The Spatial Miscellany


A weblog. A website. A geospatial miscellany…

The Value of GIS

Last month the National Audit Office (NAO) shared their findings from a review of value for money delivered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) £40 Million investment in GIS. For every £4 spent on GIS, Defra delivers a £1 return on investment – ouch.


It’s worth casting an eye on the findings from the NAO, especially if you are in the process of drafting or updating your Geo Information strategy. The review suggests the existing strategy is technology heavy, and it’s hard to pass further comment with no exposure to the strategy or its implementation.

The key ‘finding’ in the report is familiar to all who work with GI – how do you quantify the value of GIS? It’s not tangible, it supports better decision-making, it’s a platform supporting the work of other departments, all of this is true, but frustratingly it doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to establishing return on investment.

Executive Summary (PDF)
Full Report (PDF)
Methodology (PDF)

The Internet of Things, lets bump start the economy…

Yesterday, I spotted this article over at ReadWriteWeb, it’s the first article in a forthcoming series of posts that will review new developments in the ‘Internet of Things’ – the Internet of what?

The Internet of Things is a horrible name for something that frankly I can’t wait to see gather more pace. It’s actually such a horrible name it justifies the use of its acronym – IoT. The big idea behind IoT is that lots of things (e.g. fridges, dog collars, cameras) are all connected to the internet and can talk to each other. It’s such an obvious evolution, it prompts the question of why hasn’t it already happened? For a good while the necessary hardware was expensive and big, but the prevailing smart phone boom is evidence that this is no longer the case – Ron Callari asks what’s holding us back, and wonders if it might be government?

I would stop short of suggesting the government (US or UK) is holding back the IoT, but I do feel strongly there is a big opportunity here for government. Most Western governments are currently in a bit of a pickle with some hefty debt commitments, high unemployment and low growth – so here’s a suggestion for the UK coalition government.

Essentially, regulate (or nudge & bump) mobile network operators to prevent them selling ‘mobile internet’ to the same person several times. At home I pay for one single Internet connection, and many ‘things’ in my house can use that connection, they are connected, but when I step out of my door the rules change. I would need a mobile data package for my smart phone, a mobile micro sim for my iPad, a mobile Internet dongle for my laptop, and a mobile subscription plan for my dog collar. Now, I’ll resist talking about what is, and isn’t, fair, but let’s consider the economics.

At first glace the status quo looks good for the economy, I’m paying the network operator four buckets of money for my mobile Internet, they pay dividends to shareholders and tax to the treasury, all that extra money escaping from my moth ridden wallet is funding new ventures and generating growth, yes but, no but – because, you have to be very wealthy or a few screws loose to actually own all four devices with four duplicate mobile internet contracts. If regulation was in place that meant mobile Internet subscriptions could not be tied to a single device, I would dash out tomorrow and splash the cash on the iPad and SmartPhone, and I’d sure be tempted with the dog collar.

The government really could lead on this issue and facilitate a move in this direction, and then we would see many more dog collars and other things (many yet to be conceived) on the Internet. It would be a voter friendly policy and open a world of new opportunity.

The Ordnance Survey For Sale?

Something had to change, that point we all came around to agree on. The Sunday Times suggests tomorrow that the Ordnance Survey along with other state owned organisations (think the MET Office and Forestry Commission) are being prepared for sale by the government.

OS For Sale

Parliament? An MP? The Cabinet Office? The Shareholder Executive? No, read it here first…

The Sunday Times : Treasury in state-owned assets sell-off

£35k civil service job that no-one understands?

It’s great to see the UK government recognising the value of Geographic Information with this advertisement from The Department of Communities and Local Government for a Spatial Analysis Co-ordinator.

Unfortunately, not everyone would agree, with the Dave & George show, Eric Pickles MP, the tax payers alliance and their collective voice asking if it’s not all just a waste of public money?

What do you think…is Eric Pickles MP, an uninformed and short-sighted member of parliament? Or is he right on the money?

MP asks if it's a proper job...

An abstract from The Telegraph below:

The mystery £34,000 a year job has been advertised by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The successful candidate must have “a strong focus on Place” and understand “what is happening at particular places, what factors influence success and how location impacts upon them”, according to the advert.

“Traditional spatial analysis is embedded with out analysts but we wish to extent into quantitative techniques such as spatial statistics and spatial modelling” it reads.

The Conservatives branded the new role a waste of money.

Eric Pickles, the shadow local government secretary said: “The public will be outraged that when the people are losing their jobs the Government is using taxpayers’ money advertising for such pointless positions.”

The full article can be found here, and perhaps of more value, the job here.

The Royal Mail PAF, that old Chestnut…

Tom Watson…MP for West Bromwich East, the UK’s first Parliamentary blogger, and critically, the cabinet office minister responsible for delivering on the Power Of Information report, recently noted interest in the issues surrounding access to the Royal Mail Postcode Address File (PAF); Tom was promptly informed it was an ‘old chestnut’, what on Earth could that mean?

PAF: That old Chestnut

I talked it over with my well informed friend at the council, who cast some light on the interaction between Local Government, the Royal Mail and the Ordnance Survey…

…local government has an inescapable business need to store data about a multitude of non-addressable objects (ATMs, bus shelters, you name it…they probably need it). Ten years ago, no such dataset existed, historically the old OS address products (AddressPoint etc.) only contained entities that received post, as they were all based on the Royal Mail PAF. To address this business need Local Government set about creating a National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) because no dataset existed which met their needs. Now, here is the Chestnut, enter stage left, two government agencies tasked with delivering a Return on Investment\Capital Employed, and a fictional property developer…

Watson PLC decide to build some new properties. Having identified and procured a suitable site and decided what you would like to build the next step, by law, is to apply for Planning Permission from the appropriate local authority. As part of that process you are required to submit detailed, scaled drawings showing precisely what you are proposing to build and where you are proposing to build it. So… local government is always the first to know about new developments.

If you are granted Planning Permission then you are advised to contact the “Street Naming and Numbering Officer” of the Local Authority concerned to agree the addresses of your new properties with them. This is a statutory duty of local government that, legally, no-one else can do (The legislation under which this happens varies but it’s most often Sections 17-19 of the 1925 Public Health Act). If you’re building new streets the Local Authority name them and add them to the National Street Gazetteer. They also allocate the individual property numbers.

Now the daft bit; clearly the only organisation that can assign a postcode to new properties is Royal Mail as postcodes are their property (and exist solely for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of mail by Royal Mail). The Local Authority Street Naming and Numbering Officer therefore has to give their new addresses to Royal Mail for them to add the postcode and, if one is necessary, the post town. As soon as an address contains a postcode it becomes Royal Mail’s Intellectual Property as they own postcodes! They then pass the address to OS who geo-code it, link it to the OSMM TOID, stick it in Address Layer 2 and sell it!

The real choker for Local Government and the UK tax payer is that if Local Government wishes to use address data with postcodes in, which of course they have to, then they have to pay royalties to Royal Mail to do so! They are forced to spend taxpayers money “buying back” address data most of which they created in the first place!

…my friend at the council puts his spin on the process to underline his frustration, just as the man from the OS, or the woman from the Royal Mail might put their spin on the process to underline their frustration. But the real issue here is…this is the system working?! All organisations are doing a good job, working to direction from the government, and delivering their targets. However, this doesn’t disguise the fact that… millions of pounds of tax payers money is being spent in duplicating what should be a single, definite and accessible resource.


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Do you support the campaign? Should government-funded and approved agencies such as the Ordnance Survey collect data with significant indirect contributions from the UK tax-payer, but then charge users and companies for access to it?


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