The pace of change


A new year - Thanks to Aquila Samson

On Tuesday I sat in on a CLG/OS event about the launch of the PSMA (Public Sector Mapping Agreement for anyone from outside of GB). Today I was speaking at an AGI North event and someone said to me “wow hasn’t a lot changed in the last year and a bit”, I choked on my sandwich and managed not to take the bait.

Let’s look back to 2009 and consider the change in UK GI over the last couple of years (apologies for conflating the fortunes of OS with the whole of the UK GI community)

May 2009 – a new business strategy for OS is launched with 5 goals:

  1. Promote innovation for economic benefit and social engagement
  2. Increase the use of Ordnance Survey data
  3. Support the sharing of information across the whole of the public sector
  4. Increase efficiency to develop a sustainable business for the future
  5. Enhance value through the creation of an innovative trading entity

The Sir Rob Margett, new chairman suggests that the free data option (i.e government centrally funds data creation and makes it freely available to all users) has been rejected as it would have a net cost of “over £500m”. Charles Arthur of the Guardian persistently questioned this assertion but never got a meaningful response to my knowledge. Some people suggested that £500m could be the notional value that the Shareholder Executive had placed on OS in the event of a sell off or privatisation. Strangely the old link to the Strategy is broken and it doesn’t come up when searching the new OS website but the good old Way Back Machine has saved a copy for anyone who is keen to remind themselves of the strategy goals.

There were murmurs (or even howls) of protest from the Open Data community, partners and competitors and much sparring over the next few months. Not everyone seemed to be convinced by the new strategy but OS quietly got on with implementing it until Gordon’s Day in November (that’s the damascene moment when GB met Sir TBL and overnight became a convert not only to OpenData but committed to making a load of OS data free and left the folk at the Treasury gasping at the hole he had created).

A quick reprise from CLG and just 6 months after the strategy was announced we get a further consultation on the Policy Options for GI from Ordnance Survey. Several months of impact studies, a juicy contract for an economic consultancy, thousands of pages of submissions from the great the good (nearly 400 submissions) and much debate followed. In March 2010 CLG responded to the consultation slightly changing the scope of the data to be made freely available, announced the PSMA, promised simpler licensing and a resolution of the long running addressing wars and gave OS a leading role in implementing the UK INSPIRE infrastructure. I endeavoured to summarise the range of responses here, I concluded

Much to the surprise/disappointment of many who wished them ill, the OS seems to have come out of this as a big winner. It doesn’t look like they will be privatised, nor will they be broken up. They have won the funding for government for the free data sets and most of their core activities will continue.

With hindsight I think I underestimated how well OS came through the consultation process. Skip forward to April 2011.

  • OS OpenData has been released and is fully funded by government
  • PSMA signed between OS and public sector, a 10 year contract in place provides stability and financial certainty to both parties
  • GeoPlace, a new addressing joint venture between Local Government and OS, is formed and acquires Intelligent Addressing creating a single source of addressing for GB. OS is appointed as sole distributor of the NAG.
  • Ordnance Survey Ltd (remember that “innovative trading entity“) launches a new leisure portal including a print on demand service

One cannot but admire the way that OS has navigated through the storms of the last couple of years, weakened some of its competitors (there have certainly been losers outside of Southampton) and secured its future.

The pace of change? Seems more like business as usual.

Now when the PDC get’s it’s hands on that I wonder what value they will place on it? Maybe that £500m figure wasn’t so crazy after all.

3 thoughts on “The pace of change”

Comments are closed.