Why are SDIs critical to an organization’s digital transformation?

March 11, 2019 Gordon Plunkett

Organizations are rapidly deploying digital technologies across their existing business processes to improve efficiency, productivity and customer experiences. Known as “digital transformation”, spatial data infrastructures (SDIs) are a key implementation pattern for governments and businesses to transform the way things are currently done. Read this blog post to see the many benefits of implementing SDIs and why an SDI should be the cornerstone of an organization’s digital transformation.

Spatial data infrastructures are developed by organizations and used by geospatial practitioners to find, share and use geospatial data effectively and efficiently. There are many reasons why sharing data through an SDI makes good business sense, plus it provides significant efficiencies to all organizations and users. To be most effective, SDIs must meet the organization’s business need and allow data sharing both internally within the organization and externally to the greater community.

Each organization implements and controls their own SDI internally within their jurisdiction, but externally their SDI must interface with the policy and standards of the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI). This structure allows autonomy within each organization but allows organizations to share and exchange data externally.

An example of an SDI concept in Atlantic Canada is that the Halifax Regional Municipality SDI is compatible with the provincial Nova Scotia GeoNova SDI, which is compatible with the national CGDI. By having national standards and policies, each organization’s SDI can share data with the other organization’s SDI in a seamless fashion.

Once an organization implements an SDI, there are many benefits to sharing geospatial data through the SDI, which include:

  1. reduction in the creation and maintenance of redundant or duplicate data across organizations;
  2. reduction in development and operations costs for the organization;
  3. provision of new services based on the SDI infrastructure; and
  4. increased and improved application and use of geospatial data assets.

Because the public sector often collects and shares significant amounts of geospatial data, they can benefit the most from an SDI. The term often used to describe this government data within an SDI is “Accurate, Authoritative and Accessible” (AAA) data.

Let’s examine each of these SDI benefits individually.

By sharing data through an SDI, GIS practitioners can find and use authoritative data instead of recreating the data. Since data collection is expensive and time consuming, the SDI concept of “collect the data once, maintain it at source and use it many times for many purposes” makes immense business sense. Also, if there’s only one high-quality, authoritative version of the data, then the data users can be sure that they are using AAA data. The figure below shows an example of duplicate data collection and how difficult it can become to select one version of the data for use in a project.

An example of duplicate data collection across jurisdictions that shows a road intersection from four different road networks, which are similar but different

An SDI can reduce data development and operational costs for many jurisdictions. For example, a large city may have the emergency services department, the public works department and the transportation department all creating and maintaining a road network. Creating and maintaining one road network data layer for the city and sharing it with all departments via an SDI would clearly save time and resources. The SDI will eliminate what are often referred to as organizational data silos, where one department creates data but does not share this data with any other department. Often, cities and other public sector jurisdictions will also share this authoritative data through their SDI as open data for the public to use and exploit. The organization’s transition from siloed data processes to SDI sharing data processes can be performed simply and smoothly to improve data asset creation and sharing.

An example of how government data silos can be eliminated by implementing an SDI and having one database for common geospatial data

A big advantage of implementing a spatial data infrastructure is that new and innovative applications can be built using the SDI data and infrastructure. These new applications can range from something simple like an online web map or a story map. However, these new apps could be much more complex like a dashboard, a web app or even real-time event tracking. Even the provision of the open data can be improved significantly by providing additional web services, as what the City of Brampton has done with their award-winning Brampton GeoHub site.

One of the best examples of the provision of additional services using an SDI is the City of Brampton’s Open Data website.

A final benefit of implementing an SDI is that it allows the increased and improved use of the organization’s geospatial data assets. Collecting and maintaining geospatial data takes time and resources and the data soon become valuable assets. If data stewardship is done by a single organization and the data is subsequently used by many more organizations, this leads to efficiency and productivity improvements all around. However, I don’t recommend that this SDI benefit be considered as potential cost or staff savings. Rather, the affected staff and resources that currently create redundant data should be redeployed to improve the quality and currency of the authoritative data layers.

So, there are many benefits to implementing an SDI within a public or private sector agency. It will make the agency more efficient, allow the agency to provide better data and services and make staff more motivated. Given that all public safety organizations across Canada are moving to an SDI approach for sharing geospatial data with the implementation of Next-Generation 911, it makes sense for geospatial data managers to begin to transform their organization from a siloed data organization to an SDI data-sharing organization.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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