Location-based intelligence industry a hidden NZ gem

By Peter Kerr 30/08/2012

It’s one of those ‘hidden’ industries, ripe for an explosion in growth with the increasing use of smart phones and tablets, of which Joe Public is mostly unaware.

One of its (self-aware) challenges is its name – geospatial – which while accurate doesn’t lend itself to an ‘oh yes, I know that that means’ moment for users.

But, when you consider that location-based intelligence, or maps with information, is ubiquitous across so much of what we do, then the opportunities to do more from an NZ Inc point of view are extremely strong.

Spatial Industries Business Association is the umbrella organisation for about 100 organisations that play in this territory, and its chair, Mike Donald reckons a bit more of a NZ Inc collective approach could see major gains both in New Zealand and for sales of products and services overseas.

Location-based intelligence industry could contribute much more to New Zealand says SIBA chairman Mike Donald

Donald quotes a 2009 ACIL Tasman NZ Geospatial Strategy which estimated that the ‘spatial dividend’ could increase to $4 billion from $1.2b (at the time of the report). This hasn’t happened, not the least because central government are not prepared to invest, but also the capital investment scene is not strong in this country for untried ideas.

Spatial dividends are efficiencies able to be gained by the accessing and integration of spatial and aspatial information and visualisation of that information to aid decision making. This for example allows organisations such as Fonterra to be able to assist and monitor their shareholders’ fencing of waterways; insurance companies being able to make better risk assessments, or determining where a hospital should best be located (which, given traffic vagaries mightn’t necessarily be where a human-judgement would think is ideal).

“Overseas, because of the investment climate and the larger marketplace, investors are prepared will put up say $5 million before there’s any revenue been created, if they can see a good idea developed around location-based intelligence,” Donald says.

In common with many other good ideas in New Zealand, it simply doesn’t happen.

Another challenge for the industry Donald says, is that the government’s Geospatial Office is part of one small agency – Land Information NZ. Donald argues that there is a need to have a more centralised office as the spatial outcomes are so huge that it needs to be funded better and have more autonomy. The emergence and acceleration of the spatial industry and location based intelligence is so rapid and changing so quickly, that the fast pace means that in order to take advantage of it and not to miss the boat, The expertise and funding needs to be picked up- it cant be done under the current structure.

There is also concern about the NZGO looking offshore for ‘experts’ to do spatial work in NZ.
One thing that’s become clear, especially with the ‘forced’ group hug of different maps + data entities as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, is that New Zealand and Australian skills and expertise in these areas are world class.

If anything, other countries should be coming to us.

For this reason Donald’s extremely keen on pushing the advocacy role of SIBA, and encouraging what (especially before the earthquakes) would’ve been competing companies who never would’ve talked to each other, to see how they can work together.

Of course another of the geospatial industry’s challenges is attracting new, clever people to the field. While it is part of the IT space, bright young things are these days often more attracted to app and other developments.

As Donald is well aware, and why his own company Terralink calls it location-based intelligence, that maybe the first thing geospatial people should change is its name.

Happy to consult to you guys – though location-based intelligence is a much better description.