How Ordnance Survey Ireland is helping organisations to maximise the value of geospatial information through strong leadership, relevant communication and effective engagement in a wide range of projects.

Geospatial information is an incredibly powerful and transformative tool. It can be used throughout government, and by all kinds of private and not-for-profit organisations, to give people the evidence they need to make better decisions so that they can reduce costs, improve efficiency and identify new opportunities. However, not all organisations have discovered geospatial information, and those that have are not necessarily maximising the value that they gain from it yet.

It’s our job to change that. It is a fundamental part of OSi’s role, as the National Mapping Authority for Ireland, to communicate the benefits of using geospatial information and engage in projects to show people how to use geospatial information to its full potential. Our role also involves providing leadership in the formulation and dissemination of global best practices, so that everyone in Ireland can benefit from the ability to share and use global data sets. We are therefore standing up for Ireland in global geospatial data forums, speaking out about the benefits of geospatial information, and getting involved in a wide range of programmes that will maximise the value gained from geospatial information in Ireland.

Standing up

OSi fulfils its leadership role by participating actively in a wide range of influential groups and international forums. Through these activities, OSi can represent the views of the Irish government and stand up for what is in the best interests of the country and its people. Furthermore, OSi can demonstrate how Ireland is using geospatial information in a range of projects to enable it to meet its obligations under UN and EU directives.

Finally, OSi can play a part in shaping best practice approaches for international data sharing and geospatial data standards, and then share these best practices with all in Ireland, for everyone’s benefit. At a global level, OSi represents Ireland in the United Nation’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), which has the remit to help Member States optimise their use of geospatial data and share best practices with other countries. OSi also represents Ireland, alongside Ireland’s Central Statistics Office, in a UN Working Group for the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGS).

OSi has developed a portal for monitoring Ireland’s Sustainable Development Goal indicators, and this data is harvested by the UN, directly from OSi’s portal. At European level, Colin Bray, OSi’s CEO, is President of EuroGeographics, the association that represents national mapping, cadastre and land registry organisations throughout Europe. Bray leads 63 organisations from 46 European countries on initiatives to facilitate improved access to data, services and expertise. Mick Cory, formerly Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland is also Secretary General and Executive Director at EuroGeographics, so Ireland’s interests as a whole are well represented in this important forum.

Through its active participation in these and other international groups and associations, OSi is able to support important global and pan-European initiatives aimed at improving the interoperability and value of geospatial information. Such initiatives include ISA², a programme adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of European Union to promote the interoperability of digital solutions for public administrations, businesses and citizens in Europe. Likewise, OSi represents Ireland in EUREF, a collaborative project for maintaining the quality of the geodetic infrastructure in Europe.

Speaking out

Clear, effective communication lies at the very heart of what OSi does. We aim to promote the benefits of using geospatial data and cast light on the many ways in which it can be used, primarily in government, but also in private sector businesses and not-for-profit organisations. We fulfill this communications role in many ways, from the organisation of events to the generation of informative resources.

Recently, OSi organised and hosted a first-of-its-kind conference, called GeoGov for invited senior public servants, which was enormously successful on two fronts. Firstly, it enabled OSi to set out how it is working in partnership with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) on the implementation of the Public Service Data Strategy. We were able to demonstrate the progress that OSi has made in leading three geospatial information initiatives. Secondly, the conference provided a forum in which organisations could present their own projects, showcasing different ways in which organisations are benefiting from geospatial information.

This event is, therefore, a great example of how OSi is fulfilling its mandate by educating people about geospatial information, but also going much further and helping to inspire greater use of geospatial information in Ireland. One particular strategy that OSi is employing currently, to help it improve the quality of its communications, is content-led marketing. We are investing in the generation of high-quality materials and resources that provide helpful and timely information on the benefits of geospatial data and how to exploit geospatial data fully. For example, OSi has recently produced a series of papers called ‘OSi Insight’ that shed light on different industry trends, like Linked Data and explain how OSi is supporting government and UN policies by improving the accessibility and quality of geospatial data.

All this high value ‘content’ is being promoted online, via social media and at events to help OSi communicate succinct and relevant information to the right audiences. Alongside external communications, OSi is committed to communicating clearly and well with its employees, and it does this, in part, through OSi News, a quarterly newsletter. Recent articles have appraised staff about National Geospatial Information & Communication Technology (NGICT) and provided an overview of geospatial data services and data governance, ensuring that all members of staff are aware of the latest industry developments.

The newsletter is supported by CEO and General Manager briefings, as well as departmental and team meetings, in which a wide range of topics can be covered. In particular, OSi is communicating with employees about the creation of Tailte Eireann, the Government body that is going to be established from OSi’s merger with the Property Registration Authority and Valuation Office. With such a significant change in our structure on the horizon, good communication is never more important.

Getting involved

OSi could not fulfil its role fully without engaging directly with the people and organisations that work with geospatial information, want to use geospatial information, or may use geospatial information in the future. We, therefore, get involved in a wide range of projects, on a regular basis, aimed at providing hands-on support and on-the-ground inspiration, with a focus on supporting the public sector.

Commercial engagements are, however, also critical for helping OSi to promote the benefits of OSi’s paid-for services, such as up-to-date imagery, sell products and services, and get a return on investment. In several recent initiatives, OSi has worked directly with government agencies to ignite and support innovative new projects that use geospatial information. For example, experts from OSi worked with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to help it use geospatial information in a ground-breaking project to combine data about public investments, from multiple government departments and agencies, in the same place for the first time.

The resulting web service, called myProjectIreland, allows people to more easily find out about all the investment projects and programmes being delivered in their own areas, as part of the Project Ireland 2040 scheme. In another project, OSi worked with the National Council for Special Educational Needs (NCSE) showing it how to use geospatial data and technology to make information about services for children with special educational needs in Ireland much more accessible and comprehensible for parents and carers. In complete contrast to these engagements with government departments, OSi also engages in projects designed to inspire future generations to discover and use geospatial information. In one recent initiative, OSi supported a regional association of geography teachers, helping teachers to use geospatial information in the classroom. One task involved combining data from GeoHive on the geological features of an area, contour lines, and facts about past landslips.

Students could then use this information to explore and understand the reasons why landslips occur. OSi’s involvement in projects like this helps to ensure that the next generation of young professionals will enter the workplace with an existing understanding of the value of geospatial information and the motivation to use it fully in whatever career they follow. It is important to note that OSi also engages with its employees in schemes to incorporate their input, improve their skills, and grow the business. Communications should always be two-way and, just as OSi listens to the needs of its partners and customers, OSi also solicits the views of its employees through annual employee surveys. It then responds by implementing changes and acting upon employees’ suggestions to continually improve.

OSi is currently reviewing its staffing requirements, in line with Workforce Planning (WFP) 2020, to make sure that OSi will continue to have the skilled people to encourage and support public and private sector organisations, helping them to gain better value from geospatial information for years to come.

Taking all this into account, it is easy to see why OSi places such importance on its ability to show leadership, communicate effectively, and engage productively with stakeholders. Geospatial information has huge potential for Ireland’s future. So, nothing could be more essential than standing up for Ireland’s interests, speaking out about the benefits that can be gained from geospatial information, and getting involved in projects to help people unlock the incredible value it offers.

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