Was the Smart Phone really the last really big innovation with the potential to change our lives? A generation of digital natives growing-up alongside the rapid evolution of services and entertainment on mobiles seems to suggest it was. I used to track the technology and all it’s convergences as our small innovation team at Ordnance Survey awaited a platform that could do justice to our suite of location based games and augmented reality demonstrations.
Apple emerged with the innovation. Nothing new; but just a neat bringing together of current technologies in a different way that made sense to any user.
So is it the wizardry of the solid state technology and the services that run on them that really change our lives?
I always thought so. As an occasional reader of all the Geo journals I get (Geographica, the Royal Geographic Society‘s Geographical Journal and the Bulletins from BCS and the Society of Cartographers) you get used to academic proposals that pique interest but really never get the impact to change the world (or how it’s measured or referenced).
But that changed this lunch time.
I was surprised when a pilot friend of mine phoned to asked me “have you heard about these What3Words” guys?
Slightly taken aback as it normally takes some time (almost centuries) for a new geographical reference system to get the nod from academia, adoption by business and then enter the mainstream to pique the interest of a commercial airline pilot.
“Well yes” I replied. “Our Angel investor has a stake in it, the guy who designed the user interface for SplashMaps is employed by them and they, like SplashMaps, are a co-sponsor of our Geomob gatherings in London”.
“Oh”… he said “Do you know what this means?”
I waited and listened with increasing excitement as I realised that the talks I’d seen and the articles I’d read about this 3 year old business were now being faithfully interpreted into a clear set of benefits that anyone could buy.
Mike’s interesting. Like all investors in SplashMapshe has an eye for potential.
As a pilot with a background in the military he’s well aware that not knowing where you are is a common route to most disasters. The W3W approach to “naming” every 3m square on the planet means the same reference can be made for his craft as it takes off, advances around the world and eventually lines up with a gantry at LHR. Accurately. The idea is brilliantly simple and infinitely extendible to all areas of life where a common meeting point is needed. So what can I do? How about for a start;-
Like most Geo Businesses SplashMapscannot afford to be behind the curve. Already Splashmaps is streets ahead of most with our map interface that lets you choose anywhere in the planet by name, post code and by reference to a viewer map and preview. We can add a What3Words finder to this and people can get even more specific about start, finish and meeting points. Perhaps there’s even demand for a sub-heading in the titles of our map?
Mine would say Refreshed.Butlers.Enveloped
The amazing coverage this “behind the scenes” reference concept gets in the press is testament to the team behind the project and the excellent backers they’ve been able to attract. A reference that will change our lives? I recon so.
In the past two weeks I’ve been looking at plans for Horizon 2020, contributing to the consultation and sounding out experts from across Europe. We have plenty of time to look at it. It will launch only once the budget has been voted for. The earliest we can expect a launch will be at the end of 2014. But consultation is only possible now for 1 month to try and effect it’s construction.
In my experience of this consultation there is plenty for the Commission to work with. Here is my prescription for a successful funding scheme;
1) Make it properly SME friendly. If you’re small you don’t want your best chance of funding to be an enormous integrated project headed by one of the 5 typical system integrators in Europe ( or nearby). Most innovation comes from SMEs and often it comes from their own development. So quicker smaller solo or small group SME schemes please!
2) Some of the recent calls have been so heavily over subscribed that there is merely a 10 or 20% chance of success. This follows a very heavy application process. So please, let’s have a two stage process. A short and simple application, and more rigour demanded at the later stage of the application.
3) Less prescriptive calls. All projects are judged on their ability to advance the state of the art. Almost by definition this rules out the radical and can only accommodate the incremental innovations. Broad areas of societal challenge should be the limit of a call description.
4) More initiatives that encourage bottom-up innovation. The funding from the commission is already creating networks of excellence, but simple event led innovation incubators and networks would bring out much more innovation.
5) Broad trends like volunteer data need to be targeted and encouraged. The networked society is still an under utilised asset in Europe.
6) Initiatives to break the US dominance in social networks and the centralisation that happens to our data over there.
8) Initiatives that scale up the top class innovations from home countries rather than the default of selling out to non-European corporates. See Productiv in the UK. In this way we keep the essential skills and the greater part of the returns within Europe.
9) The EC needs to track the effectivity of these investments more effectively. How many businesses have prospered from post project activity? What contribution to the GDP? Actively engage the project community and use the dialogue to find “what happened next” and use this to quash the cynical.
10) Embrace the crowd funding trends. Why let a small group of experts vote when a large group can vote with their own funds?
These were my 10 for an improved funding structure in Europe. What are yours?
These days I spend quite a lot of time advising on data in Europe.
This week I’m in Brussels again; learning and helping with Cloud based collaborative projects.
Next week I’m back again for more!
On Friday next week I get to meet Marta Nagy-Rothengass, Head of Unit, European Commission DG CONNECT, DATA VALUE CHAIN in London as an expert in the field of Data. She’s seeking my views as an innovative start-up (SplashMaps) doing great things with Open Data and hopefully this will help on shaping R&D priorities of the Horizon 2020 work programme.
And on the 23rd of April I’ll be facilitating the Automotive Council and BIS sponsored event “Meet the Engineer!” innovation event.
On 24th April I will bring sensor technologies to the Automotive world as we explore what data can bring to Low Carbon vehicle technology with Productiv and their Radar club!
…and there should be time to launch a few more SplashMaps along the way!
Those that love to Adventure outdoors – They can be the first own the first leisure maps designed for the REAL outdoors!
Those that love Open Data– See the first solid state product based upon this phenomenon! Their support helps us create the tools that make the data ever more accessable and usable.
Those that support the outdoor adventure market – These maps fit in with initiatives and events that get people outdoors and active; SplashMaps is an ideal opportunity to get these initiatives associated with something truly innovative.
Those involved in Volunteer Data – SplashMaps represents a new way to get people engaged in the updates
Since the beginning of this century, INSPIRE has had a grand vision for the pan-European use of geographic information to improve decision making within the environmental sector. But with the initiative reaching its teenage years can we deal with its growing pains? With the ISA (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations) programme proposing an EU Location Framework (EULF) we can expect INSPIREs influence to penetrate both;
deeper – into the realms of local authorities and commercial data providers , and
wider – to serve an increasing number of sectors beyond the Environmental sector where INSPIRE was born.
But what have we learnt from INSPIREs formative years?
Early conflicts: National data providers vs mandated national authorities
I first engaged with INSPIRE in 2001 in Brussels over the EuroDEM (Digital Elevation Model), the first data set to be harmonised across borders and demanded for free. The meetings were tetchy. But those first attempts to provide harmonised data at a “global” level of detail were successful in getting the mapping agencies to work together (prossibly driven more by fear than by commercial gain or altruism). A common data set has now been available for more than 10 years and a free pan-European set is now in place.
Scary and unpopular at the time, who actually asked for this?
It was the collective nation states across Europe. Between us all we decided it made sense to be efficient and try to assure interoperation between our geographic data sets. Success in turning this dream into a programme stemmed from the steely determination of the ECs Joint Research Centre (JRC) team. Their persistence has now resulted in one of the largest legislated pan-European data management activities of all time.
However, characterised by “inclusiveness” the programme has tried to assure that everyone is heard and those that want to take part can take part. Sadly this meant that those with the greatest concerns and strongest vested interests took the biggest roles in shaping the implementation of INSPIRE. An inevitable result was a watered down model that aimed for the highly valued harmonisation, but delivers this slowly and under the burden of caveats that preserved some significant barriers to access.
Lesson 1: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Einstein. –or, don’t let the custodians of the current statusquo overwhelm your programme.
So the issues in the early years of INSPIREs development stemmed from the mandated national authorities attempts to make INSPIRE principles work with their national executive agencies. The barriers multiplied in the complexity of the many and varied ways that governments have chosen to organise their national data assets.
Lesson 2: The providers of data respond badly to enforced cooperation. Lets not make this mistake again!
Future conflicts: The national data initiatives vs the Local Authority data providers
Right now INSPIRE is becoming an enforced set of legislation. The implementation of the policy covering its 3 annexes stretch out to 2020. And as we begin to deal with the more thematic data (land use and cover, statistical units, human health etc. http://inspire.jrc.ec.europa.eu/index.cfm/pageid/2/list/7) INSPIRE approaches a new potential flash-point; that between our National Authorities and our Local Authorities. LAs will be expected, or certainly have the potential, to provide data at the required specification and may want to provide these as compliant services to benefit from the interoperation efficiencies.
In the UK our mixed bag of business models used with the national agencies (like the Ordnance Survey, the Met Office and the Hydrographic Office) have clashed with the ambitions at a local level. Often data is surrendered by LAs under duress and ultimately (in some cases) sold back to them. LAs suffer tight budgets, yet invest in expensive data gathering activities only to watch as the national agencies exploit their trading fund status to profit from this data, passing nothing back to the collection process. Resentment has been strong; a recent flashpoint (now resolved?) was the competing systems of applying unique references to properties and buildings UPRN (by the collective Local Authorities)and TOID systems (by the Ordnance Survey).
In the UK things look more positive now. There is a Location Strategy which adopts INSPIRE principles and, at the national level, services are beginning to emerge that are INSPIRE compliant. The immediate usefulness of such data sets in not always crystal clear (just have a look at the caveats Land Registry have had to place on their INSPIRE index polygons http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/public/guides/public-guide-24#guide-mark-11!), but the potential for ready interoperation grows with each new INSPIRE compliant service.
So can we expect Local Authorities to follow suit and provide data and services to a new set of schemas and through a new set of services? Will they recognise (and be allowed to share in) the resultant benefits of increased efficiency?
Learning from our previous experience (Lessons 1 and 2) we can only expect this to happen if there is “something in it” for them. Critically, can the systems LAs employ for increasingly dynamic, aggregated and networked information be well served by INSPIRE compliance?
If INSPIRE is really going to be both deeper and wider it will need to address the emergent issues in a way that motivates at the local level. Only in this way can INSPIRE assure consistent approaches throughout the hierarchy up to the pan-European level.
Of course the convergence of a proposed EU Location Framework proposed by the JRC and the European Location Framework proposed by the collective of mapping agencies will provide guidelines. But what’s needed is a practical data exchange mechanism that’s deployed at the local authority level and feeds up automatically into the higher nests of services and data at National and Multi-national levels.
So let’s focus now on those that are already engaged in this data exchange. Organisations that are motivated to address the gaps in the model to achieve interoperation. Those that will build INSPIRE compliant services. Those that will provide platforms transforming and adapting data and services to a common schema and allow efficient data exchange between different parties with a minimal overhead of effort. Those that will take on the challenge of integrating static and dynamic data feeds.
And lets really learn from the lessons of INSPIRE and prioritise on those that have cut their own teeth meeting the needs at the local level, rather than those with vested interests at the National level.
The UK’s team that looks after European FP7 funding for collaborations invited me to a workshop and briefing. As an enticer they promised to share their views on the forthcoming Horizon 2020 plans from Europe which will replace the current funding frameworks (CIP, FP7 etc.).
I am not alone in thinking that the changes proposed (and not yet agreed) will miss deadlines in 2013 leading to a significant gap between the closure of the current funding cycles and the beginning of 2020. If there’s no other message to take from this blog… LOOK AT THE current FP7 offerings NOW! Forthcoming Deadlines at December 4th and January 15th are still feasible for these 75% funded projects (of course I can help… see later ;-)). These final calls in the FP cycle access the largest amount of money every provided, so the chances appear strong for your success! Waiting for the CIP call may be a good idea (draft in my possession and publishing in January), but will be a lower reward typically at just 50% funding.
So what’s new in Horizon 2020? A consolidation of all the funding types appears to be a typical attempt to simplify the process, but really it just chunks-up the funding in a different way. If your research is anywhere near generic in a realm like ICT, then the right call for you could be found in any one of the social challenges. Or perhaps you’d identify more with a “Key Enabling Technology” pilot which will be multidisciplinary, cutting across many technology areas with a bias towards convergence and integration. A lot of emphasis is on initiatives that will help projects “cross the valley of death” between research and the market. So as you would imagine a greater portion of the money is directed toward Innovation rather than pure R&D.
Venture capital features as a new element. In the group of learned FP7 gurus in the BIS on Tuesday this was seen as a nod toward the SME’s as a new plan to address the co-funding issues that always arise.
For a heads up, here are the slides on Horizon 2020 from the FP7 UK guys ict – h2020 v 0_7
If you do research, innovation, business and collaborations or want to expand your influence, motivate your people and gain from this significant amount of Euro cash, please get in touch with me to improve your chances of success.
I was asked by OSGeo to nominate who I thought should be the recipient of this years Sol Katz award for Geospatial Free and Open Source Software. As this is an open process (as you would imagine from OSGeo!) I picked the person I think has done the most for making open source software work for INSPIRE and want to know if you agree.
I nominated Markus Schneider of Occam Labs; by creating the Deegree Open Source framework they are helping geo services meet the interoperability specifications of the INSPIRE legislation across Europe. Please nominate him too by emailing ‘SolKatzAward@osgeo.org’ and give your reasoning… mine is below!
I was Project Manager and Product Owner in the development of pan-European combined INSPIRE compliant services during the ESDIN project (a European Spatial Data Infrastructure and Network). Deegree was a significant contributory factor to these interoperating services. Using the Deegree framework we made 50 different services available simultaneously.