National Data Providers Respond to Critical Issues

Doing more with less

National mapping, charting, and data production (NDP) organizations are being asked to respond to issues and events with timely, relevant GIS data provided through spatial data infrastructures (SDIs).

The value of authoritative geographic data was recognized in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit (officially called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro). In addition, geographic information was determined to be a critical component in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Recently, organizations such as the Group on Earth Observations and the UN Economic and Social Council Statistics Division have emphasized the importance of authoritative data in addressing trans-national issues. The goals of these organizations are similar and can be aggregated into the following areas:

  • Economic/societal benefits
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Security monitoring

Professional geospatial societies are also partnering with NDP organizations to promote authoritative geographic information. For example, the Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies, a coalition of 10 geospatial professional societies, recently released a booklet titled Geoinformation for Disaster and Risk Management: Examples and Best Practices [PDF] illustrating the importance of geographic information to decision makers.

NDP organizations deliver the base authoritative data, geographic analysis, and Web services required to address national issues guided by their goal: better livelihood through increased economic and social opportunity, better use of resources, and improved security. The results, along with the data, are served to stakeholders through SDIs that are increasingly dynamic and accessible across all platforms including on servers, mobile devices, the Internet, and the cloud. Although NDP organizations have seen significant staff cuts and reduced budgets and have had to do more with less, they continue to demonstrate their strategic value in helping solve national issues, justifying their need for sustainable funding.

How has your NMO adapted to increasing demands in the face of reduced resources?

Mark Cygan

About Mark Cygan

Mark Cygan leads the map, chart, data production, and SDI (MAPS) industry solutions team at Esri. He has more than 30 years of experience working in GIS and mapping. He is on the Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies and participates in many other international organizations.
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  1. Greg Scott says:

    Throughout the world, there has traditionally been under appreciation not of the importance of fundamental geospatial data and mapping but of the resources required to build and maintain high-quality, authoritative databases. Australia is no different in its appreciation of fundamental geographic information, especially with such a large continent to maintain.

    As Australia’s national mapping agency, Geoscience Australia is aware of the increasing pressure to provide richer, dynamic, and more authoritative geographic data that is fit for many purposes and is able to support evidence-based decision making and policy development. Consequently, we are attempting to balance a number of factors within our business, including the relevance of traditional paper maps in a digital world; the cost of capturing and maintaining data at multiple levels of resolution; how we capture data once and use it many times over; how we achieve this with diminishing resources; and how we use the available technologies to enable consumers to easily discover, access, analyze, visualize and package spatial data. Therefore, a sustainable national mapping program in Australia relies on three factors:

    • Improvements in and leveraging of technology
    • Changes in the federal government’s business ethos
    • Collaboration

    The government business need today is to apply geospatial information to provide technical capacity and capability to underpin policy analysis, service delivery, and informed decision making in areas such as climate change, water security, disaster risk reduction, social inclusion, and urban sustainability. This requires a culture of sharing and appropriate governance to bring the information and users together. The underlying infrastructure tends to be not physical, but in the form of policies, standards, and access networks, which allows data to be shared between and within organizations.

    We are now seeing agencies partnering more to address limited funding, avoid duplication, and deal with the reality that the face of mapping is changing quite dramatically (driven by the user community). The success of this approach hinges on good relationship management, collaboration, and agreed governance—not extensive technological solutions, funds, or overarching directives!

  2. Colonel Juan Vidal says:

    After the severe earthquake that affected Chile on February 27, 2010 (measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale), the Military Geographic Institute (IGM), the national mapping organization for Chile, was appointed by the government to create a national risk map. The project aims to show how a Web map service should be implemented as a cartographic base for organizations to more easily manage information after a disaster.

    To save time and resources, a team of four specialists had three months to develop a system to deal with just four types of risk—seismic, volcanic, climatic, and flood—that could affect the population of urbanized areas of the northern extreme of Chile (150,000 square kilometers) and the critical infrastructure within the zone. Such limited time didn’t allow IGM to collect the data from scratch, so it was faced with trying to gather the geoinformation in a different manner within the constraints of time and budget.

    Most of the necessary information had been surveyed for different specialized organizations, but it was not available for state organizations as a whole, integrated basemap. IGM made an agreement with each municipality to provide a complete map of the region at 1:50,000 scale. In return, the state organizations gave IGM their own digital charts superimposed on the IGM map sheet. This provides a resolution better than 1:1,000 and is better than any map created solely by an individual municipality.

    There are some challenges, of course. Sometimes there is not enough information about the data, including quality and how the data was obtained, but that has been managed and solved using an orthometric high-resolution image set (1 meter/pixel), upon which to superimpose received maps and check details. This procedure is adequate because the most expensive and time-consuming part of the map generation process is the surveying. Having technicians from each county participate ensures that they bring their own knowledge of a place and generate more accurate charts.

    This method is still experimental, and the products will be checked for quality control before the maps are officially certified. However, through this method, IGM is now receiving more accurate information as well as saving time and money, which offers benefits for IGM and the municipality as a whole.

  3. Commodore Rod Nairn says:

    The Australian Hydrographic Service is the national authority responsible for provision of Australia’s nautical charts and hydrographic services. As a component of the Royal Australian Navy, we also provide customized support to meet specific defense needs. We pride ourselves on the responsible use of taxpayers’ dollars and are always on the lookout for ways to reduce costs and improve productivity. With this in mind, we moved to a datacentric chart production system almost a decade ago. We utilize a central database for validated hydrographic data and numerous workstations with a variety of software for producing nautical charts, Electronic Navigational Charts, and specialized defense products. An ISO 9001:2008 quality management system controls our procedures, and the chart production environment has an in-built workflow that also maintains the auditable record of checks and verifications.

    It is important to keep abreast of technology and software developments. A recent update to our production software has provided a sufficient increase in productivity to allow us to include temporary and preliminary notices to mariners in our update service. Our defense support has similarly benefited from the latest software enhancements. We now deliver most of our products as Web services, which means that we can service an unlimited number of customers with no extra effort and more easily keep the products up to date. On the hardware side, the latest inkjet plotter technology has enabled us to perform all chart printing in-house. This has been achieved at a substantial cost saving and with the same staff numbers. The result is a four-week reduction in print turn-around times, enabling fully up-to-date charts to be delivered to our chart agents.

    Efficiency and cost savings have been key drivers behind a number of government data-sharing initiatives. The Australian Oceans Data Centre has already delivered a Web portal that brings together all sources of oceans data. A new initiative for sharing bathymetric information is now gathering speed.

    In summary, maintaining efficient software and hardware systems within a quality management framework and developing cooperative data-sharing agreements have enabled us to improve productivity in a resource-constrained environment.

  4. Mark DeMulder says:

    The USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP) has been challenged with an increasing demand for geospatial data and products while facing decreased budgets and a reduced workforce. The NGP has responded to this challenge in several positive ways.

    We are working to implement key aspects of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure and The National Map by partnering with other federal, state, local, and tribal governments to leverage our mutual efforts in acquiring, integrating, managing, and distributing geospatial data. Partnerships are a primary way to help us all work with more limited budgets because they leverage funding across organizations to provide significant cost savings, reduce redundancy in geospatial data acquisition and stewardship, and ensure availability of common base data to a broad range of users and uses. Over the last several years, partnerships developed by the USGS geospatial liaisons have resulted in an average of about $8 of geospatial data for every $1 invested by USGS. Collaborative data stewardship also extends the reach of the program and engages the community of users in improving the data. For example, the National Hydrography Dataset is maintained in partnership with numerous state, federal, local, and regional groups.

    In addition, internally, we are using enterprise architecture methodology to review and redesign our business and manufacturing processes to improve the distribution and relevance of USGS geospatial products and direct those services in a market-based approach. Two immediate and noted successes are in the areas of improved production methods and customer relations management:

    1. By adapting new digital technologies in innovative ways, we have been able to increase our production of US Topo, the next generation of the topographic maps. Production for the original 55,000 topographic maps at 1:24,000 scale began in the 1930s and was completed in the 1990s, requiring 33 million person-hours to accomplish. The NGP is currently on target to duplicate this coverage with US Topo 1:24,000-scale GeoPDF digital maps in three years that will require approximately 150,000 person-hours.

    2. We use a customer-centered approach in developing our geospatial products and services. This approach will help us more efficiently define requirements and improve the likelihood of meeting customer expectations. Current research can be found in The National Map Customer Requirements: Findings from Interviews and Surveys (

    We are always seeking opportunities to enhance the base geospatial data for the United States that improve, for example, our nation’s ability to manage natural resources, prepare for and respond to natural disasters, and develop alternative energy sources. The NGP is working with other federal, state, and local government agencies to define the need for more accurate, higher-resolution elevation data across the United States to support floodplain management, precision farming, forest carbon accounting, water assessment and numerous other applications. As we better understand the requirements for this higher-quality data, we will also be looking to understand the benefits that would be realized from a national program strategy.

    We are very proud of these successes and look forward to continued progress in meeting the nation’s continuing need for current, quality geospatial information. More information on US Topo can be found at

  5. Abdul Karim Al Raeisi says:

    I agree that national organizations need to invest in GIS, even in the face of limited resources. An example of this is the Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI), which has successfully grown into a community of practice with more than 40 stakeholder entities from local and federal governments, businesses, and academia only two years after its inception.

    The first two phases included the creation of a foundation and basic institutionalization. Today, the Spatial Data Centre has embarked under the flagship of Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre on phase three, the innovation of adaptive management for sustained operations, advanced analysis, and decision making. The initiative has full buy-in and support of Abu Dhabi’s leadership and has succeeded so far in achieving its target goals and benefits. AD-SDI is growing to support and strengthen several community pillars, including environment, education, health, infrastructure assets, safety, and security, as well as Abu Dhabi’s values, culture, and heritage.

    Significant developments this year address participating entities’ GIS road maps and capacity building, g-maturity assessment, spatial education, and major strategic programs coordination. These are all in alignment with AD-SDI Strategic Plan 2010–2014 and the Abu Dhabi government 2030 vision and policy agenda. Looking into the future, the AD-SDI is striving to become not just a sound practice but also a new showcase and best-of-breed baseline that others will aspire to, as well as point the direction for leveraging governance, technology, and information toward sustainable development regionally and globally.