Spatial data industry developing new vocabularies

To speak a common language: Spatial data industry developing new vocabularies

The use of spatial data is likely to increase dramatically over the next decade driven by:

  • the Internet of Things (IoT) – more sensors capturing more data
  • improved remote capture – by satellites, drones and planes
  • open access data
  • DaaS (data as a service)
  • Cloud and analytics platforms and the value obtainable from them
  • ubiquitous computing power; and
  • increased automation – algorithms and machine learning.

Currently, for users of location datasets, communicating their needs to data suppliers can be as difficult as speaking another language.

While the data world has made great leaps in the technology and products it produces, the industry is yet to find consistent ways to reference and express the attributes and features of those products using a vocabulary that is meaningful to data consumers in the context of their business.

PSMA Australia and a group of project partners from the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) will address the challenges presented by the ‘consumerisation’ of location data by researching and developing a set of linked standardised vocabularies for use by data suppliers and consumers alike. These vocabularies will enable a supplier to publish data quality metadata in a manner that enables more efficient assessment of the data’s fitness for purpose by data consumers and businesses in spatial and non-spatial industries.

Project Leader and PSMA Product Quality Manager, Tom Spencer, says the research is coming at a critical time when the diversity of users, uses and data is expanding and suppliers of datasets have a greater requirement for accurately ascertaining the needs of data consumers in technical and non-technical fields.

“There’s a gap between spatial data consumers and suppliers, in that, it’s really difficult for a supplier of spatial data to communicate to a consumer of spatial data how a dataset is fit for that consumer’s purpose,” Spencer says.

“It’s also hard for the supplier of data to understand the requirements of the consumer.”

This gap results in a process that is often expensive and time-consuming for data consumers and their businesses, which must run extensive tests to determine whether a data product suits their needs and then modify the product to better fit their requirements.

Leading the research is Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Faculty, whose researchers will begin the 12-month project by engaging industries and customers to develop data consumer profiles and gain an understanding of how they talk about data quality.

The next step is to engage suppliers and consumers of data to understand how suppliers describe the quality of their products and how consumers describe their requirements, when accessing spatial data products. The project team will approach organisations across the spatial supply chain to understand the similarities and differences across industries, technical and spatial maturity, and supplier and consumer roles. This will then lead to the development of vocabularies.

From there, the vocabularies will be validated as an enabler for connecting users to data via searchable query terms in platforms such as

Spencer says the project’s success will depend on the widespread adoption by the spatial industry of the vocabularies that are produced.

“The vocabularies will only be successful if data suppliers and consumers work together in their definition and implementation across supply chains,” Spencer says.

This would need to occur, not only in Australia, but globally. PSMA is active within the Open Geospatial Consortium and hopes to engage the international community to keep the project in step with other activities aimed at improving standards.

By building a set of vocabularies that translate technical descriptors into natural language, the spatial data industry can become more consumer-focussed and significantly improve the effectiveness with which datasets are matched and used outside of traditional spatial domains.

A clear, standardised language will assist industries as diverse as insurance, mining, health and emergency response management, which have a need for spatial data, but would benefit from simpler forms of communication with suppliers.

Suppliers, in turn, will gain a better understanding of the applicability of their datasets and how they are consumed.

“The new vocabulary will provide a framework for enabling focussed discussions about data quality that are really difficult to have now,” Spencer explains.

“It will allow a consumer of spatial data products to talk to many different suppliers in the same language and those suppliers to interpret what they’re saying in the same way.”

If you are a consumer of spatial data and are interested in getting involved in this project, please contact:

Project Leader and PSMA Product Quality Manager, Tom Spencer
T: 02 6260 9000
E: [email protected]

Or visit the CRCSI Reducing Consumer Uncertainty project webpage.

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