Geospatial solutions offer potential for economic growth

August 9th, 2019, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

The geospatial and construction IT solutions conference SA GeoTech 2019, which took place on 22 to 23 July 2019 in Gauteng, explored various geotech applications and the opportunities they offer to drive business and economic growth. Case studies presented over the two days showed an existing culture of innovation in an industry which already embraces fourth industrial revolution information tools and technologies in their daily work.

New trends such as the integration of geospatial sciences and statistics were highlighted by keynote speaker Dr Arul Naidoo from the Institute for Spatial Data Science. He showed how spatial statistics can add greater value and depth to geospatial data analyses, using examples such as how Esri’s Space Time Cube allows location-over-time analyses. He further explained how crucial spatial data statistics are in applications like machine learning, which apply these principles. While a basic understanding of statistics is necessary, software tools have made these principles easy enough for anyone to apply, enabling insights often lost in ordinary geospatial analyses. Helene Verhoef of Stats SA’s presentation also focuses on creating more detailed data, and considered the design of an ideal output area for South Africa’s census geography.

The location component of most data, as well as the insight it adds to analyses, means that geotech can be applied widely. Prof. Fred Cawood, the director of the Wits Mining Institute (WMI), considers geotech a fourth industrial revolution technology which needs to unite with other disciplines for 21st century mining. Calvin Opiti, also from the WMI, illustrated this well in his presentation on spatial temporal modelling and analyses using GIS for improved underground mine health and safety. Subscan’s Hennie le Roux followed suit, showing the many applications of ground penetrating radar and related technologies and how they save money and lives by avoiding utility strikes and other risks.

To realise geotech’s multidisciplinary benefits requires collaboration, as explained by speakers such as Celiwe Kgowedi from the Office of the Gauteng Premiere, the CSIR’s Alize le Roux, and the City of Johannesburg’s Marcelle Hattingh and Eric Itzkin, who all worked on multidisciplinary projects.

The CSIR’s Green Book, an online open source planning support tool for climate resilient settlements, combines peer-reviewed research by more than 50 academics in multiple disciplines, simplifying complex systems on a single geospatial platform to aid policy decisions. Kgowedi’s work over the last five years focused on centralising geospatial data across different levels of government at the provincial level, highlighting the leadership skills required of geospatial professionals to realise the shared vision of many stakeholders. Wide consultation and a clear implementation framework in the end saved several government departments money, including data hosting and infrastructure costs. Hattingh and Itzkin’s collaboration on the Heritage Portal, which flags heritage sites on the city’s geo-enabled Land Information Management System, not only speeds up the developers’ application process by the upfront identification of protected sites, but protects the sites’ social and cultural value to society. Underpinning the portal are sound data governance practices which build on those outlined in the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act of 2003. Data, Hattingh says, should be treated as an asset in how it is stored, maintained and managed.

Industrialising geotechnologies and geo-information processing principles will create new business opportunities, believes MapIT’s Etienne Louw. The best example of this came from Dave Wibberley, the MD of Adroit Technologies, in his presentation on the integration of GIS and SCADA. SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) and HMI (human machine interfaces) underpin IoT, smart buildings, smart cities, automation and industrial applications more broadly, but until recently these technologies neglected detailed spatial analyses. Referring to Russel Ackoff’s data-value model, Wibberley suggested that the geotech and automation industries are only halfway up the value chain, and that a lot more value remains untapped.

Industrialising geotech entails automating it for repeatability, something Aurecon’s Kevin Johnson did in a proof-of-concept which applies machine learning to aerial photography to automatically determine road width. His colleagues Nerine Joubert and Richard Matchett are working on designing digital optimised models and project information workflows for digital twins (replicas of real-world assets) over a project’s entire lifecycle. Their three lessons: model information, not geometry; data collaboration is an essential driver; and (carefully selected) information should drive an asset’s life-span benefit.


The value of geotech extends far beyond the bottom-line economic benefits – and geotech holds even greater potential for its social value and ability to improved quality of life, something which presentations such as the Gauteng City Region Observatory’s study of the Alexandra Township and Brighton Chamunorwa’s data visualisation platform for bee farmers in the Eastern Cape emphasised.

Other speakers, such as Arrie van Niekerk inspired delegates to renew their thinking on optimising their workflow by applying the theory of constraints, explaining why an efficient business is usually on the brink of bankruptcy, and how to rethinking capacity around workflow bottlenecks.

There were also many other interesting presentations on using mapcodes, on how municipalities can use web-based GIS to manage their revenue, on data visualisation, and on how new markets can be understood with geospatial data and many more. (The presentations and papers are available online here.)

The conference also included a panel discussion on the convergence of geotechnologies, as well as three workshops and four tech-talk sessions which introduced new technologies and offered delegates hands-on experience with technologies such as aerial imaging and mobile mapping systems.

Awards were given to the best presentations, with Celiwe Kgowedi winning the best presentation prize on day one, and Nerine Joubert and Richard Matchett winning the prize for their presentation on day two. The best large exhibition stand prize went to Leica Geosystems, and Pepperl+Fuchs won the best small exhibition stand prize. Several other lucky draws gave away prizes which included a tour of SANSA’s Hartebeesthoek facility, a coffee machine, and a digital SLR camera.

Photos from the event can be viewed here and here.

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