Archive for the ‘GIS standards’ Category

During the course of this year, it has been interesting to hear people debating the need to keep the geospatial professions relevant and to heighten their perceived value to a range of key players in the private and government sectors.

It is increasingly clear that surveyors’ specialised and hard-earned measurement skills are under threat as surveying  tools become simultaneously easier to use and increasingly accurate. At the recent Institute of Mine Surveyors of South Africa Conference, mine surveyors were advised to counter this trend towards “push-button” technology by carving out a special role for themselves as geodata managers and to identify how they can use their specialised surveying skills to contribute to their organisations’ productivity, safety and efficiency. Land surveyors have also been cautioned against allowing themselves to be marginalised. Karl van Rensburg has encouraged land surveyors to counter this trend by providing a more complete service to their clients and by getting more involved in pre- and post-survey activities (see September, October and Nov/Dec issues of PositionIT).

Technology waits for no man, and surveyors need to look towards this future, identify the business opportunities therein, and grasp them with both hands. Not to be left out in the cold, people working in the GIS field also need to be looking to the future and the implications of technological advances in their sphere of specialisation. They too need to identify ways to offer more value to their organisations and/or clients. As geospatial software and equipment becomes increasingly user-friendly, people who are able to analyse geospatial data and use it for the benefit of their organisations and/or clients, are the ones who will have the most relevance in the workplace of the future.

GIS practitioners need to assess their skills and ask themselves whether there is going to be a need for their skills in the future work place.  Are they simply going to be users of software and equipment or are they going to be the experts who know how to use geospatial data to build our economy and society? Clearly there is a lot at stake and participants in the geospatial sector, whether surveyors or GIS practitioners, need to be paying serious attention to their individual identity as professionals and the status of their profession as a whole.

Following this line of thinking, I would like to encourage people to actively participate in PLATO’s CPD programme. I realise that many people working in the geospatial sector are rattled by the new programme and its requirements. However, a  closer look at the rules will reveal that the conditions are not too onerous. True the need to comply with the CPD programme has come at a time when many people are feeling overcommitted and financially constrained, however, with some strategic planning one should be able to meet the requirements of the programme, while improving one’s skills, keeping up-to-date with new technologies, networking with colleagues and identifying new business or job opportunities.

People who are not registered with PLATO should not let this hold them back from participating in the various CPD-approved activities. After all participation in industry platforms and associations is an investment in yourself.



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A full quorum of the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI) met on 1 October 2012 and agreed to adopt several recommendations proposed by its Data Sub-committee relating to the definition of base spatial datasets, criteria for base spatial datasets, criteria for data custodians, and the identification of an initial list of base spatial datasets and data custodians. Included in these recommendations is a solution which overcomes the complex issue of selecting data custodians for datasets with multiple de facto dataset custodians.

This major step towards the creation of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) for South Africa came about as a result of the CSI’s decision to follow a transparent and consultative process with a wide variety of stakeholders from all spheres of government and the private sector.

The first recommendation provides a new definition for base spatial datasets, namely that: “Base geospatial datasets are those identified as the minimum set of essential datasets that are widely used as a reference base at various administrative levels to accomplish South Africa’s national and international priorities.”

The second recommendation provides compulsory and conditional criteria for base spatial datasets that are to be determined in consultation with custodians on an individual bases for each base spatial dataset. Compulsory conditions are that the datasets should aim at complete coverage of the area of interest; a diversity of users from different sectors should often derive significant benefit from their use; the datasets should have sufficient detail and accuracy for widespread use; and that these datasets cannot be easily or generally substituted. The conditional criteria are that the dataset should be produced as a result of the core mandate of the custodian and that the dataset should be a source for accurately referencing other datasets or for displaying the results of an analysis.

The third recommendation proposed the following criteria for data custodians of base spatial datasets which are to be implemented in consultation with custodians and on an individual bases for each base spatial dataset. There must be a mandated responsibility in the form of legislation, regulations, and policy on the part of the data custodian (compulsory); the data custodian should have sufficient capacity, resources and infrastructure to fulfill the responsibility of a custodian (conditional); and it must be requested by the CSI (compulsory).

Prior to the CSI meeting the Data Sub-committee reviewed and consolidated the list of proposed base datasets. Data custodians were recommended for approximately 86 datasets based on the criteria guidelines and legal mandates. It was decided that approximately 30 of the above datasets required further refinement and several others required in depth investigations. At the CSI meeting, the Data Sub-committee’s recommendation that ten data themes and 33 base spatial datasets be prioritised, was accepted. In addition it was decided that custodians are to be appointed from all spheres of government.

The Data Sub-committee recommended that the definition of a custodian be reviewed to address the ambiguity of the word with regard to accessing and holding of spatial data. At the CSI meeting a facilitating mechanism involving base spatial dataset co-ordinators and base data custodians was adopted to handle cases involving multiple data custodians for a single base data set. The base spatial datasets co-ordinator will be responsible for co-ordinating all data custodians for the specific base data set; ensuring all policy, standards and specifications for the base spatial dataset are adhered to, and will report on data activities to the CSI Data Sub-committee.

In addition to the above, the CSI agreed that ten themes of national importance be prioritised. These include administrative boundaries, imagery, roads, social statistics, land use, land cover, cadastre, hydrology, geodesy and conservation. The road ahead for the CSI includes further refinement of the base datasets, custodians and base spatial datasets co-ordinators for these ten themes. Just as before, this will be a consultative process involving data custodians, base spatial datasets co-ordinators and other interested parties. Policies and standards will also be worked out so that these vital base datasets can “talk to each other” in order to facilitate geospatial solutions that will drive the development of South Africa.


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South Africa hosted the 33rd ISO TC/211 in Pretoria in November this year. While it was wonderful to host this award winning committee, discussions with members of the South African geomatics community highlighted the reality of standards implementation in our country.

The work of ISO/TC 211, which is responsible for the ISO geographic information series of standards, is carried out by representatives from various organisations, international professional bodies and businesses. Our own Dr. Serena Coetzee (University of Pretoria) and Antony Cooper (CSIR) are actively involved in the work of ISO/TC 211 and do South Africa proud. However, the work of the ISO/TC 211 is viewed by some members of the South African geospatial community as being utopian and oblivious to the realities on the ground.

Sharing their experiences of standard implementation, GIS community members explained that some South African GIS departments are struggling to get the basics of GIS right and are unable to deal with the fancy footwork required of some ISO standards. There are stringent requirements to capture metadata for certain standards and this conflicts with the need to get the actual job at hand done. Furthermore, government departments are allocated budgets to provide deliverables and capturing metadata can get in the way of providing these deliverables.

In addition, there is the issue of who pays to implement standards. Some government departments and municipalities do not budget for the implementation of standards; their workflow being focused on project completion. These bodies are also under pressure to complete projects in order to ensure that funding is provided for the next financial year. When work falls behind schedule, as can often happen, the first thing to fall by the wayside are standards.

In standards-driven organisations such as Eskom, there are also issues with standards. Despite there being top-level support for standards implementation and use as well as budgets and time allocated for this as part of the work flow, these organisations still have to deal with individuals failing to follow prescribed standards.

Olaf Magnus Østensen, chair of  ISO/TC 211, acknowledges that the work of standards operating bodies is not being taken up as much as they would like. He added that standards are state of the art technology and require a certain level of competence and capacity for effective utilisation. Other members of the committee also acknowledge that some standards are not necessarily user-friendly.

Countering this, Antony Cooper suggested that more practitioners need to get involved in standards development as this will help to ensure that practical, useful standards are developed and that they are tested early in the development cycle. He also added that people need to understand the contextual framework of standards as this will help to determine which standards are useful to them.

At the end of the day though, it is clear that standards are beneficial – they reduce costs, improve efficiency and ensure quality data. However, where possible, standards need be more accessible and increased guidance during the implementation process is required.

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People working in the GIS field know all too well that GIS is a marvelous tool for empowering policy and decision makers. The US Federal Geographic Data Committee’s 2006 Annual Report indicates that as much as 90% of US government data have a geospatial component. The same can also be said of South Africa’s government data.

In 2009, the Coalition of Geospatial Organisations (COGO), a coalition of 15 national professional societies, trade associations, and membership organisations in the geospatial field and representing 30 000 producers and users of geospatial data and technology in the US, urged Congress to establish geospatial subcommittees in both the House and the Senate. COGO believes that the current structure is inefficient and does not contribute to strategic coordinated policy and investments among the federal agencies. It points out that oversight of federal geospatial activities has not been effective and as a result federal agencies are still independently acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative and costly datasets and systems.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it…?

GIS is integral to government operations and yet here in South Africa treasure troves of GIS data lie hidden in silo structures while various government departments and local municipalities blow their budgets hiring consultants to provide them with data that is actually freely available to them, if only they knew it was available and how to access it. Much of this needless expenditure is being duplicated across South Africa at a time of restricted budgets and increased demands for service delivery.

Knowing this, I was interested to learn about the activities of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) (see page 38), an initiative which aims to assist the Gauteng City-Region with better planning and management as well as improved co-operative government relations. By means of GIS analysis and modeling of government data, GCRO aims to make efficient use of GIS within the Gauteng City-Region and to use GIS to break down data barriers across all levels of government enabling easier access to all information for both local and provincial government.

While the intention is certainly praiseworthy and deserving of the support of all affected parties, it highlights the lack of achievement by the National Spatial Information Framework (NSIF) whose mandate it is to coordinate South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure.

The long wait for effective management of South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure continues as we await an announcement on appointments to the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). The CSI is required to administer and coordinate the capture and sharing of spatial information by identifying data custodians, specifying standards and other prescriptions applicable to geospatial data, and ensuring access to the spatial data. Accomplishing all of this is quite a task and it is hoped that the people nominated to the CSI understand just how vital and necessary their work is and the immeasurable benefits awaiting government, business and individual South Africans should they succeed.

Just like the US, South Africa needs its spatial data infrastructure to be managed effectively and utilised appropriately for the betterment of our country and its peoples.


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The old adage about the importance of location has never been truer. When buying a new home or setting up a business, location is crucial. Details about the suburb, its demographics and whether it has access to a freeway or other major transit routes are all essential details. In surveying and GIS location is also vital.

Surveying involves the measurement of dimensional relationships i.e. horizontal distances, elevations, directions, and angles, on the earth’s surface particularly for use in locating property boundaries, construction layout and mapmaking.

The incredible detail that this actually involves was brought home to me when Antonie Kruger, Chief Surveyor-DP5, explained the surface surveying work being conducted on the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link Project. Any work involving the location of the huge cement segments making up the viaducts has to take temperature, cement shrinkage and other kinds of variables into account.

As a result surveyors on the Gautrain project are constantly taking measurements to monitor movements and changes on the site. If these measurements are not worked out accurately, are not applied correctly and are not monitored consistently, minor discrepancies of a millimetre or two can project to major discrepancies further on. And discrepancies on a project the size of the Gautrain can end up costing millions.

GIS, on the other hand, combines information and location. Data that were previously presented in thick reams of papers are now presented in map format allowing analysis, which previously took weeks if not months, to be undertaken in a matter of minutes. As a result location intelligence is being used increasingly in combination with business intelligence technology to enable companies to obtain a better understanding of their markets, clients and operations.

As the number of GIS and location intelligence users grows, the issue of interoperability becomes increasingly important as does the need for standards. Last year the government’s decision to implement free and open source software wherever feasible put interoperability high up on users’ agendas. Since then very little has been heard on progress in this implementation of free and open source software. However, there is no escaping this issue.

The phenomenon of open source is here to stay, bringing with it many benefits, and likewise proprietary software with its own advantages is also here to stay. From 29 September to 3 October 2008 users of open source and proprietary GIS packages are encouraged to attend the 2008 Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G 2008) conference in Cape Town. GISSA is the host for this year’s conference, which has been amalgamated with GISSA’s annual national conference.

The conference has been organised in conjunction with the internationally renown Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) a not-for-profit organisation which promotes the collaborative development of open geospatial technologies and data, and also encourages the implementation of open standards and standards-based interoperability in their projects.

Anyone for whom location data is of importance is encouraged to attend the event.


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