GITA Australia—One man’s view
The theme for this conference is [The] impact of critical
infrastructure protection on operations. But the real sub-themes have
been about infrastructure protection in the face of disaster, and the
perennial question of value, which technology faces in any
organization.The other sub-theme is integration and how to achieve
it.There was also the usual me too presentations about using
personal digital assistants (PDAs) in field data capture, or how a Web
mapping product had been used in a business, and what vendor x did
for me, and even vendors peddling their wares.The usual fare.But in
the end, what is the real value of a conference like this one?
Let's see what we found at GITA Australia this year.
Doing something differently
It is good to put yourself in uncomfortable places that are out of the
ordinary.There is a whole industry being built around extreme sports
perhaps a new one could be created around extreme conferences. The
idea is simple: you simply sign up to the service provider (providing
your details, budget, number per year, etc.) whose system then chooses
a conference at random and signs you up to attend it.You go to the
conference and do nothing more than sit and listen and see if you can
see how to apply what people are talking about to your normal day
job. This, as in Mission Impossible, is your mission, should you chose
to accept it.
So, why would you?
Because we all need to be challenged; and in being challenged and
exposing ourselves to the views and opinions of others we can learn how
to think outside the square (thanks, Google Maps!).We all need to test
of our views, practices and opinions with others.Have we got it wrong?
Are we getting the right information?
And, as I had not attended a GITA conference before, here was an
opportunity to see what a different target audience the asset
management fraternity were doing.Had anyone really found the new
killer app? Was what Google are doing going to dominate talk? (Google
was mentioned but didn't dominate.)
So, on to what I sat and heard.
Change and infrastructure protection
Some claim that the only constant in life is change.The geospatial
industry is an industry being affected by change.Is this a function
of life in any technology sector? What are the drivers for change? What
is the relationship between terrorism, natural disaster and change?
Listening to, and speaking to, the presenters at this conference, I
became aware that the infrastructure protection theme was really a
variation on what drives change in any organization or across
organizations.So, that old adage kept repeating itself inside my
brain: the more things change, the more they stay the same!
In the end, a lot of what we hear about at conferences and at work is
about change management: what brings it about.
Technology is an enabler of change but not its agent.As one very savvy
marketing manager for a vendor said in conversation with me
(paraphrase), technology has always had the capability to effect
change for a long time, but technology is not the issue, change
management within businesses is the issue. For any of us who have had
to promote new technology within any organization, this is the
perennial question his comments ring true.
What drives change?
Terrorism is, currently, the most effective agent for change we have
seen in decades.When the question becomes one of life or death,
nothing focuses the mind more and cuts through vested interests.Other
than natural catastrophe (cf.Japanese Professor Shinoaki highlighted
earthquakes as drivers for ROADIS in his keynote address) or aggressive
external business competition (perhaps Google Earth vs.ArcGlobe),
there really is, often, no other reason to change.If the profit margin
is OK (it doesn't even have to be great, but OK), or you re the
dominant player, then the imperative to change just isn't there.
When this situation exists, change won't come from within.Businesses
will not make the hard decisions that are needed to reduce cost and
increase profitability.So, I had to wait while my English soccer team,
Sheffield Wednesday, was relegated from the Premier League, through the
next league and into the relegation zone of the league below that (in
three seasons), before the board of directors, the coaching staff, and
half the team were sacked! The point at which accountability finally
kicked in was when the line defining the need to survive finally
crossed the line of vested interest.
But this is the idea to which my savvy marketing manager was alluding.
Sure, the conference seems relevant infrastructure security in a time
of terrorism, but what is really new about this?
Change seems to be an abstract concept: where's the evidence? The
evidence comes in the form of the main, tangible issue spoken about at
the conference, and that was the need to integrate organizations,
systems and data.
Conference attendees spoke about the need for integration in order to
protect the critical infrastructure.Effective emergency service
response, nowadays, requires integrated data (e.g.common database and
models) and systems (interoperability standards like the Open
Geospatial Consortium s Web Map Service and Web Feature Service).
However, while delegates could see the promised land that Professor
Shinoaki demonstrated was possible in Japan (the need to rebuild
utilities effectively after earthquake drives the need for integrated
data and systems probably more than the strength of the Japanese
culture), they also were frank in admitting that the impediment to data
exchange is commercial self-interest.Private companies and utilities
are resistant to doing this.So the requirement to do this has to come
from without, not within.And so, like the problem of change, there has
to be an over-riding need to change.Sad, but true, terrorism is the
external driver of change.Government, in response to this, is
legislating what self-interest resists you will exchange data and
integrate your systems.
Again, my savvy marketing friend summed all this up neatly
(paraphrase).There is nothing like a sinking ship to focus the mind.
And so, there is nothing like the basic human instinct to survive which
focuses the mind and steels the will.Terrorism has forced
In my view, integrated data is the first driver of integration.Once
that is in place secure foundations the house can then be built.
Roland Slee's presentation on behalf of Oracle was aimed at showing
that Oracle had the technology to host data and process integration
once the will is there.And thus, it seemed to me to be an appropriate
second presentation after Professor Shinoaki's, even if Oracle s is not
the technology of choice of the majority of attendees.
Yet, for an old database boy like me, I really do think that all good
integration starts and ends with data managed according to principles
that don't see to have changed much in the past 20+ years.But, that is
my prejudice showing.
The value of conferences like this one
I spoke to some attendees who had never attended this conference, or
even any conference connected to the geospatial industry.Almost all
these people said to me they found it beneficial because they got to
see what others are doing.But do they? I got talking to one first time
attendee at lunch and asked him about his particular work and industry
(a water authority in Victoria).Once I had worked out what his
employer did and what technology he used, I then went on to ask him
about the neighboring water authorities.Most used the same technology
as his authority, but one didn't.That authority had recently gone out
to tender and had been won by a competitor and, upon being asked, was
perplexed as to why.I pointed out that the vendor who supplied the
technology had a stand here and suggested he take the opportunity to go
to their stand and kick the tires of their offerings and find out why
his neighbor went with something different.I hope he did, because this
is why we should attend these conferences.
So, it seems to me, that conferences like these are not about the
technology or the theme but more about the opportunity to network.That
remains a pretty good reason for going.However, I am not convinced
that people do network outside their social group.Whether that is
defined as their current vendor for example does an Autodesk user
ever take the opportunity to go and talk to the ESRI people on their
stand, or the Intergraph people? Do we so define ourselves by our herd
that we won't look outside the square unless change is forced upon us?
I suffer a bit from this, but even so, I would rather attend a
conference where I was exposed to people not in my industry than keep
going to conferences like this year in year out.
Networking, vendors and value
Networking goes further.I spoke with more than one vendor who said
that the value really wasn't there for them because they found there
were better ways to talk to customers.In fact, one vendor perhaps
being honest rather than cynical said that the only reason they
attended was simply because their competitors were there!
The individual and the conference
GITA represents utility companies and their staffs.What my (cynical)
vendor friend was saying was that the vendor/company relationship is
not really worked out at a conference like this one.Also, I am
convinced that the professional needs of the individual are not being
met by business associations and their conferences.Certainly no
individual could afford to attend such a conference at the prices
charged, never mind the individual membership fees.In fact, I would
argue that no one is offering a conference that individuals could
afford to attend, and so I would like to see something like an
Association of GeoSpatial Professionals body being formed that
directly spoke to the individual.But that's for another day.
So did I get anything out of this conference? Yes I did.But you might
be surprised to learn that it wasn't as cerebral as the above
discussion about integration and change: it was an interestingly
personal experience.Because I finally realized why the last eight
years (with my ex-employer) have been so painful: I have been the agent
of change at my employer; a disturber of the peace. And it has hurt.
Will I go again? Sure, but not every year.Because, like my savvy
marketing manager friend, I think that it is good to go every few years
to remind ourselves that the more things change, the more the stay the
Published Monday, September 5th, 2005