Government eyes private geo-data

Cost of access to private geospatial data too high, some say

Land information minister Maurice Williamson is backing what he calls a “high impact” intervention to deliver improved spatial data for New Zealand users.

Williamson and Land Information NZ (LINZ) chief executive Colin MacDonald promoted openness in geographical data at a recent Wellington conference for the users of ESRI geographical information systems software.

“There is a role for government to invest in national spatial data infrastructure,” Williamson said, describing it as a “high impact, cross-cutting intervention” with potential to improve national productivity.

“Everyone in the geospatial community has a role to play,” he said, triggering energetic discussion.

One local government representative said there is significant land data in the hands of private companies such as Fonterra, but the price is too high for the council to obtain it. He suggested central government might have a mediating and possibly a funding role to play.

MacDonald said a good base of geospatial data cannot be built without public and private-sector cooperation. The panel chairman asked the several hundred people in the room to stand and then invited anyone who didn’t want to co-operate with LINZ to sit. Only one person was observed to do so.

Steve Critchlow, director of spatial information company Critchlow Ltd, takes a positive view on availability of privately created data.

“We need more collaboration between public and private sectors to build a geospatial information infrastructure for the country,” he says.

“There’s a lot of information around; an academic might do a study and gather important data, but it just sits on a shelf.”

There is a need for “an organised repository” of such data, he says, but government needs to take a lead. The repository should be a long-term exercise of national significance, like the National Library, Critchlow says.

“If it’s on the right terms” Critchlow Ltd would be prepared to transfer some of its intellectual property to government, says Steve Critchlow.

“That would be better than government collecting the same data again.”

Critchelow chairs the Spatial Industries Business Association of NZ and participated in a panel at the ESRI conference. ESRI and Critchlow Ltd are competitors so no Critchlow staff attended the bulk of the conference.

Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy says he understand LINZ and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology are working with the Department of Internal Affairs to make web-based geographical and scientific data available through in the near future.

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