How HK can learn from UK in opening geographic data

March 11, 2019 15:24
The global market for geographical information estimated to exceed US$13 billion by 2025. Photo: Xinhua

In the latest budget, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has earmarked HK$300 million for setting up a one-stop data supermarket, also known as the Common Spatial Data Infrastructure.

Over the past decade, the importance of location data for businesses and governments around the globe has grown significantly, with the global market for geographical information estimated to exceed US$13 billion by 2025.

Many countries give much value to geospatial information. The United Kingdom is recognized as one of the global leaders in this area.

The UK has had a number of government agencies that collect and study geographic data, including the more-than-200-year-old Ordnance Survey and the British Geological Survey, which will celebrate its 185th anniversary next year.

At the end of 2017, the British government announced the establishment of the Geospatial Commission. Set up under the Cabinet Office, the commission will seek to boost the productivity of public and private organizations with an annual budget of 40 million pounds (US$51.9 million).

Among other activities, the commission will:

1. Coordinate different geographic information organizations, such as the Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the HM Land Registry, the Valuation Office Agency, etc., to ensure linkage of data, data quality and ease of use;

2. Look into making more geospatial data available for free and without restriction;

3. Formulate regulation and policies related to spatial data made available to the public sector;

4. Monitor the effectiveness of different departments in implementing geospatial strategies; and provide strategic advice to government decision-making authorities and relevant organizations.

Its primary task is opening the data of the Ordnance Survey from last year, which will benefit all sectors, especially small and medium-scale enterprises.

To ensure the accuracy of data, the Ordnance Survey updates its national MasterMap seven times per minute, or more than 10,000 updates each day of the year. In the past, most of the data was not available to the public, and people had to pay to obtain the data, which amounted to 150 million pounds in the previous year.

However, the British government has long recognized that the potential of geographic information for economic development is far more than valuable than the amount of fees collected.

The chairman of the Ordnance Survey said the spatial data will generate up to 6 billion pounds in the next 10 years. The new policy will bring an annual benefit of 130 million pounds to the UK economy. SMEs and startups can directly use the data, as well as combine it with other public data to generate new information and thus promote innovation.

With the chain reaction, it is believed that the overall digital economy of the UK will increase to 11 billion pounds per year.

The Geospatial Commission also promotes the development of spatial information for public use, such as a competition jointly organized with another department, Innovate UK, to encourage crowdsourcing spatial data with a generous bonus of 1.5 million pounds, thereby improving public services.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong