Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Tunnelling into the Mapping Showcase, a brief events roundup

The penultimate month of the year seems to be a popular one for events both in and out of the geo arena. Last week I attended the NCE Tunnelling conference (courting those engineers and surveyors again) and the more traditionally geo Mapping Showcase. I'm going to give a quick roundup of both of these events (with a bit more emphasis on the Mapping Showcase).

My main reason for attending the Tunnelling event was to try and meet potential GI users beyond our usual group (much like Slope Engineering the week before). The tunnelling industry in the UK is both one that is booming and one that is willing to embrace innovation and technology. I hadn't really thought of this until the conference but the majority of major infrastructure projects under way or upcoming in the UK include a tunnelling component. Crossrail, HS2 and the Thames Tideway Tunnel (unsurprisingly) all include major tunnelling work and that amounts to billions of pounds worth of capital spend. This is in addition to the programme of tunnel assessment and maintenance work undertaken by asset owners such as TFL and the Highways Agency.

This represents a significant market and as I have already said one that is willing to accept innovation. BIM or at least systems very similar to BIM and 3D modelling are already being used by the tunnelling industry. Despite this I encountered a perception that GI (GIS specifically) would not be suitable for tunnelling due to the largely underground nature of the work. The perception here is that GI is just surface mapping and not applicable to the complex 3D environment faced by tunnellers. This view seems to be the main barrier to GI provides breaking in to this potentially lucrative market. There is some crossover already however with hardware suppliers like Leica and Topcon (both AGI members) having a presence at this event.

It seems clear that the GI sector has expertise and products that can help the tunnelling sector where spatial precision is so crucial. However the key to accessing this growing market (both in the UK and internationally, the money being spent on the Doha metro is insane) is going to be overcoming preconceptions of what we do and demonstrating the technologies and skills we have like 3D modelling, remote sensing and subterranean mapping.

Mapping Showcase

On to a more usual geo event next; the Mapping Showcase, finale to this year’s programme of Geo Data events. This year the event was held in a hotel somewhere in the border zone between Fulham and Kensington (very handy for me). This turned out to be a typically lively event, it was hard to get a feel of the numbers (and as a free event a fair amount of no shows can be expected) but the hall felt full and we were certainly busy on the AGI stand particularly during the 11am rush.

Sadly this precluded me getting to as many of the sessions as I would have liked but I shouldn't really complain if people are interested in membership! However I did manage to squeeze a few presentations in. ‘BIM, Big Data and the Little Things’ was a great presentation on how grand ideas like BIM and Big Data can still be applied to and benefit smaller projects. ‘Big ideas for small things’ or some similar phrase was the soundbite of the session.

The National address Gazetteer gave an interesting presentation into what goes into creating and maintaining a National Data Infrastructure. I think the most striking thing watching this presentation was how little I knew about how much effort went into this and therefore that the general population just take having access to this kind of data for granted.

The final presentation I saw was from Gavurin showing discussing how businesses that aren't GIS businesses can use GIS data. This was a great summary on how GIS can be made relevant to decision makers and if presented properly can become part of wider ‘business intelligence’ and conversely how the principles of business intelligence can be applied to GI. This is a topic I am particularly interested in as I believe the GI industry struggles to sell its value to other sectors. (I may rant about this in the next blog post).

Anyway to summarise the showcase was generally a fun and informative event and it was great to see some of our members and meet some hopefully soon to be members. Sadly I wasn't able to make any of the interactive ‘smell mapping’ sessions but would love to hear from anyone who did.

Also don’t forget it is the AGI Awards tomorrow, this is our chance to celebrate excellence in GI and take a look at some of the innovation that is taking place in our industry. There are still a few places left and it’s also a great chance to visit the lovely Royal Geographical Society building that we call home.

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