John Cartledge is a key figure in the geospatial industry and joins Gaist after 20-plus years working with key players in the sector. We caught up with him to chat maps, data, leadership and adventuring outdoors…
You started out in Civil Engineering – what took you down that route? How has it formed your view of the world and geospatial data?
It’s all my Dad’s fault really 😊 he said if I want a stable career I had 3 choices, undertaker, hairdresser or surveyor. Why, people will always pass on, hair generally always grows and people always need up to date maps… Joking aside, I have seen mapping data move on from specific engineering requirements, through maps for the masses, to Open data, 3D models, IoT & Smart Cities to autonomous vehicles. All have various catchy labels like geospatial, location insight, HD maps, self-healing maps, real-time data, but in reality the map (however it manifests itself) is just a database that can be represented in many ways.
Prior to Gaist, you were at Ordnance Survey (OS) for 25 years- a fascinating time to be there as it shifted from being a paper map-maker to a Big Data brand?
Yes, and challenging as the customer expectation of level of detail, currency and accuracy ever increased. The customer base focus also went from Consumer, to Government, Utilities, Partners and then Global Mapping platforms, and now a focus on exporting some of that experience and technology to other nations. At the core though is always the value gained from the data and how it can be applied to meet the customer need.
You have joined Gaist after your long and distinguished time at OS, what has attracted you to join this exciting firm based in Yorkshire?
As much as OS is great at what it does, being forward looking over the past few years I realised that the demand for ever more detailed data was only going to grow, and Gaist is at the forefront of this in the UK with their current and future plans. So not being shy of a new challenge I could see great potential to be part of that growth creating the best highly detailed, nationally maintained digital road layer for the nation and then beyond to other countries. I’m also really looking forward to working with Andrew Loveless (Gaist CRO) again- someone I have a huge amount of respect for.
You have a long history of strategic partnerships development in your various roles at Ordnance Survey- what is the value partnerships and collaboration can bring in a geospatial data context?
Partners come in many forms. Non-commercial partners can be standard setters, consultants and advisors to trade and industry bodies, so having relationships with these organisation positions Gaist well in the industry to meet and exceed customer needs and allows us to drive forward new standards and value from that maintained digital road layer. Commercial partnerships could be distributors, value-adding resellers that spread the Gaist goodness far wider than we could do on our own. All are valuable and each requires subtly different things, so growing this for everyone’s benefit is key.
What were the most valuable knowledge / skills you acquired at OS that will benefit Gaist?
Honesty, patience and a desire to continually explore new discussions. Having the trust of any customer or partner is essential, if they don’t trust you they won’t buy from you, or partner with you. It is almost inevitable things may take longer than initially expected, so having patience and not giving up always pays off, but also knowing when to stop and not flog a dead horse. Having a naturally inquisitive mind but still focussing on what needs to be delivered now can generate the next big things with foundations pre-laid.
What steps can companies take to better utilise spatial data in their products and services?
I would always start small and specific, don’t try and boil the ocean but prove value in a key area first. Once that trust is gained apply those learnings to new areas of the business until all work areas see the benefit and feel the value in their day to day lives. Just think where we would be now with a “phone” that takes pictures, does email, gives access to the internet, messaging, books restaurant tables, and that you can ask a question and we believe the answer it tells us. Bit more than just making a phone call…. Which is what a phone used to do.
Here is John Himself!
Can you give an example of where geospatial data has been adopted in an innovative and new way?
The example that springs to mind is common to us all, insurance premiums. Insurers and underwriters use geographic data to assess risk, looking at many variables based on where they are and how significant they are to set premiums, this includes things like flood risk, crime risk, historic incidents, and now future changes that are planned to happen in the area of the thing that you are insuring. So premiums have gone up and down to take that risk into account. What3Words is also a great example of how location can be applied in a user friendly way where other location methods made it too hard, like where’s my tent is at a festival, or where a damaged utility pole on a road who’s name I don’t know with no houses near is, or even I’m injured or have broken down and don’t know where I am.
What sort of organisations can most benefit from data about our roads – now and in the future?
Any organisation who’s business is impacted when they can’t use the road or have difficulty in using the road. Two example that spring to mind immediately, firstly delivery firms where they are delivering large or heavy goods, knowing that it’s grass or gravel, tarmac or rough ground has a big impact. The second being autonomous vehicles, knowing the surface type, it’s condition and skid resistance are key in safe operation. All these variables are available on demand from Gaist’s digital road layer data and services.
Why is geospatial data valuable globally?
All nations have similar challenges in delivering citizen services from healthcare, education, safe places to live, utility services, moving goods around, land ownership, economic growth. Geospatial data enables all these to be delivered in an economic manner delivering the maximum benefit for the nation and its citizens. The data we collect to create a detailed digital road layer impacts all these in one way or another. Roads and paths aren’t just the navigation highways they are the economic lifeblood of a nation too.
What does the term leadership mean to you? What is your leadership style?
I’d like to think, supportive, collaborative and honest. Every member of team has different strengths and knowledge, it’s only working as a team, benefiting from all the strengths that we succeed. A wise person once reminded me of “No man is an island” (17th Century poem by John Donne), it resonated with me and is as true today as then.
Who have been your key personal influences?
My parents, they have always supported me no matter how stupid (with hindsight) some of the things I did were, and never said ‘told you so’, but also anyone who has overcome adversity, doing what they never believed they could, until they had to. At some point we all make mistakes in our lives, so on a smaller scale, anyone who has the courage to say, ‘I got it wrong, sorry’.
What has been the most important event in your working life?
Personally, the pride I felt in securing my first multi-million pound sale (£20+M), it took just over two years of work not only persuading the client it was the right choice, but persuading my employer it was a good deal that would not jeopardise existing or future business, and that technically we could actually deliver. Professionally, would be at the opening of CES in Las Vegas when Intel opened the world’s biggest tech show, and at the end of the keynote announced they were partnering with OS, and listening to 1,000’s of journalists and bloggers saying “Who’s OS?”.
Did you enjoying studying maps/ adventuring outdoors as a child?
I used to go into the wilds of Derbyshire (sorry Yorkshire, I was only 12 and it was too far to ride on a pushbike from Glossop) and explore new places, camping over the weekend and eating lukewarm baked beans out of the can and jammy dodgers with my best friend Alan. Eventually I did get to Yorkshire when we could afford train tickets. I’ve always loved exploring new places, meeting new people and experiencing different landscapes, cultures and food. I truly believe 99.9999% of the people on this planet are good, the more you travel and experience the better you get at avoiding the 0.0001% that aren’t, and avoiding them.