The public release of the national geocoded address database (G-NAF) offers a huge opportunity for government to build a large-scale platform to support a variety of innovative location services and to gain powerful insights when mixed with demographic and other attributes.
Until recently locational data has been locked up in specialised data lakes and used in bespoke applications. But the release of PSMA’s G-NAF now enables agencies to introduce precise location data into a broad mix of data, helping drive insight and innovation in policy making and service delivery.
“Government is a natural location business,” said Joe Francica, managing director, geospatial industry solutions, at Pitney Bowes, a provider of locational data and software. Francica is a recognised global location intelligence expert and is in Australia for the Locate 16 conference in Melbourne
“Location is intrinsic to the tax base, emergency services and wide range of public services, whether is the funding of infrastructure, economic development, health, education or social services.”
Mixing locational data with other attributes can uncover fraud, reveal patterns and offers connections, all of which can be automated.
As part of the digital transformation, wider and more effective sharing of authoritative sources of data is critical to aiding efficient decision-making in government. Location is increasingly recognised as a dimension of many sources of information essential in government.
Despite more open access to “foundation” geographic data, such as the recent release of G-NAF, geographical data and applications remained largely point solutions in government.
Open access to foundation data offers a real chance for agencies to not spend scarce resources, managing their own data pools and building custom platforms to enable its access and distribution. Instead there are common authoritative spatial data resources that will gain quality and utility through increased application.
This makes it possible for government departments and agencies to more easily share, collaborate and co-produce information on a consistent basis. And this platform has the capacity to fuel an explosion of innovation as agencies exploit this data to design and drive programs and outcomes.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Data Policy Unit is driving open access to authoritative sources of foundation data — data that directly supports the important geographic fabric of the nation with frameworks such as address statistical reporting and land ownership.
A foundation in digital geography
Francica argues that government needs to see itself as an industry whose foundation is truly digital geography. “The reason I say that is you can’t build on a democratic government’s services without knowing where people are and the land management system in place and the mandate that comes with that is what we start with,” he said.
“Once we have that foundation we begin to build on all the things that are important to a government from a geographic perspective such as what they are funding, where that funding is going and what value the funding is providing.
“If I look at the political framework, if I am a politician, I actual need to govern geographically. Whether it is national security or picking up the rubbish, we need to know where to send people and where I am applying or not applying resources. These are the things spatial information management can tell you.”
Francica encourages agencies to first look at the data they have, to understand the density and begin to see the patterns and insights when mixed with a precise data base like G-NAF. He says this will yield short-term successes and build capability.
But the big prize comes from the innovation that comes from releasing the data publicly and letting other agencies contribute data and let providers build applications using the data. An ACIL-Tasman report several years ago predicted gains of between $6-12 billion from opening up the locational database.[pullquote] “This is the real power of geo-location intelligence, to have a very deep understanding …” [/pullquote]
“In the out years you begin to see the innovation take off,” Francica said. “Now you have something that is very rich, what we call geo enrichment so we can begin to ask very detailed questions of the data. This is the real power of geo-location intelligence, to have a very deep understanding, be it of an individual premises, a local government area or region.”
This is especially true with the widespread deployment of sensors, which can provide real-time insights and information when laid on top of G-NAF database.
Spatial information also becomes very important for infrastructure planning. Malaysia has built its future infrastructure plan on top of a precise locational database. Francica says for the big cities there is infrastructure above and below the pavement, all of which can be mapped using spatial information to build a dense stack of data around a precise location. The release will challenge agencies to architect their data and applications quite differently.
The systems that enable location in data remain largely as point-solutions that exist in silos distinguishable only by virtue of the IT requirements of the agency that runs them.
One way to enable meaningful sharing of such information for end users is to ensure interoperable service platforms that let agencies work through secure, open systems and interfaces. These entities have existed for a number of years, yet ubiquitous, performant, high-value end-user services largely still do not exist.
Increasing the use of G-NAF and other foundational datasets will need a combination of involvement of distinct tiers in industry and government, plus the concerted co-operative efforts of individuals working in these organisations. Observers say this is unlikely to happen through market forces alone and unless the right conditions prevail.
The concept of government-wide open locational platform has been a long time in gestation. The ingredients are now available, coming up with the recipe that relies on getting the right organisations and people to co-operate is key.
The opportunity is for government to do this smartly and successfully by adopting interoperable, shared services that provide informational-level access to complex data.
Joe Francica will discuss how agency program and policy designers can use location intelligence to build powerful new solutions to better serve their stakeholders, customers and citizen users. Joe is speaking at Join the Dots – Digital Government and Location Intelligence, a Canberra breakfast event presented by PSMA and Pitney Bowes on Tuesday, April 19 at 8am. Joe will join Gemma Van Halderen, general manager, Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Helen Owens, principal adviser Public Data Policy Unit, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Registration is essential and places are limited.