Australian Spatial Information Business Association Updates Name, and Mission: Directions Interview With CEO David Hocking

By Joe Francica

For over eight years, the Australian Spatial Information Business Association (ASIBA) has represented a growing number of companies that support growth in the geospatial technology sector. It was originally formed to consolidate several professional organizations and to speak with a single voice for this community. But effective on May 1, 2009, ASIBA will now be known as the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA), a change that association CEO David Hocking says "will ensure that the association remains relevant to what is a rapidly shifting spatial landscape." Editor in Chief Joe Francica asked Hocking to elaborate on the reasons for this name change and the association's new objectives.

Directions Magazine (DM): Why the name change from ASIBA to SIBA? Are you looking to attract more international participation or alter the mission of the association? What is the profile of your current membership?

David Hocking (DH):
The association sector in Australia is plagued by those who believe that they should establish associations when there is a new product or service offered that they believe to be completely unique. The Australian Spatial Information Business Association (ASIBA) was first established in 2001 following the conclusion of an industry/government sponsored Action Agenda, which is a process designed to remove impediments to growth. One of the impediments to growth identified by the Action Agenda was the need to consolidate industry representation - in other words reduce the number of associations representing the various activities of the sector. The industry agreed that there should be a new association called ASIBA and that other associations would fold into the new body.

While this merger of spatial business interests into ASIBA did largely occur, over time some new entities have emerged in areas such as GPS and more recently in location-based services. The reality is that the more associations that claim to represent the industry, the more governments have an opportunity to pick and chose their response to spatial issues.

While ASIBA - and shortly SIBA - is the only business lobby group for the spatial industry that is recognized as the industry voice, it is important that we recognize and act upon any shortcomings in our model, to ensure we remain relevant to the wider spatial industry.

The name change enables us to firstly reach out to new business products and services that are directly linked to spatial information and technologies. We also see it as important that we reach out to the significant user and adopter communities so that our message is more holistic. And yes, the removal of the national identifier, Australia, is a move to enable the association to become international.

Our current membership consists of some 500 companies ranging from small, single person consultancies to large, multinational corporations. The recent approach by some 20 New Zealand companies to become part of ASIBA helped to spark our interest in going global. Another trigger for seeking to go global has been the interest from overseas countries in our economic study of the industry.

DM: You've mentioned that two of your goals are to "to build a sustainable business sector of the spatial industry" and to "promote the adoption and use of spatial information and technologies." It seems as if you feel that the industry is not as widely promoted as you would like and that coordination of members with common goals may be lacking. How do the association and its goals differ from other professional societies like GITA or AURISA?

While it is true that ASIBA has achieved much in its first eight years, there is still much to be done. We have certainly secured strong interest from the national press, with stories on the spatial sector now almost commonplace. ASIBA put a lot of energy into demonstrating the value proposition for spatial information and technologies in water resource management (a big issue for a country in drought), national security and defense, emergency management (particularly bushfires), infrastructure, climate change and carbon trading, among other important global issues.

The coordination of both members and non-members with common goals is a real challenge. However, we have managed to deliver a consistent message to government on issues such as salinity science, government competition with the private sector, bushfire management, water, climate change and infrastructure investment. In fact, the industry in Australia has been remarkably consistent in its message to government. While there are always tensions between the private sector and government agencies, important messages are usually shared and often joint in nature.

The problem we see is in getting the global "fringe" players such as Google and Microsoft to work within the industry to achieve common goals such as a National Spatial Data Infrastructure, and common approaches to data access and pricing, and of course privacy. We are also reaching out to the significant user community to bring them in on common goals through our recently implemented Associate Member category.

While GITA is still in play here in Australia, its role is quite different from SIBA. It is not a lobby group as it represents a narrow, but nonetheless important, user community, providing training and support on spatial matters. Mind you, there is no reason why this community could not join SIBA as Associate Members. On the other hand, AURISA folded some years ago, merging into the newly formed professional association, the Spatial Science Institute, which represents the professional interests of individuals rather than business.

DM: Does SIBA expect to engage in lobbying of certain government bodies to more fully promote its agenda?

The lobbying activities of SIBA will progress from the focus on land-based agencies to those in the outcome domains such as water, climate change, infrastructure and so on. An interesting twist to our work has been our very close relationship with the property industry, which has seen us more engaged with issues around property rights, the impacts of coastal inundation on property values, and carbon trading. Recently, one of our directors spoke at a National Human Rights Consultation forum about the importance of citizen access to government spatial data - now there's a twist few of your readers would have considered.

DM: Can you elaborate on the challenges you face in influencing a National Spatial Data Infrastructure and other initiatives at the national level?

The greatest challenge has been to get government to accept and respond to the need for an NSDI. This was a challenge identified in the Spatial Information Industry Action Agenda back in 2001 and has been left to gather dust for much of that time.

SIBA believes that there must be a coordinated effort between government agencies with a vested interest, the private sector and academia to inform politicians about the value proposition for an NSDI. Our submission to Infrastructure Australia has elements of a considered economic assessment but of course, at the end of the day, we are competing with other desperate industries for a share of the stimulus funding.

We would like to have significant players such as Microsoft and Google playing a part in our efforts to influence government, but these companies often prefer to go it alone. We are trying to convince them that self interest at the company level rarely does any good. What government is going to favor one company over another in this climate? Government is more focused now than ever before on the wider community and business good.

DM: Regarding those companies that use geospatial solutions and data versus those that sell these solutions: is there a place for them in SIBA? How would they benefit from membership in SIBA?

Part of our "modernization" process is the introduction of an Associate Member category, which allows us to broaden our membership. This category has a flat membership fee of $660, which is less than they would pay as full members, but they cannot stand for election to the Board of Directors. That said, SIBA is able to appoint up to two additional directors who are not full members or who are not even in our industry. Last year ASIBA appointed Professor John Sheehan, who is a property theorist, and Alan Smart, who is an economist, as its two appointments. The Board decides who to appoint and from where, depending on its strategic focus for the year. An Associate Member can therefore be appointed to the Board.

The value proposition is in the common needs of both users/adopters and the industry proper. We all want an NSDI; we all want better access to, and less cost for, public sector information; we all want to secure a functional framework for privacy; and we all have a vested interest in building opportunities for growth by reducing impediments (many of which seem to come out of government). We all benefit from opportunities to network for business opportunities, innovation and to coordinate awareness building activities - so the value proposition is there for the taking.

DM: More broadly, in terms of the adoption of geospatial technology by corporations (versus government) in Australia ... what is the level of understanding about the potential of geospatial technology, a need for NSDI, or other standards that would improve adoption of the technology?

This is a very exciting area that is growing almost daily. Our recent joint seminar with the Australian Property Institute, "Destroying Coastal Land Values," included attendees from the legal profession, insurance sector and valuation profession. These groups of people were all from outside of our industry and wanted to know more about how our sector can help to solve or support their work. I was surprised at the level of understanding in the legal profession, in particular, but it is still fair to say this is less than we would like.

In terms of fully understanding the value of an NSDI, that is another story. We have a lot of work to do to help other sectors to better understand the value of an NSDI. This will in all likelihood require another independent analysis and a strategy for pushing the information out to the masses. This is one very good reason for our commitment to "internationalization" as we see that there is an opportunity for us all to share in the value of such work and to share in the cost. If we are to succeed as an industry then we need to better use our limited resources.

Spreading limited membership funds across a multitude of different sub-sectoral interest groups means that no organization will have adequate resources to do what needs to be done. We need to harness our global resources through one voice that has credibility from independent analysis and a single cost-effective marketing program.

SIBA is not about Australia being the international headquarters for the industry. SIBA is intended to be a kind of franchise model. We all share the corporate branding (a cost savings), we share the work for each other on key issues such as an NSDI, and we offer each other reciprocity. We also can share expertise and speakers for events, as well as the structure of forums and seminars such as the one we recently undertook on Destroying Coastal Land Values, which is all about spatial modeling to determine not only risk but to assist in planning as well. And we are happy to share the governance model that has worked so well and contributed to the view held by many that we "punch well above our weight."

I can answer the question about awareness best by offering the following quotes:
"Defence is looking to the spatial information industry to assist in the collection of certain classes of geospatial data, but possibly more important, to value-add to that data.

Defence supports the development of a viable private sector spatial information industry for Australia. Defence certainly recognises that spatial information is vitally important to manage security situations. But it also recognises, like industry, that greater exploitation of spatial information is possible.

As Chief of the Defence Force I see geospatial information, and the organisations and companies that provide it, as part of a web of national capacity and capabilities that support the effective defence of Australia and Australian interests."
General Peter Cosgrove, Chief of the Defence Force, in a speech to ASIBA
(10 October 2002)
"The Australian government has recognised for some time, how important the spatial information industry is to the nation...the spatial information industry has contributed to one of the most important policy initiatives of the past century: the National Water Initiative, which COAG recently agreed. It was ASIBA, together with the NSW Division of the Australian Property Institute, which first brought an important element in the water debate to my attention - the definition of a property right in water. Spatial information is an important tool for managing our valuable water resources, our very significant salinity problem, in defence and security, in preventing and managing bushfires and other similar crises, as well as in my own portfolio of transport."
The Hon. John Anderson, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services
(18 February 2004)
"While issues such as national security have pushed it [spatial sciences] to the forefront, much of Australia's future will hinge on the growth of this industry as it spans many other areas. I share the Deputy Prime Minister's views on the importance of the spatial industry and agree that it is one we need to examine closely in order to identify current and future skills shortages…"
The Hon. Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education, Science and Training
(23 December 2004)
"While urban water reforms have made significant improvements, the pace of rural water reform needs to be accelerated. Australia faces particularly difficult water management issues because it is a dry continent. It has become a world leader in some respects in defining clearly a 'property right' regime for water."
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Economic Survey of Australia - 2004
(3 February 2005)
I rest my case!

Published Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Written by Joe Francica

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