Australian Geospatial Economic Impact Report Update

By Joe Francica

In November 2007, ACIL TASMAN, an economic consultancy in Australia, released a ground-breaking study on the impact of geospatial technology on the Australian gross domestic product (GDP). That report stated, "The impact on GDP in 2006-07 of the spatial information industry is estimated to range between $6.43 billion and $12.57 billion for the quantifiable lower bound and estimated realistic scenario respectively." Editor in Chief Joe Francica contacted Alan Smart, lead author of the report, to get an update on that study's impact since its release.

Directions Magazine (DM): Since the report by ACIL Tasman was first released in 2007, have you revised any of your forecasting methods and hence any of the results, which showed the impact of geospatial technology on GDP?

Alan Smart (AS):
We have not rerun the economic assessment for Australia. However, a new set of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that the revenue from the industry had increased from around $926 million in 1998-99 to $2,223 million in 2005-06. We are currently doing a similar exercise for New Zealand, however the results will not be available for a month or so. Since we did the Australian report there have been a number of significant applications developed - one in biosecurity and another in coastal measurement. So I think the impacts are growing.

DM: Given the global economic downtown and the disparity of its impact on different countries, can you relate this greater or lesser impact to a country's level of geospatial technology investment? Or is that giving geospatial technology too much credit?

The global economic downturn has been relatively sudden and I don't think that one could attribute a differential impact to geospatial technologies between countries. Increased spending by governments on infrastructure as part of stimulatory packages will increase the demand for geospatial services and those countries that have efficient geospatial services might benefit from faster planning approvals and implementation. However it is too early to detect any such effects at the macro level.

DM: Results of the first study indicated improvements in efficiency and asset management of infrastructure and natural resource projects. Do the investments made in geospatial technology affect a country's projected future GDP?

Yes. As our study showed, the productivity impacts on the property, construction and infrastructure sectors are significant components of the direct impacts on economic activity. As indicated in the answer to the previous questions, more efficient planning, design, implementation and operation of infrastructure are important to economic recovery.

DM: Which of the market sectors (local government, retail, public safety, military, etc.) mentioned in your report have understood the impact and made a greater investment in technology and people to make better use of geospatial information?

Our study showed that the early adopters have been defense, emergency management, local government, planning and construction. Geoscience, of course, has been a very early adopter.

DM: Are other countries that do not have a more open data policy (e.g. India, China) taking note of the impact that may result if they changed their policy? Has Australia adopted any new policies as a result of the report?

I cannot comment on policies in China and India. Policy development in Australia is moving forward with a proposal for development of an Australian Spatial Market Place. This will go further than spatial data infrastructure. The proposal is currently being discussed by government with industry and research bodies. It will be a first step in developing the infrastructure, systems and governance structures for access, discovery and transfer of geospatial data.

DM: Which of the recommendations in your initial report have been adopted and what is the result?

As previously mentioned, government is proceeding to develop a more comprehensive approach to the development of an Australian spatial market. While I would not attribute this to the release of the report, the report provided further argument to proceed with the next stage. The CRC on Spatial Information has a number of research streams that pick up the strategic issues that arose. There is a conference on spatial data in government and I will get more information at this event.

DM: Are there any other surprises that have led you to new or different conclusions since the first report?

: There have been no surprises. I think one of the issues that has emerged is the need for wider awareness of spatial information systems. The current inquiry into the Victorian fires has revealed that systems that are available, which could have helped warn the community, have not yet been implemented. We also found that some areas such as epidemiology have not fully exploited the potential of GIS systems. I think the challenge for the industry is to develop simple and easy to understand systems that are seamless and do not require specialized knowledge or understanding. However penetration of understanding of geospatial technologies into broader management will be required - awareness is relatively low. This is a challenge that I think confronts both government and industry.

Published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Written by Joe Francica

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