identified for further attention: issues relating to security and privacy related matters; the liability and insurance implications of both non-commercial and commercial UAS operations; and the requirement for commercial operators to acquire licences and operating certificates in terms of the applicable air service licencing legislation.

While it may be immensely frustrating for South African users of UAS technology to be held up by regulatory bodies playing catch-up to technology, they can take comfort from knowing that UAS users and service providers across the world share their frustrations.

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As those of us working in the geospatial sector are aware, geomatics is key to planning, infrastructure development and service delivery in virtually every sector of the economy. With this being the case, it makes sense then that geospatial data, services and tools are essential for achieving the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP) or in case you are an NDP non-believer, good old national development planning.

While the NDP has many worthy goals, it is disconcerting to see that instead of focusing on the NDP objectives that have broad support across our society and pursuing those objectives vigourously, the entire NDP has become part of a political game that has more to do with election alliances than changing people’s lives on the ground. The events at Marikana, service delivery protests, the attacks on Somali shopkeepers, the turf battles between trade unions are all symptoms of a discontented society and a discontented people. And this is only going to get worse.

National development planning is needed as a matter of urgency. We need houses to be constructed, roads to be fixed, schools to have school books and food on people’s tables. Why wait for the turmoil and trouble of an African Spring, when we can take control of our destiny and work on making South Africa a better place for all?

To get our national development planning on track, South Africa urgently needs to get its spatial data infrastructure (SDI) up and running. SDIs justify their development costs by generating greater economic benefit for the countries that build them and the developed world has taken note of this. Countries in the developed world are making increasing use of SDIs while we here in South Africa seem to be getting nowhere despite the numerous SDI workshops and meetings that have been held over the last decade or so.

A call was recently issued for suitable candidates to be nominated to become part of South Africa’s Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). It is hoped that government departments are putting a great deal of thought into who should be on this committee. The CSI needs members who have both the ability and the authority to drive the development of South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure (SASDI).

Building an SDI is a complex process, and perhaps one of the areas where South Africa has failed is in acquiring buy-in from top level government leaders. While we urgently need an interoperable, accessible SDI containing updated geo-reference data from a variety of sources, we also desperately need the support of a selection of high profile public and private sector representatives who can help to spread the message that an SDI is essential for improving efficiency, increasing productivity, reducing risk and improving decision making processes for national development planning.

South Africa’s SDI initiative needs strong dynamic leaders who understand what an SDI is capable of doing for the country. It needs leadership that understands the necessity of promoting the concept of an SDI to all levels of government. It needs crusaders who can help to get South Africa on track with its national development planning.

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Reading through the submissions at the recent parliamentary public hearings into the Geomatics Profession Bill, it was evident that GISSA, SAGI, IMSSA, and PLATO had common concerns about the somewhat indifferent consultation process, the inadequate defining of the geomatics profession, and the representivity of the new geomatics council.

Most parties making submissions expressed their frustration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) saying that comments submitted on previous occasions were not acknowledged, no feedback was provided and there was no evidence of the comments having been incorporated into the Bill. Even the parliamentary committee members expressed concern at the apparent lack of consultation. In addition, common complaints were that calls for comments were made over holiday periods with short time periods allocated for responses.

Effective consultation is a two-way process, and it is concerning that insufficient attention has been paid to the consultation process. The lack of consultation is evidenced by the fact that the definition of the geomatics profession is inadequate. Several organisations expressed concern at the over emphasis of land surveying at the expense of other disciplines. Understandably, GISSA expressed concerns about the definition of “geomatics practitioners” being biased towards surveying practitioners, while IMSSA and SAGI expressed concerns about the Bill failing to adequately describe the other geomatics disciplines such as mine surveyors and engineering surveyors.

Land surveyors are just one element of the equation making up the geomatics profession and it is very concerning to see that despite there being several periods where comments have been invited, the Geomatics Profession Bill has still not adequately dealt with the matter of defining the various disciplines within the geomatics profession.

Understandably, the inadequate definition of the geomatics profession has in turn led to concerns regarding the make-up of the new geomatics council. Complaints were made about the disproportionate representation of professional land surveyors on the council and several parties requested that the new council needs to be representative of the different disciplines making up the profession.

What is wrong with the suggestion that the recognised voluntary associations be allowed to nominate representatives to the new geomatics council? Who better to understand the challenges being faced by the various disciplines, than the very geomatics professionals involved in those disciplines.

Pleasing everyone who has provided commentary on the Geomatics Profession Bill is obviously not going to be possible. At the very least, however, it is important to address the issues of being truly consultative, drawing up an inclusive definition of geomatics professionals, and ensuring that the new council is representative of the various disciplines that it will be representing.

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