GeoCom 2014

GeoCom 2014

Last week I attended Geocom – The changing face of Geo (otherwise known as the AGI annual conference). I was involved in helping with a small group of people (the events action working group) to help with organising the conference this year, and so my review might be biased!

I arrived the day before to help with the setup of the icebreaker welcome dinner – where we had 100 people listening to the amazing career of @mara_yamauchi. Mara gave some great tips to the budding runners in the audience and likened the marathon to projects you may have in the workplace. I should also mention that we started off with a brief intro from Rollo, the conference chair, and Abi, who told us about the Geo Big 5 events series and the plans for next year. Following a brilliant dinner we started the networking bingo. Here’s the card we gave to people!…

The winners of the networking bingo each received a map courtesy of SplashMaps. Thanks to David for these prizes!

Day 1 of conference* started with some interesting keynote speeches from Tim Broyd of UCL (formerly of Halcrow, Atkins etc. and Vice President of ICE) who talked about the built environment and gave some interesting insight int megacities, the London infrastructure plan and also obesity! And after that we heard Richard Waite from ESRI UK talking about the GIS industry and early pioneers to North America. Following a short break in the main exhibition hall (where the sponsor stands were located), where I visited Roger on the MapAction stand, we broke out into separate sessions. I was hosting Stream 5 which saw two interesting talks on GIS and the Olympic legacy and the use of Geographic Information in the construction industry.

The first presentation on the Olympic legacy was really interesting and Dan from Civica and Danny from LLDC talked about the huge quantities of data which was handed over from the ODA including 3500 borehole locations. The team set about creating different GIS viewers for different purposes including planning and land use. There was also talk of future plans for the park which included the term ‘Olmpicopolis’!.

Nick Humes then talked about GI for the construction industry and how BIM is helping regulatory requirements. Nick also mentioned that 80% of planning applications are filled by non-professonals – a startling figure!

After lunch, I attended some sessions on drones, followed by a presentation by Ian Coady on the ONS workplace zones. These cover England and Wales with 53,578 zones encapsulating where people work. I think this data is incredibly useful and it was surprising to learn that ONS initially struggled to get the commercial sector to provide case studies for the use of the data. This has changed since the release of the data last year.

After some more networking and meeting with people I’ve seen only at AGI Conferences and plenty who I see more regularly (!), we went into the final plenary for the day. This was started by Neil Ackroyd, acting DG of Ordnance Survey who talked about a number of things including the Government site, resilience direct, where OS mapping is used. He also mentioned that the Ordnance Survey data in Minecraft was more successful (in terms of number of downloads), then any of the other OS Open Data products put together! Next it was time for a very brief break, which was followed by the AGM. After the AGM we started the party to celebrate 25 years of the AGI. Past Chair’s of the AGI talked about the main issues of interest in the geographic information industry when they were at the helm of the AGI. Roy Wood, pictured below, gave us his insights – Roy is currently the Chairman of MapAction.

The morning session of Day 2 began with Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Advisor talked about the evolution of mapping (from John Snow and cholera to the mapping of the Ebola crisis today), and an interesting case study of using fitness bracelets (think Strava) to look at how widely the recent Napa earthquake in Northern California was felt. He also talked about the work the FCO are doing to map threats within different countries, and mentioned that a recent Oxera report that estimates the revenues from global Geo services at $150 billion to $270 billion per year. Next up was a fascinating talk by Professor Sanjeev Gupta, who is a basically a Mars explorer! He gave an enthusiastic presentation on how NASA are using the Curiosity rover to look at rocks on Mars, and how they are planning day-to-day which areas of land are best to ‘survey’. Future missions will look to take borehole samples from Mars’s surface but to collect those samples will involve a 3-stage mission. Prof Gupta talked about the societal benefits from the various space missions, and it was a really great talk with some amazing images from Mars.

After the key notes we had Harvey Lewis from Deloitte in Stream 1, the session I hosted, who talked about opportunities for Big Data and ways to unlock value. This was an interesting talk with Big Data being such a hot topic at the moment, and Harvey also covered some of the concerns around privacy.

Next was Denise McKenzie from OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) who talked about open standards across communities. Denise talked about the history or the OGC, this year celebrating it’s 20th birthday, and how the organisation grew out of the defence industry. She described how standards organisations are working in closer collaboration to ensure interoperability between standards. And how the UN-GGIM and it the vision documents are helping to set the role of standards for Geographic Information now and into the future.

Following a lunch break it was into the afternoon sessions, where somewhat regrettably I ended up missing the talk by Doug Specht on how social movements are using participatory GIS – he won best paper at conference. Instead I helped prepare for the evening awards which I actually couldn’t attend(!). After another break, it was onto the final plenary session which saw Graphic (the team behind Guardian Data) talking about digital storytelling. This was a really interesting session and showed some amazing uses of visualisation (maps and other devices) to help provide easy to understand information from data including a mention of the work of Nathan Yao (@flowingdata). And then Anne Kemp, AGI Chair, and Rollo Home, conference chair, rounded off the conference before the AGI awards began. Does anyone want to write a report on the AGI awards?!

*Full conference schedule available here

Review of AGI Tech SIG and OGC event

Note – this post also appears on the AGI blog.

On Monday I helped organise an AGI Technical SIG event from the OGC on the UK Interoperability Assessment Plugfest (or UKIAP for short – not to be confused with the political party UKIP of course!). Bart De Lathouwer from OGC, Peter Cotroneo from OS, and Paul Lacey from DSTL all presented and gave a great overview of the OGC, and thedifferent programmes they operate, as well as discussing theUKIAP and what it means for the wider geospatial community. The programmes cover standards, compliance, outreach and the interoperability programme. UKIAP covers mostly all the separate programmes with its work.

The UKIAP is all about trying to ensure software suppliers are consuming OGC standards as expected, and is really important for business and government for the sharing of geospatial information.
Embedded image permalinkImagine a company which has 5 departments all using slightly different GIS and CAD software but they want to share information – this is where OGC standards can help! Phase 1 of UKIAP was a closed door affair (what happens in Las Vegas (or Blackpool was used in this case!) stays in Las Vegas (or Blackpool!), with each of the 11 suppliers testing their software against 5 OGC standards (GML, WMS, WMTS, WMS-C, and WFS). A series of tests were performed to basically determine if the standard worked as expected in different geospatial software. The next stage is Phase 2 of the UKIAP on the 3rd March. The results from Phase 2 will be published and so everyone can see how the different software performed against the standards. What happens in “Blackpool” will be revealed!

There were plenty of questions from the audience about the OGC too, and Bart talked about how standards can prevent vendor lock in, and bring consensus to the geospatial community. Everyone agreed it was an interesting event and we hope we can put on more of these events. We followed the event by the ever popular geodrinks at a local hostelry.

Open Government Partnership 2013

Today and tomorrow, the Open Government Partnership London Summit 2013 is happening.

See this map for some tweets about it all (using hashtag #ogp2013)

The 3 Opens

I know it’s been done before but I hear again and again people getting their use of the word Open (Source, Data, Software) mixed up. Most usually there is confusion between the meanings of Open Source and Open Standards. So here are some definitions……

….but before that here’s a nice image of the 3 Opens (data, source, and standards) interacting with each other!

Open Source Software – the source code (the programming code which was used to develop the software) is available to all. Usually there is a collaborative aspect to this type of software and a developer community is actively adding to the code behind the software. An example in the GIS world is the GIS software You can also find much Open Source material at The key organisation behind open source geospatial software is Quite often Open Source software is free (but not always!). Also see often Open Source software makes use of Open Standards……

Open Standards – covers the development of a set of data standards which allows different software (both proprietary and open-source) to transfer data easily and quickly. In the GIS world, the Open Geospatial Consortium maintain a set of geographic information standards such as WMS, WFS and KML (you know as in Google Earth KML). Open Standards should allow easier extraction, transfer and loading of data as it follows a defined format.

Open Data – is free data essentially. There has been a big move in the US, UK and throughout most of the western world to open up data to the general public, especially data which governments collect (see and In the UK, the Ordnance Survey has released OS Open Data which is a set of freely available geographic information including terrain data, place data, postcodes, roads, buildings etc.

I might add to these definitions over time. Let me know what you think!