Monday 17 September 2012

Will Australia's CRCSI "Spatial Infrastructure" research see the light of day?

CRCSI Focus:
Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Infrastructures, CRCSI, has announced its research agenda for Spatial Information in a series of workshops around Australia, and in Sydney the presentation was met with a sceptical audience.
The CRCSI have $180 million worth of research budget, and "Spatial Infrastructure" represents 1/3 of the CRCSI's core agenda, and as such there is the potential to make some great contributions to Spatial Infrastructure. So why were the audience sceptical?
This is the second 7 year CRCSI agenda. In the first there was a feeling that many of the research projects did not follow through into practical implementations. As such, the bid for this second CRCSI emphasised a changed focus toward practical research. However audience sentiment was that the recent research proposed would not see the light of day. Here are some of the reasons why:

Lack of collaboration with Spatial Infrastructure champions

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is the leading international body coordinating research, development and testing of the standards which back Spatial Infrastructure. I would ague that for a research program to be of value, it needs to advance OGC standards. However, CRCSI's current agenda mentions only the use of existing standards.
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, CSIRO, are already world leaders in spatial research, having led development of a number of Spatial Initiatives and standards developments in conjunction with the OGC. In particular, CSIRO are currently leading the world in research into  Ontologies, Linked Data, and Catalogs which has many synergies with the the Australian and New Zealand Spatial Marketplace being promoted as a focus for the CRCSI's research agenda. However the CRCSI strategy has no mention of collaboration with CSIRO and seems to be proposing to solve similar problems themselves. Long term, this will result in the technology behind the Marketplace becoming obsolete as the rest of the world pick up and mature CSIRO's research, while Australian/New Zealand will be solely left to maintain the Marketplace.

Gap between Research and Implementation

There were serious concerns raised by both industry and government audience members about the usefulness of any research likely to be generated. You see, most of the pressing (and expensive) Spatial Infrastructure problems needing to be solved are found in the integration of systems. However, the CRCSI seem to have abdicated responsibility for tacking these hard problems, as they don't constitute "research". What would be preferable is that the success of research be judged by whether it has been integrated into Spatial Infrastructure software and processes, not by the earlier stage of being published in an academic journal.

What should the CRCSI do instead?

If the CRCSI is to heed the feedback from the Sydney meeting, the CRCSI will tackle less research topics, but will take these topics right through to implementation. The CSCSI will engage deeply with the OGC, probably leading a stream in an OGC testbed or pilot. The CRCSI would also work closer with the CSIRO and collaborate on initiatives.