A Government drive to unlock the value of geospatial data is underway. But do we have enough people with the right skillsets to help realise its vision? Chris Jenner, Gaist’s Asset Management Consultant, explores this key topic.

This article is part of our support for techUK’s geospatial data week.

 

SINCE the French cartographer, Charles Picquet, created his 1832 map to show cholera outbreaks in Paris, geospatial skills and uses have rapidly progressed.

Today, geospatial data is cementing itself as a key ‘tool’ across every sector from agriculture to industry. Investment firms use it to validate company assumptions in relation to footfall for example and the connectivity of proposed new business sites. Retailers use it to help deepen their understanding of who is shopping where.

Spatial data is simply a combination of location data – considered as a specific location on the earth’s survey – combined with related attribute information.

The volume of data being both generated and captured has grown exponentially: Today, everyday items, such as watches, double as data sources. The ‘internet of things’ and advances in capturing techniques are also all contributing to the boom in available data. Large amounts of geospatial data are being made available freely to users as open data through the development of open standards.

With this abundance of data available, geospatial analysis is adding an additional layer of insight for businesses in nearly every industry. They all share one common goal –  the desire to make well informed decisions.

The economic and social value of this data was underscored by the establishment of the UK Geospatial Commission and its Geospatial Strategy. It cites analysis from 2018 suggesting that more accessible and better-quality location data in infrastructure and construction alone could be worth over £4 billion per year.

Spatial skills

A key focus of the strategy is to develop “more people with the right skills and tools to work with location data – across organisations and sectors.”

It cites the challenges around meeting increasing demand such as evolving skills and techniques to keep pace with technological advances.

Its proposals for addressing these challenges include the production of a skills demand study to pinpoint specific sectors and roles that need geospatial skills now and in the future and to produce data which can be used to steer its work in this areas.

It also plans to develop geospatial apprenticeships for the public and private sectors, with employers and professional associations working collaboratively to draw together geospatial, data science, digital and sector expertise.

Data and decisions

It is clear that, to maximise the value of geospatial data, we need people with the right skills. But what does this skill set look like?

With the demand for geospatial insights so high and its potential applications so varied, Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist at, Google believes that “geographers will be in the driving seat when it comes to the UK’s future economy.”

I believe that geospatial is becoming less about being able to use and understand GIS software and more about being able to undertake data analysis with intelligent outcomes.

In the highways sector, where I work, we now have more geospatial data than ever before. Having the correct skills to use and analyse this data to support clients is key.

When recruiting initially in this area, Gaist specifically targeted two recruitment paths – hiring a civil engineering apprentice and a geography graduate.

Whilst training both to be able to effectively use GIS software, we focused on developing the following skills to allow them to effectively support our clients.

  1. Data Analysis – this is specifically focused on spatial analysis of Gaist and/or client data to assist customers with their decision making. An example would be to use Gaist carriageway condition data with a client’s carriageway network hierarchy to help support prioritisation of maintenance schemes.
  2. Data Management – creation and management of data within the corporate spatial database, whilst performing quality checks to identify any data errors.
  3. Problem solving – because they work at the intersection of data analysis, programming and cartography, these individuals had to be detail-oriented and masterful at solving problems. An analytical mindset is a must. The tools a GIS analyst uses are critical in joining data sets together to create new information or to spot patterns.
  4. Communication – Working with colleagues across a number of disciplines, with a variety of data, requires clear and efficient written and verbal communication as well as strong interpersonal skills.

As GIS can be so broad and touch on so many aspects, we also push to continually progress through Continued Professional Development.

As the world changes and technology advances, sensors and the internet of things might once again change how we view geospatial data.

One thing is certain though: Geospatial is a huge growth area and encouraging and enhancing the skills, capabilities and interest in it will be instrumental to unlocking its full potential.

For further information on how Gaist supports organisations with the deepest intelligence and insights into our roads and roadscape, please contact us via Jake.Lawson@gaist.co.uk. Follow us @Gaistsolutions.