By Peter Woodgate
Spatial information contributes between $6.4 billion and $12.6 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, and we're only just scratching the surface.
How many times a day do you access spatial information?
Everytime you look at a weather forecast, log onto Google Earth, use an in-car or hand-held naviation system. Industries such as commercial fishing, real estate and mining are increasingly dependent on such systems for doing everything from detecting schools of fish and mineral deposits to locating lost truck drivers.
The everyday use of spatial data is becoming truly ubiquitous. Indeed over 60 countries have satellite systems that take pictures of the earth, manage positioning systems or handle telecommunications.
Economic consultants ACIL Tasman has just published a study of the economic impact of spatial information on the Australian economy, and the results will surprise some.
The study was commissioned by the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), conducted with the support of ANZLIC - the Spatial Council, Australia's peak government body for spatial information, and with the collaboration of the 'Australian Spatial Information Business Association'.
It found that the spatial information industry made between a $6.4 billion to $12.6 billion contribution to Australia's gross domestic product in 2006/07 and had a positive impact on the trade balance by generating exports valued at between $1.3 billion and $2.3 billion.
The availability of spatial data contributed to household consumption, investment, revenue generation to industry, and even lead to an increase in real wages of between 0.6% and 1.12%.
The study, which used the general equilibrium model, based on a series of case studies drawn from Australian Bureau of Statistics industry categories, is the first of its kind in the world.
However, it's unlikely to be the last.
Globally spatial information industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the information communication technology industry.
With the increasingly rapid developments in airborne and space technologies and with the move to three dimensional imaging and information management, there is no sign of a slackening in this growth.
Of critical interest to Australia are those factors which are operating to impede our rate of growth or to cap our ability to capture a larger slice of the world market.
Australian government agencies at all levels control very large volumes of spatial information. Australia's private sector has been using relatively small amounts of this information for a number of years and has recognized great potential for further commercial use into the future.
However, pricing mechanisms for accessing these data differ from state to state and from agency to agency with the exception of the Commonwealth which is making much of its data either freely available or available with a marginal cost of access.
Many in the private sector would like to see a uniform pricing regime introduced across Australia to encourage value adding of these government datasets.
But pricing is not the only issue. At this stage it's still not possible to access most of this data via the internet.
To overcome this, there are increasing calls globally for the establishment of a ‘creative commons' enabling licensing and copyright regimes that remove significant impediments to general access to such information.
However, who is going to pay to get these data online, to manage them, to improve them when faults are found and to provide the appropriate warnings to prevent misuse?
There is also the vexed question of privacy, confidentiality, national interests, that need to be addressed.
The executive summary and full ACIL Tasman reports can be downloaded from www.crcsi.com.au/publications.
And while we figure all this out, this spatial information revolution will continue to profoundly influence the development of our society.
CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) Peter Woodgate has decades of experience in geospatial data research in academia, the private sector and the public service. With specific experience in forest management, salinity research, greenhouse and the use of remote sensing for monitoring natural resources, he is also a director of Spatial Information Systems Ltd, and a board member of the International Society for Digital Earth.