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Working on Spatial Data quality and pragmatic enterprise solutions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spatial Information is the key to Smart Infrastructure

Last Friday (12/3/2010) I had the pleasure of attending the "Smart Infrastructure Conference" in Canberra, hosted by the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. The conference was part of the parliamentary inquiry into Smart Infrastructure, which (in short) tells the government how best to implement and maximise the benefits from Smart Infrastructure, such as dynamic train management, smart utility grids or hydrological sensor networks.

Many representatives, like me, would have come to parliament house with some trepidation. Only last year Infrastructure Australia published its recommendation for national infrastructure priorities, which focused almost exclusively on "hard" infrastructure investments, that is steel, concrete and fibre. This despite many passionate submissions (such as this one from Gary Nairn) from the ICT and Spatial Industries arguing quite rightly that in the 21st century, soft infrastructure (also known as "Info-structure"), is at least as critical for the economic and environmental well-being of Australia.
I was therefore delighted to hear the Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, in his opening address make a passionate case for seeing Smart Infrastructure as being "shorthand for innovative, adaptive and technology based infrastructure", encompassing "systems as a whole, and how they integrate". Indeed, when you think of it: steel, concrete and fibre is dumb, it is the sensor networks, the data and the services that enable smart management and decision making on top of and between these hard infrastructures.

The next logical step is to realise that all infrastructure related information is by definition location-based, so location enablement of Smart Infrastructure is key to enabling integrating systems on a common canvas. This canvas would be provided by spatial info-structures (aka an SDI!), delivering a raft of services including access to fundamental data sets, positioning networks, geocoding (name or address lookup), geoprocessing services, and the like.

It is very encouraging therefore that the recognition of Spatial Information as the common canvas for Smart Infrastructure was repeatedly and strongly confirmed by the majority of speakers, and also in all four break-out groups (addressing the water, transport, energy and communication sectors).

There is no escaping the fact that Smart Infrastructure is going to generate what is sometimes referred to as a 'Data Tsunami': millions of readings from water sensors, smart meters, RFID tags etc. Businesses and the Community will expect that Smart Infrastructure will be digesting this Tsunami in real-time for better management and decision support for our water supply, energy reliability and transport logistics.

The technical challenge facing our industry will be to support this need with tools that will take these massive, location-based data inputs, apply spatial and business rules and generate 'actionable information' (such as alerts) in real time. This is an opportunity for existing and proven complex spatial event processing services such as Indji watch.

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