Thursday, 22 May 2014

Geo: The Big 5 - Open Geospatial Review

Simon Wheeler, AGI NI Chair and the person single most responsible for making the latest Geo Big 5 event a huge success has kindly provided a review of the event:

Last week saw the 2nd Big 5 conference “Open GeoSpatial” hosted by AGI Northern Ireland. When the new format was suggested at the end of 2013, this was the theme that most excited me, and it has been great fun, and hard work, to help put the event together. Post event it has been deemed one of the best events we have hosted since AGINI started 11 years ago.
Opening the Debate

The Big 5 events can be summed up as AGI Conferences in the Regions, rather than Regional Conferences as the Nation groups have held previously. So what did this mean to us in Northern Ireland? The format effectively gave delegates a taste of what they might expect at the main 2 day conference (up to now known as GeoCommunity or GeoComm). We had big name speakers, 2 streams and hands on workshops, as well as the Sponsor exhibition. However, what made the event a game changer from my perspective, was the mixture of delegates attending, with a good mix of attendees from Northern Ireland, GB and the Republic of Ireland, with 2 of our speakers (Australia and Canada) giving it a truly international flavour – brought out in the panel discussion where we had 6 nations represented, with the myriad of views aired.

OK – what did delegates get on the day? Following my opening as AGINI Chair, Anne Kemp (AGI Chair) gave a brief summary of the Open Standards panel debate held in London the day before. We opted for 2 keynotes this year – Caron Alexander the new Director of Digital Services for the NI Civil Service gave her view and vision for Open Data in Northern Ireland. There are some exciting things to come and I am really looking forward to what this can bring to the Industry. She also announced a Head of Open Data has been appointed – a good move so said the #GeoBig5 tweets. Then Jim Lennon gave a quick update on the new LPS (OSNI for the old hands) data model, and Spatial NI, the Northern Ireland Inspire and spatial data portal to be officially launched on the 4th June. The brief tale of how the major snow storms of March 2013 brought Spatial NI to the attention of the emergency planners was a great example of how a crisis can raise the prominence of Geo.
Estelle Lowry  about NINIS 

After the much needed coffee break (the opening coffee somehow appeared as the conference started), we split into two sessions plus a workshop. The main stream covered the broad Open themes – Standards, Data and Source plus what the AGI brings to the table – Open debate, whilst stream 2 covered case studies, but still largely around the Open arena. I stayed in the main session to help Bruce McCormack, our guest chair and President of IRLOGI and EUROGI, to host the stream. For me it was a major coup to secure Denise McKenzie from OGC to speak on the common sense and value of standards internationally. Standards allow us to communicate with each other digitally, and work best when open. Following Denise, John Carpenter from Ordnance Survey GB took us through the value of Open data to OSGB, and also some of the issues around the need for API’s and assistance to developers to enable them to be used effectively. Bill Roberts of Swirrl then gave an overview of Linked Data and the benefits which it brings to connecting data together. Stream 2 had some great talks from the feedback I got, with Ciaran Kirk of IMGS talking dynamic data, Brendan Sheehy of Mallon Technology looking at the benefits of Open to SME’s and Jo Cook of Astun Technology talking QGIS in the Enterprise.

Following a busy lunch (some WIFI issues to solve), we were into the 2nd part of the split stream. OSGB delivered a great workshop on OSGB open data using QGIS, which had followed a very packed morning workshop from ESRI on Story maps and flex viewers. Where else can you get industry experts giving workshops for free? In stream 1, Eoin McFadden from DETI looked at how open public data was being
The Panel, Deep in Debate
used as a driver for innovation, and how Northern Ireland is at the forefront of this drive. We then had an extended international panel session chaired by Bill Roberts with some thought provoking questions for Anne Kemp, John Carpenter, Tracey Lauriault, Denise McKenzie, Eamon Doyle and Eoin McFadden. Sadly we had to cut it short at 1 hour – we could have gone on much longer – the session is available on the AGI site. The best practice stream meanwhile heard from  Eamon Doyle of ESRI Ireland, Rosita Mahoney of the SPACEial NW project, Estelle Lowry of NINIS and John Hewitt from SOPRA.
I asked one of the delegates who was new to GI and AGI to give his perspective on the day.  Paul Higgins from LPS Business Services gives his perspective on the day.

“Three years ago I didn’t really know much about GI, but over the last couple of years through work and media I have become increasingly aware of it. I just didn’t know it as GI. So I went along to the conference to learn and understand how GI could be of benefit. I went to the Open Data stream in the morning and to the Best Practice Showcase in the afternoon.
I was motivated by Denise McKenzie’s talk. I had a Health IT background and could see lots of potential for GI. For example epidemiology and GI are made for each other.  I also found it refreshing that it all speakers were advocating open data.
The Best Practice stream put into perspective the Open Data stream. Eamon Doyle from ESRI Ireland described his ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.  I think I had my moment at the conference.
I came away from the conference inspired and with a much clearer vision of GI and its potential. It occurs to me as someone from a mainstream ICT background, and new to GI, that it is going to be a growth area in the next few years as ‘big data’ becomes more prevalent. As all the latest technologies such as Internet of Things, Remote sensing, wearable technology and GPS mature, the only way to make sense of it all is through GI. So I am glad I went to the conference.”

Finding out how Canada does Open

To wrap up the day, we welcomed our plenary speaker Dr Tracey Lauriault, a prolific Canadian open blogger who is presently based at NUI Maynooth working on the Digital City programme. Tracey gave us a whirlwind tour of what we can learn from the Canadian experience of Open – standards, SDI’s and the role of the Geomatician. Tracey has huge amounts of energy and was a great end to the conference. Well not quite the end – this came with GeoDrinks when I finally got a chance to catch up with colleagues old and new.

So if you haven’t been to a Geo Big 5 event, there’s still time – it’s a great programme of events and well worth attending. Whilst it’s a great place to network and make new contacts, these conferences are also a great way to get a synopsis of what’s relevant at the present time from industry experts. You will always learn something new, or get a new perspective.
A big thanks to all our speakers and sponsors once again.

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