About Me

My photo

Working on Spatial Data quality and pragmatic enterprise solutions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

SDI in the CRC-SI: Also-ran or Opportunity?

Sample of the parallel discussion in the Twittersphere
At last week’s annual conference of the CRC for Spatial Information, we saw the (re-) launch of its “Spatial Data Infrastructures” (SDI) research agenda, which generated vibrant (online) discussions. Though this CRC has been operating for more than 2 years now, its Spatial Infrastructures program has been a bit of a wasteland. In part due to the lack of a dedicated Science Director, the program has to date failed to formulate any vision, nor a credible agenda, and delivered disappointingly little.

So at the start of 2012, Curtin University’s Geoff West was given the unenviable task of defining such an agenda, with limited resources and only four months to work with. Though the result is admirable in this context, it comes from a very low base and is in grave danger of becoming an ‘also-ran’ among many well-advanced, and well-funded Australian research initiatives that are already addressing specific SDI R&D aspects, such as WIRADA, NPEI, AURIN or AuScope  to name but a few.

Each of these has a specific problem they’re addressing, and they are remarkably well-funded: tens of millions of dollars, where the CRC’s SDI program has to make do with about $400,000 per year.

There’s no point for the CRC with its limited time and budget to play catch-up. 

So what to do? Can the CRC transform this from an ‘also-ran’ into a golden opportunity?

I think it can, and I see two possible areas to focus the research: Access and Licensing and R&D Integration.

Drew Clarke
Departmental Secretary, ANZLIC chair and CRC board member Drew Clarke indicated that as far as he’s concerned, the federal government funds the CRC, so should be able to direct its activities (within reason) to be deployed wherever they deliver best value for the government. And as we all know, the government has some issues to resolve in the SDI arena. The most pressing being the lack of openness of, and accessibility to fundamental spatial datasets. Last week’s discussions again confirmed that technology is no longer the limiting factor, and licensing and access regimes, as well as cultural issues, are now the logjam preventing Australia from maximising its economic benefit from spatial information.

The other opportunity comes from the observation that though the other initiatives mentioned before conduct ground-breaking SDI research, they focus on slightly different, isolated problem domains, and there is precious little exchange of knowledge and outcomes between them. There is an important R&D integration role to be played here. Facilitating and coordinating research agendas and outcomes, creating value and knowledge that is far more than the sum of their parts.

I firmly believe that fostering SDI development on the back of existing projects that address real business needs, is the only way to go. As an applied research organisation, the CRC is ideally placed to play that integration role, as long as it doesn’t get hung up on wanting to do ‘pure research’ in an area where it’s so far behind the eight-ball. Only then will the Australian spatial community derive true benefit from the CRC-SI's SDI work.


  1. HI Maurits, thanks for writing this down. Just a few comments from my (limited, AURIN) perspective, I cannot comment on the other projects. AURIN is not in the business of doing science - we are an eResearch Infrastructure project. Yes, we do publish, on the innovations we generate as we go - some of us are researchers, at the end. But the main aim is to code and deliver what is doable, as much as possible currently cutting-edge. Immediate sore spots and itches are addressed, and if successful, published. But we do not pursue any systematic research agenda, not even an applied one. This was exactly my point in my comment from the floor. Any research institution will be too slow to address such sore spots in a systematic research program, to be able to remain relevant. What is required, though, is a bit of research direction leadership, even in an applied context. There stumble upon dozens of problems almost daily which could be addressed, but which are beyond our reach.

    What is needed is not to try to solve things that are solved long time ago by disciplines beyond GIScience (Information Retrieval is one of those that comes to mind after capabilities of this have been mentioned during the plenary), to allow for a bit of exploration (as P1 and p2 are allowed for), and a real commitment of the industry and govt partners (in our FP6 project we worked them really hard - real in-kind, real coding, and real cash, to show real interest).

    And last - many of the potential areas outlined (federated systems, semantic web, etc...) are answers to How?, not What? What is the problem the community needs to have solved, the research question? Maybe federated systems, or Semantic Web are the answers, but I am not sure the contribution will be in those fields...

    my 2c...

  2. Hi Maurits, it’s tempting isn’t it to rush in where angles fear to tread. But we haven’t. There are many sdi’s in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, but none have the objective of supporting a truly international (well Australia and New Zealand anyway) marketplace trading spatial resources. Our Program 3 is intended to provide this support, uniquely.
    (see http://www.crcsi.com.au/Research/3-Spatial-Infrastructures, this may help your focus with the vision).

    Far from being a wasteland, the program has carefully quarantined its resources, whilst working carefully with the key marketplace investors (primarily the Federal, state and territory governments of Australia and the New Zealand government) to get right the essential properties of a marketplace and to dimension and plan the best spatial infrastructure research to support it. We are now within months of publishing a full strategy to do so and implementing a detailed research program. And as you know from last weeks Annual Conference of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information there is now good consensus amongst the prime agencies as to how to proceed with the development of the proposed plan. This was crucial because their datastores will be a great boost to making the marketplace attractive to all.

    As to funding, we will be investing considerably more than $400k. But it’s not really the amount that counts, it’s the sustainable business model that will make or break this. If the model is good, the marketplace will be self supporting, say like the ASX or Amazon or eBay. If not, market forces will rightly prevail. The model needs more work, but now the stars are aligning and it’s as good a time as any to roll up the sleeves and give it a crack.

    1. Maurits I agree with your comments.

      I would take Peter Woodgate's response with a grain of salt. Before becoming CEO of the CRC-SI, he was a major critic of the spatial info industry and bodies such as SIBA Ithen called ASIBA) and the early coordination efforts for SSSI. He openly described David Hocking as a blood sucking self-serving loser. He was highly critical of the Victorian spatial scene after being burnt by disgraced ex-LV head O'Keeffe and sacked former Director of LIG Jacoby (now in Qld sicne 2003). The CRC is a waste of money and has achieved zero.

    2. To Anonymous,

      I'm leaving your comment, as that what I've always done.

      However I am not happy with it. First and foremost because it's a personal attack, which is not appreciated. On this blog I'm looking to generate a lively debate, but one that is based on substance and professional arguments.

      What's more: as your comment is anonymous, and the allegations aren't substantiated, the veracity of your points cannot be confirmed.

      I invite you to identify yourself (either publicly here, or in private to me), and if possible to substantiate your arguments.

      Thank you, Maurits