Geospatial data is the cornerstone of any application, service, and product even remotely related to our physical surroundings. From navigation applications and social networks, to tourism and logistics, geospatial data assets are the core foundations, enablers and value multipliers of our physical and digital economy.
This realization has been historically demonstrated worldwide by the prioritized policy, innovation, and technology actions to facilitate the standardization, reuse, and publishing of geospatial data, in close coordination with the industry. In the EU, the INSPIRE Directive has prepared the ground for the reuse and extraction of added value from public geospatial data, with Copernicus and Open Data policies multiplying the breadth and depth of data provided to the industry. Upon this foundation, the Digital Agenda was conceptualized, framed, and materialized, with a de facto acceptance of geospatial data as a key market and innovation driver of EU’s Data Economy. The Vickery report, which estimated the benefits of extended PSI reuse for EU27 at 140b€/year, was largely based on validated studies regarding the value of geospatial data worldwide.
Despite the significance of geospatial data for our Data Economy, an assessment of the current market landscape reveals a gap between policy intentions and subsequent industrial uptake.
Open data policies have been an immense success, increasing transparency and accountability, while feeding the industry with low-cost geospatial data that were previously unattainable. However, the early enthusiasm did not materialize into tangible value for the private sector, due to the limitations of open geospatial data in terms of quality, coverage, timeliness, and actual total cost of ownership. Understandably, these assets were originally produced for a specific purpose and domain, and thus under specific requirements; from accuracy and schema, to identifiers and update cycles. Unfortunately, such heterogeneity introduces a significant overheard for their quality-assured harmonization, integration, and use to support commercial-grade applications and services. Especially for SMEs and young innovators, i.e., the heart of our Data Economy, the mass availability of open geospatial data and relative lack of domain experience, has fed uninformed business decisions that consumed critical resources diverted to addressing data quality issues. All too often, a new product is founded on data availability alone, with product development side-lined to data cleaning and integration tasks. Therefore, the lesson is quite clear and vocal:
Data quality has a price.
The subsequent rise in demand for high-quality geospatial data assets has not reached proprietary geospatial data owners, which at large continue with their previous clientele and business offerings. The market of geospatial data owners and consumers on an EU setting remains disjoint and fragmented, with assets difficult to discover, assess, obtain, and integrate in a cross-domain, cross-border, and cross-lingual manner from most prospective consumers of the geospatial value chain.
The Digital Single Market for geospatial data is unfortunately not a reality.
From large multinational companies to young start-ups, the preference to products which bundle data with services in technically and business streamlined offerings, is hard to ignore. Further, the inherent flexibility, scalability, simplicity, and low-cost nature of such services overcome the comparative higher data quality offered from EU-based data owners.This failing is not technically-related as the EU has spearheaded syntactic/semantic standardization for geo-information worldwide. Further, with EU data owners distanced from innovators and losing clients from the entire geospatial value chain, stagnation prevails. Geospatial assets are less attractive and marketable, while owners lack the instruments to share and collectively harness added value from their products by jointly scaling their reach. As a result, our Data Economy is built on lacking foundations that fail to harness, promote and establish growth and economic development.
This status quo demands an EU-wide intervention targeted on delivering a Digital Single Market for proprietary geospatial data addressing the heterogeneity, disparity, and fragmentation of geospatial data products in a cross-border and inclusive manner. Such an action must provide a single-point for the streamlined and trusted discovery, remuneration, sharing, trading, and use of proprietary and commercial geospatial assets, guaranteeing low-cost and flexibility to accommodate current and emerging needs of Data Economy stakeholders regardless of size, domain, and expertise.