E-Strategy: A vision becomes reality at the Ordnance Survey

By Joe Francica

There are many people who have a vision for what government should do to make spatial information more accessible to others in government and the public.There are few who can articulate that vision and make it work.When the vision is from inside the government agency, you look askance because you wonder if it had even a small chance to succeed.But when you see the vision become reality, you must applaud loudly.

When Vanessa Lawrence left Autodesk in September 2000 to become Director General and Chief Executive of the Ordnance Survey, the United Kingdom's mapping agency, she was walking into a government bureaucracy that was perhaps somewhat resistant to new ideas. Twenty-two months later, the "e-Strategy" initiative that she began, and to a large degree has already fulfilled, has transformed the agency into a responsive, customer-focused organization that is fostering the promotion of spatial information within many government offices and private industry.

The changes she instituted were based on a vision for both institutional change and technological innovation. It started with an understanding that the tiled, non-topologically organized spatial data infrastructure had to be transformed into a seamless, topologically correct, and substantially attributed database if it was to be used efficiently and effectively in order to sustain revenue growth in an agency that does not rely solely on government funding.

In conjunction with this program, the organization had to transform itself to one that could deliver product via the Internet, and yet serve the large customer base that still needed its printed map series.Preparation and delivery of digital data in GML format has also been extremely well received.Ms.Lawrence succeeded by putting it this way: "I have always described it to the staff as being on a train and that I was driving the train.The staff could get on or off the train but it would only go in one direction.And there will be times when they feel that they need a rest; they may get on a carriage that is further back, but they will still keep going, because I can't ask everybody to move at the same rate." She also did it by seeking volunteers within the OS to embrace the challenge.The result has been to meld an organization that is motivated to succeed and that continues to be a model government entity for other British agencies seeking to re-invent itself with its own "e-Strategy."

In my view, however, her most impressive vision is to bring "geographic-awareness" to school-aged children.At the beginning of the coming school year, the OS has offered to provide maps to all 11-year old children (year 7/primary 7) upon signing-up at the website. Plus, the OS has its own "MapZone" where interactive "geography games" are available for fun and entertainment (go to http://www.mapzone.co.uk/). From a U.S.perspective, the OS is a cross between the USGS and National Geographic.As both a transformed and vital organization whose mission is to provide the land information infrastructure to Britain, I salute Ms.Lawrence's vision because she has made it work.

Read more of my interview with the Director General below:

Published Wednesday, June 12th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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