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

Some notes on AGI GeoCommunity 13

Here’s some longer notes on AGI GeoCommunity 2013, the UK’s premier geospatial event at EMCC in Nottingham. So I arrived in Nottingham on Monday, into Ancaster Hall. I managed to miss the icebreaker (it’s a long story) and after a good sleep, and great breakfast I was ready for the first day of talks. In the key notes Vanessa Lawrence, DG of Ordnance Survey, gave an interesting talk of which I picked up on the G8 open data commitments, the BCS announcing a carto hack camp , and the space catapult along with the national data strategy. Throughout the conference I made sure that the sponsors in the exhibition hall were catered for (here’s a list of the sponsors – a big thank you to all of them for making #GeoCom possible).

Next up I went to watch PBS give a demo on the use of open data in business. Is open data free data? Yes, but not exactly if you factor in the costs of transforming the data and making it fit for purpose. This pre-empted my talk a little where free does not always mean free to all. Next I went to watch my old boss Kendall give an engaging talk on HS2. This gave a good overview of the spatial enterprise set up for HS2. Kendall also mentioned the need for constant communication to management and contractors to make sure that all parties are thinking of the bigger picture. Next up I went to the NoSQL talk from Jack Harrison of Ordnance Survey. This was a great talk. One day I’ll have the guts to do a picture based presentation – you know the ones (no text and lots of lovely pictures). Anyway the talk gave a good overview of reading and visualising twitter feeds using NoSQL, Ruby, JSON, D3.js and Mongo DB. I hope I have time to check these out in a bit more detail! All Jack’s work can be found at After a full day of talks it was time for a quick run and then to the bar where we witnessed some casino games, much beer, and (if you were lucky/unlucky) some karaoke in the other rooms. My MapAction collague (who shall remain nameless!) has suggested that next year the conference should have 1 hour of entirely map-related karaoke. I can think of Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a relevant song for sure!

The next day (Wednesday) saw a plenary from Ian of Sainsbury’s who explained a bit about how they use location intelligence in their site planning and analysis. Then there was a talk on BIM and this gave a good overview of the current state of play. We were urged to read Construction 2025. We also saw an awe-inspiring video of a sky scraper in China being built in 15 days! Then I presented on Building Catastrophe Models using Open Data and Open Source (see my last post for the presentation). Next up Mark Jackson of CERC showed us an open-source web GIS for accessing climate data. The portal is open-source and available from After lunch I saw James Proctor from EA (NaFRA) talk about processing data and speeding up data manipulation. Finally for the day Lynnae Sutton presented on Open Source GIS techniques for web mapping mentioning Kartograph.js, Open Layers, Dojo, D3, I2maps, Leaflet.js, Cartodb, Mapbox and Mapnik amongst others! Then we had the closing session, with Peter Batty talking on Openess in Geospatial which nicely pre-empted FOSS4G (post coming soon).

Short notes on AGI GeoCommunity and FOSS4G 2013

Long time no post! Well, I’ve just returned from AGI GeoCommunity 2013 and FOSS4G at EMCC, Nottingham University. They were great great great events and I’d like to thank the AGI team, AGI GeoCom AWG, and FOSS4G LOC for all their hours spent on making them a perfect set of conferences. AGI had a lot for the UK geospatial person; ranging from BIM, 3D, cartography to all the opens (source, standards and data). FOSS4G was solely open source for geospatial (as the name suggests), but the tag line ‘geo for all’ was really apt. It really amazes me how many uses there are for geospatial software and how far open source geospatial has come. There were some thought provoking keynotes and some very exciting news on software releases etc. I want to expand on my thoughts from the conference – I’ll try to do this in the coming days! I presented ‘Building Catastrophe Models using Open Data and Open Source’ which you can view here……