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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Part 1: IMIA Conference Account

ESRI representative presenting on future technologies underpinned by Geography
This year I got the chance to attend International Map Industry Association (IMIA)-Asia Pacific conference in Sydney. IMIA, an international organization for cartographers, GIS people, publishers and retailers, hold conferences annually and offer once a year, a unique opportunity for the competing sections of mapping industry to collaborate. This is my second time attending this conference (first was in Melbourne 2010) and the conference was hosted in Mercure Hotel (1-4/8/2013). Sponsors was Hardie Grant Explore, ESRI Australia and Land & Property Information, NSW.

 One of the key features of this conference is Business Connect (speed dating for networking). One hour and an-half was devoted for this session whereby each attendee introduce each's work to another person in a table for 90s. It just happened that the first person I connected was my old boss. Though I came for myself, I did introduce my role and what my company does (which generated some interests in certain parties). I will be summarizing the key content of the conference in couple of sections.

Open Data

80% of any map production time effort  and cost is consumed in gathering the geospatial data (i.e. lines, polygons, satelite imagery, DEM). Geospatial data doesn't come cheap or even free, they have hefty costs attached here. Depending on country's policies, some countries offer digital geospatial data for free (i.e. U.S) or big mixture of free and non-free datasets (i.e. Australia). In Australia, where governance is very decentralized, different states offer different policies in dataset distribution and fees. With recent changes of state government and influence from overseas trends, Victorian and Queensland Government decided to offer previously non-free datasets for free downloads (i.e. no need to pay to purchase datasets). This is because of state governments want to have transparency enhanced through free geospatial datasets.
Department of Environment & Primary Industries (Victoria) presenter on latest news
For example in Queensland, the presenter stated his department have Google Earth Application called Queensland Globe whereby users can download datasets for free. This includes imagery and cadastral polygon datasets from state government. However, there is one central issue with timing of release of free datasets. The announcements came during the period of massive state spending cutbacks, departments being fused up and mass sacking of employees. These spatial departments have not run away from the aftermath of these events. Since geospatial datasets coming from state government are treated with high authority, the cost of maintaining these datasets up-to-date and largely error-free is high. Previously, they could cover the maintenance cost by selling datasets to interested parties. However, by making these datasets free, these department lost major revenues (amidst state cutbacks) and finding difficult to maintain the datasets. If this continues, chances are the era of free datasets could be short-lived.

In the case of Western Australia (WA), the state government cannot offer free datasets simply because the department in charge is a Statutory Authority. Without much dwelling into politics, Landgate (the one responsible for spatial datasest in WA) should sustain by itself through its own revenue generating mechanisms (state government would not be paying up their bills). Thus, no revenue, no free datasets.

For the moment, Australian cartographers (plus worldwide) can enjoy the free datasets being offered by these institutions.

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