Good coordination begins with good coordinates

By on 27 July, 2017

Numerous survey and mapping agencies in Asia and the Pacific are modernising their geospatial reference systems (GRSs).

Although the drivers for such changes vary, governments in this region have begun to appreciate geospatial information management and its vital role in decision making, policy development and sustainable growth. More specifically agencies now view GRSs and geodetic or “positioning” infrastructures as essential components of a spatial data framework that represent the reference layer for land, marine and space based information.

It is without doubt these perspectives have progressed and gained momentum through the formation of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), the UN resolution on Global Geodetic Reference Frames, and UN’s endorsement of using geospatial data to measure the success of Sustainable Development Goals. With encouragement from the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), emerging or developing economies in the Asia and the Pacific regions have leveraged these UN initiatives to establish, maintain or improve their GRSs, and to improve the capacity of surveyors and land professionals for GRS modernisation.

FIG describes capacity development as a process of identifying the challenges or obstacles that impede an individual/organisation/community from accomplishing their objectives; and then developing the necessary knowledge/skills/competencies/frameworks to achieve them. FIG also considers capacity development involves learning to adapt to change (or shifting paradigms); understanding how decisions are made; and that change management is supported by resources and the political commitment to achieve results.

With respect to GRS modernisation FIG has advocated that “good co-ordination begins with good co-ordinates”. Nowadays to establish and sustain such activity it is imperative for surveyors and leaders in an organisation to have specific abilities such as being open minded, thinking progressively, multi-skilled and change management agents. In some circumstances surveyors will need to demonstrate strategic capabilities to assess the status and condition of their agencies GRS infrastructure, systems, data and personnel. This may involve identifying or redefining the role/responsibilities of their agency in the various elements of GRS infrastructure and data management; and also include developing operational and capacity building plans (that are aspirational but realistic, achievable, and flexible) to accommodate the challenges of a rapidly changing industry.

From a technical perspective surveyors should have the capacity to derive, analyse and maintain the components of modernised GRS infrastructure. These include a network of Global Navigation Satellite System Continuously Operating References Stations that contribute and are aligned to the International Terrestrial Reference Frame or the subset Asia Pacific Reference Frame; “fit for purpose” survey control networks that are a hierarchy of rigorously propagated co-ordinates and uncertainties; a geoid model and/or defined height system to integrate vertical surfaces for land, water, and intertidal zones; and tectonic plate velocity and/or deformation models to manage the dynamics of our earth.

It is important surveyors and geospatial scientists to have the capability to undertake these activities as a modernised GRS underpins a nation’s “fundamental or foundation” datasets, and is integral to the interoperability and unification of geospatial data and information systems. To achieve this surveyors must make certain GRS’s and resultant positioning infrastructure or location intelligence adhere to international standards (includes metadata), guidelines and practices. Surveyors must also ensure infrastructure of this nature operates in a multi GNSS environment; utilises space based measurement technology; and is aligned with new mass-market positioning (real time) technology and applications delivered by satellite, digital communications, and the Internet.

Meeting during FIG Working Week in Helsinki, Finland

Successful implementation of a modernised GRS by surveyors should enable countries to maximise the benefits from quality imagery/satellite data, exploit new mapping technologies/products, support innovation in the geospatial/positioning disciplines, and realise economic efficiencies across a variety of sectors that rely on accurate location. It also needs to be mentioned that a modern GRS will support global observing systems for scientific research modelling – tectonic plate deformation, sea level monitoring, climate change, and atmospherics. The benefits from an Australian perspective are further detailed by Geoscience Australia.

GRS activity and the capacity development of land professionals and surveyors will be influenced by economic, social and technical challenges and trends. By 2050 the social trend of rapid urbanisation will cause 2/3 thirds of the world’s population (approximately 6 billion people) to live in “mega” cities serviced by smart technology. Predictions indicate this will occur primarily in Asia along with an expanding middle class, increased economic activity in numerous sectors; and impact the way government departments or private sector groups-

  • Evaluate and implement urban and land use planning
  • Manage sustainable development of finite resources and the environment
  • Administer utilities, services, public infrastructure and assets such as power generation and distribution, water reticulation, waste treatment, transportation networks
  • Provide affordable and efficient housing
  • Generate, supply and deliver sufficient food for the population

“Disruptive technologies” is also a challenge that will impact the capacity development of surveyors. This modern day occurrence extends to those technologies which will transform the way we do our normal business or affect the present day lifestyle patterns. The disruptive technologies that may have the greatest impression on the world economy by 2025 are –

  • Mobile Internet enabled low-cost computing devices
  • Automation of work, knowledge and tasks via software and systems with artificial intelligence
  • Internet of things – networks of Internet based sensors that collect data to assist with processing, analysis, monitoring and decision making.
  • Cloud technology for provision of services or applications through the Internet or networks
  • Advanced robots or robotics that has ability to perform delicate procedures or assist with everyday life.
  • Autonomous vehicles.

It is expected these disruptive technologies will influence the work of the geospatial industry by facilitating greater connectivity and access to geospatial data in real time thus enabling real time monitoring and analysis. These technologies will create business opportunities and innovation to improve productivity and revenue; and foster more location based applications or services and or embedded intelligent systems. They will also change the way surveyors generate digital information, visualise and interact with multi land/geographic systems. In particular, sectors relating to building information modelling; product/resources/asset management, inventory and tracking; emergency management where authorities merge the physical and virtual worlds; and computational and visualisation software accessible via online or the Cloud.

The role of our industry in disaster or emergency preparedness and response is changing. We must recognise the significant impacts of environmental phenomena such as climate change, sea level rise, earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones. In 2015, 346 disasters affected 98.6 million people, with an estimated economic damage of $66.5 billion USD. Furthermore, Asia and the Pacific are rated high on the world risk and vulnerability index, translating to an increased incidence of natural disasters and therefore greater impact on inhabitants. Reports also state that the quality of critical infrastructure such as communication, transportation and utility systems will determine the effectiveness of disaster response. Subsequently, the engagement of the geospatial industry to supply and deliver information for such systems will be vital to the management and outcomes of disaster relief, re-construction and the building of resilience.

From an FIG perspective, the trends and challenges mentioned will reshape the future role of the surveyor and land professional. Surveyors, and also spatial leaders of organisations, can be prepared by transforming their attitude towards change, be progressive in their thinking, be agile, be less risk adverse, and consider diversifying or refining their knowledge and skillsets to take advantage of the change. In particular, surveyors need to embrace and/or enhance their ability to –

  • Collect, process, deliver, reliable, accurate, interoperable and “24/7” geospatial information to decision makers in real time via a combination of “disruptive technologies” and crowd sourcing techniques
  • Convey professional advice and services to facilitate design, risk assessment, investment analysis, asset management and resource deployment.
  • Innovate in multi-disciplinary teams to effectively manage diminishing resources, increased data volumes; and resolve legal data matters such as privacy, custodianship, sharing, liability etc.
  • Actively lead, negotiate, influence, and permeate collaboration amongst a diverse team of survey and land professionals
  • Understand and balance commercial influences
  • Advocate and communicate relevance to influence leaders, decision makers, politicians; and attract a diverse group of new professionals
  • Form and administer strategic plans with an outcome/output focus; and qualitative and quantitative monitoring/evaluation frameworks.
  • Sustain “development” to balance consumption of resources with environmental needs; and to ensure a self-reliant and self-determinate community.

To guide and assist countries in Asia and the Pacific to enhance the surveyor’s capacity to modernise and sustain their GRS, FIG formed the Asia Pacific Capacity Development Network. This network comprises of land professionals from various non-government, government, scientific organizations and corporate partners. Their mission is to enable an environment of land, marine and “space” professionals to effectively provide innovative, reliable and best practice solutions to address the regional social, economic, environmental and technological challenges associated with global geospatial trends, our rapidly changing and complex world. The main partners and contributors have been members from the UN GGIM Asia Pacific – Working Group 1 Geodetic Reference Frames (website – ) lead by Dr. John Dawson, Australian and New Zealand government agencies, the Pacific Geospatial Surveying Council (website – ), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and several ASEAN Flag countries.

Robert Sarib is the present Chair of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) Asia Pacific Capacity Development Network and has been actively involved with FIG Commission 5 – Positioning and Measurement for over 10 years.

Look out for his report from the FIG Working Week 2017 in the upcoming August/September issue of Position magazine. 

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