Locate Conference 2016 - Day 1

The conference begins

Locate 16 was held from the 12th to the 14th of April, 2016 in Melbourne. The event started with an open day and a welcome function, which had a good crowd in attendance. The real kick-off for the event was held at the bar Ponyfish Island (unfortunately, not the same as the what3words location of the same name which is in Brazil). The conference proper started on Wednesday with an opening presentation from The Honourable Angus Taylor, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation. Minister Taylor spoke about self-driving vehicles (which were a bit of a theme of the conference) in mining, agriculture and rail, as well as how we’re early in the data revolution, but that government hasn’t kept pace with the private sector.

One of the important point the Minister conveyed was the cost of interaction with citizens, for example, comparing face-to-face, postal, phone and digital interactions ranging from a few dollars to mere cents, which means we can be more efficient by providing better digital services that meet people’s needs faster. He also spoke about how releasing public data increases innovation and doesn’t cost much, which is obvious to us who support open data initiatives. And related to open data, he mentioned that open weather data supports around $1.5 Billion worth of business.

The first Keynote was from Dan Paul, the CEO of PSMA, who had a markedly different spin on open data than what Glen Appleyard had at Locate in 2014. Dan said that PSMA remains commercial, but has been enabled to support open data (which was core to Glen’s talk, where he pointed out that they were funded completely through the sale of data). The recent release of G-NAF is the first major open data release out of PSMA, and additionally, PSMA are moving into the data creation space through a partnership with DigitalGlobe called GeoScope, which aims to capture every building footprint in the country. I wonder if that will be released as open data too!

Dr Catherine Ball talked about remotely piloted aircraft (RPA, the proper term for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) and pointed out that these days we’re drowning in data and starving for information. She suggests that anyone flying RPA should watch the CASA videos and encourages us to follow the #DronesForHumanity hashtag. Next, Ben Rimmer, the CEO from City of Melbourne spoke about sustaining livability. He strongly promoted geospatial as a way to enhance productivity, to maintain Melbourne’s livability and called it a ‘sixth sense’ and core to improving livability in the digital age. He referred to the Melbourne Urban Forest initiative of a few years ago (it still looks great!), and interestingly mentioned Google and Apple, but not Microsoft, in the future of sensor enabling his city (trees included).

Melbourne Urban Forest

A Plethora of Plenaries

Richard Hall kicked off the second session of plenaries with his presentation around using GIS for Smart Growth. Richard comes from Maryland, and his group received recognition as the ‘best planning department in the US’. He demonstrated how GIS was used to prioritise desired growth areas to be targetted with funding. They had the first statewide cadastre and a range of web-based interactive tools. Interestingly, Baltimore went from one million people down to six hundred thousand (which is not a problem we’re experienced with in Australia). His advice was to ger in it for the long term, to be across staff capability, to build tools to encourage public participation and to prove things, don’t just use opinions.

Next came Luke Barrington, the head of platform products at DigitalGlobe (and creator of tomnod the spatial crowd-sourcing platform). He asks ‘to whom is information valuable.’ And he spoke about building the tools that the people required, referencing Samuel Brannan, the first millionaire of the Californian gold rush, who opened a general store servicing the people doing the gold prospecting. He pointed out that Uber, which is worth around $9 Billion, has purchased two companies in its time, both of which are mapping companies and also noted that HERE was sold to car manufacturers for $3 Billion. Something to consider is how valuable Open Street Map is now! He concluded with the argument that maps are the gold, and shapefiles and pixels (data) are the tools.

The final speaker of the session was Joe Francica, the MD GIS at Pitney Bowes. He talked about the Internet of Things, and how it just doesn’t work (yet). The volume, velocity and variety of big data came out (and reminds me of Drew Clarke’s addition: variety). He pointed out the GPS is embedded in many things, and that of all these intelligent entities, GIS visualises all of the information. Joe pointed out that we’ve got the sensors, then the sensor-web, then data processsing, which feeds the location intelligence app and then on to industry. He pointed out an example of UPS, which now models itself as an information company that drives trucks (which got me thinking about Kevin Kelly’s forecast around the next 10,000 startups: take X and add AI).

Streams, so many streams

With four streams running for both afternoon sessions, it was hard to choose where to go. But one of my favorites of the conference was Hugh Salmans, from IAG, who started with the ancient curse ‘may you live in interesting times’. He suggests that we are entering the age of disruption. IAG have $11 billion in revenue and insure trillions of dollars worth of assets, and they do it using peril science (which is not a thing, there’s no Wikipedia article…). IAG is forming itself as a customer-led and data-driven organisation, and they’re in the middle of a deep digital transformation. They’re going to crash or ride the wave, and that’s exciting. Digital technology is enabling speed and scale that disrupts existing tech. Technology enabled and people led customer experience teams are reforming services to be better. An example that stuck with me was retail power companies. The incumbents have low customer satisfaction ratings, but there are new companies that do things differently like giving specials on mothers day, and they do it interactively via an app. They’re digital, fast and they are driven by a desire to make the customer happy, rather than just dollars. Hugh concluded with the line ‘don’t create a digital strategy, create a strategy for the digital age’. This is advice we should all be listening to.

DevOps - It's a Bit Deal

Robert Milne spoke about engaging communities, and using web-based spatial tech to improve knowledge sharing and facilitate NRM planning. Simon Jackson and Michael Regel talked about real-time GIS making decision making faster. Their system moves beyond the dreaded spreadsheet into maps that included data directly out of the SCADA systems monitoring and managing water flows, so that they can see where shit is/isn’t working (literally)! David Burne showed us a very fancy bit of ‘reality modelling’ with thirty kilometers of coastline modelled to 100 mm accuracy, in full colour and inside caves and under overhangs. Tai Chan spoke about building simple tools to undertake complex analysis and to help empower users through provision of disrubtive access to data and analysis.

There’s always something awesome that you miss at these big conferences, and I would have loved to be able to see a lot of the other talks not mentioned here.


Make sure you check out day two’s post.