When I first signed up to Twitter a month ago I didn’t think it would lead me to writing this article. It was an attempt to keep abreast of football gossip. However, I soon found, as a career hunting Geography graduate, it was an ideal platform for networking. It is from this networking that I learnt of the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) Northern Group Conference; a coming together of individuals in Manchester on July 4th to share ideas from the geospatial world. As a throw of the dice I attended the conference, not knowing completely what to find. However, from the beginning I felt extremely welcome, with participants taking genuine interest in what I had to say. Once seated we were welcomed by Graham Morgan (Chair of the AGI Northern Group and MD of Spatial Consultants Ltd), and tasked us with introducing ourselves. I remember enjoying how much more personal this was than my earlier efforts to enter the industry.
The presentations were kicked off by Dr. Omair Chaudry, UNIGIS, on ‘Structuring Volunteered Geographic Information.’ This aimed to use place-tags from images on Flikr to create a keyword map. Stuart Mitchell (AGI Northern Group Conference Organizer and owner of Geodigital) did a masterful job of keeping speakers on track and tweeting regular updates with the #AGI_NG tag). Ian Robinson followed, with ‘Using GIS for risk assessment and resource allocation in the fire service’ which concerned the allocation of fire service resources for optimum coverage over an area. I enjoyed this as the application used a spatial analyst method which I was familiar with. These set the scene well, featuring content I would expect to find if I were to walk into a GIS job, but also revealing how innovative the industry is, for example the use of extensive free data sourced from social networking sites such as Flikr.
At this point the presentations swung towards more future development, started by Ewan Peters from ARUP, who gave a talk on ‘The Role of BIM’, BIM standing for Building Information Modelling. However it was noted for this presentation it would be better referred to as Built Environment Information Modelling, suiting the geospatial context. This talk exhibited BIM as a process that combines geometry and other information to provide mapping at all stages of a project. ‘Transform your approach to data and INSPIRE’ was the next talk, by David Eagle of 1Spatial. This considered the audit of data to save money, and the transformation of error prone data into accurate, valuable data, in order to bring it in line with new European INSPIRE data standards. These two talks were completely new subjects for me and so were the most challenging period of the day, but it exposed to me just how many layers there is to the GI community.
The next three talks represented a shift from advances in the industry to ways in which the participants could be motivated to use initiative to create our own, efficient advances. This was started absorbingly by Gary Gale, Nokia, with ‘Big Data versus My Data’, a lecture that concentrated on the increasing use of social networking, a practice that creates data. But who owns this data? Gary explained services are unmotivated to preserve data, and so we must preserve it ourselves, by creating a ‘Personal Digital Archive’ on host websites. The presentation with the least amount of GI focus, it showed to me how broad the subject can be. Following that, Jo Cook, Astun Technology, gave a more geo-centric presentation entitled ‘Consuming Open and Linked Data with Open Source Tools’, demonstrating how to make the most of freely data. Carried out by downloading free datasets, this can be converted using programmes such as Python for ease of use within a GIS. Andy Coote of ConsultingWhere Ltd. finalised this section brilliantly with a call to arms to the industry. ‘The Importance of B2C in the Growth of the Geospatial Market’ explained how there is an opportunity at present to embrace advances in technology in mobile apps, media and augmented reality to take geospatial understanding further. This presentation resonated with me in its innovative thinking, highlighting the big future in this industry.
Finally Professor Robert Barr, University of Liverpool & Manchester Geomatics, concluded the presentations, with ‘It’s good to talk – opening up the address debate’, stressing just how important communication is to reduce duplication of data. One fine example was the Royal Mail, who re-geocoded the properties of Britain, an exercise that not only took a lot of effort and taxpayers money but also did not really need repeating. It became clear that this malpractice is not uncommon, mainly due to copyright concerns over GI data that can be used. This wrapped up an engaging conference perfectly, highlighting simple steps we can all take for a more streamlined community.
Furthermore, throughout the day numerous coffee breaks took place that were ideal times for me, as a graduate, and everyone else to network and chat. This was a big opportunity for me, and without the friendliness of the participants it may have been a bit daunting. I found a treasure trove of advice and guidance (for example, I’m now a fully fledged Python self teacher!), not to mention some business cards. Without trying, this conference has become the perfect space for a graduate looking for a way into the geospatial industry, as well as its main function which is for GI professionals to meet and share ideas.
Graham closed the conference with quick reminder of some of the things we had learnt during the day and by thanking the speakers, attendees and event sponsors (PSMA). Then, in what is apparently typical form, we retired to a local bar for a ‘natter’. Personally, I would like to thank all the speakers and participants for a fascinating, and for me, motivating event.
The AGI Northern Group is a regional group of the Association for Geographic Information. The group is run by volunteers and organises topical evening events throughout the North of England. The group is online at www.agi.org.uk/north as well as via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter