An International Ordnance Survey? – It’s the taking part that counts.

As our Great British Athletes in Team GB are demonstrating; in the Olympics… it’s not the winning that counts…it’s the taking part and the way you play the game 😉

China and Indonesia disqualified for not playing the game
It’s the way you play that counts!

I just caught this official news after much rumouring around the network in the past few months, Ordnance Survey are now going International. Great Britain’s National Mapping Agency will offer “expert advice and services across the full spectrum of Ordnance Survey’s expertise, including data collection and maintenance, product development and geospatial data management.”…primarily to “support other national mapping agencies and their countries.” Great news! After all, why keep all the expertise to yourself. But we have to wish for a little Team GB spirit from our national mapping agency (don’t follow the example of China and Indonesia today at the Olympics!). And we have to hope that OS can recognise and encourage the team effort that has enabled its strong reputation.

Whenever there is a government intervention for a “greater good” there are both winners and losers. So when Vince Cable, our Business Secretary says “I look forward to seeing their knowledge being put to good use around the world and furthering the reputation of British business abroad.” it strikes feelings of both hope and fear for OS’s eco system of suppliers, partners, associates and competition.

Does the pursuit of the “greater good” have to have a victim? Often, Yes. Quantitative Easing (a money printing intervention supported by both our recent governments) takes money from people’s savings to support collapsing banks. The “greater good” is in maintaining a stable “looking” economy so the world continues to invest in the UK. This may work if the banks take part fairly and share this view of the common good.  So far our banks don’t look very sporting!  The victim?  You and me!

However, as Vince points out, unlike the banks, OS has a more sporting reputation for partnership and the early signs are positive. The spirit of team-work, I am sure, will be at the heart of the plan as the software and systems created in the huge Phoenix project (deriving all map products from a single database) could be packaged for international customers and involve returns for the partners who helped to build it.

Also helpful for us all may be the prevailing view from those who work within Ordnance Survey.  The culture still comes from its strong heritage where accuracy, reliability and currency come far ahead of profits.  For its employees a message that OS is increasing its revenue potential will never wash.  Their “greater good” and sense of purpose will more naturally align with Vince’s vision.  But rightfully they will also recognise that this is new territory with little or no precedent for Ordnance Survey.

It is critical therefore that Ordnance Survey recognises it needn’t employ the talent required for this success.  It needs to be agile in this new venture.   Success will be in reliance upon the eco system already in place in the UK, approaching new opportunities together and growing the sector as a community.

Many of the system suppliers and consultants in the market already rely upon an international portfolio. So such a large and significant player entering the market could be pure competition right across the board.   To get to this position I am sure Ordnance Survey has already been negotiating with potential customers and this solo effort has the greatest potential for negatively impacting the market potential for UK business.

Steven Ramage (having recently left the Open Geospatial Consortium) will lead Ordnance Surveys foray across the globe. Steve will need to view this role, not as a pure commercial revenue increasing incentive to support OS’s trading fund status.  Instead it is an opportunity to benefit the whole of GB by developing an expertise in collaboration in this specialist and rapidly growing market of Location Services.  Steve, “we’re better together” 😉