Predictions for 2024 - the impact of climate change, sustainability, and AI
By John Kimmance, Managing Director of National Mapping Services at Ordnance Survey
This accurate and trusted data is used every day to help underpin a range of essential public services, from enabling quicker emergency responses to planning and delivering safe and secure major events. Every week we make tens of thousands of changes to the National Geographic Database (NGD), capturing new buildings, roads and addresses.
Through the NGD and the OS Data hub, we are delivering improved ways of accessing and working with our data. We are also continually releasing new datasets to support customer needs and address challenges. Following last year’s release of speed data and then buildings and the railway and path network, we have a schedule to release a new batch of datasets this spring.
What do I think is going to be new in 2024?
It’s not new, but the role of location in supporting solutions for sustainability is becoming increasingly critical as the planet tries to understand the ongoing impact of climate change. OS already has a proven track record in innovating and partnering sustainability initiatives. At one level, we have the Supply Chain Data Partnership, of which OS was a founding member, looking to improve transparency in the supply chain globally. Then in Britain, we have examples of how OS is working with public sector customers on national and local sustainability projects. One such example is the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, where its adoption of the OS NGD has enabled huge advances in mapping natural habitats for its Local Nature Recovery Strategy.
One of the most significant impacts of climate change is flooding, with a greater risk to communities in coastal and lower-lying areas. Accurate location data is vital for the prevention, planning, response, and recovery of these incidents, and OS has a long history of supporting local authorities and emergencies in this. Most recently, OS played a role in a storm and flooding exercise with Local Resilience Forums and emergency services, where the crucial question everyone wanted an answer to was where? OS remains on call 24/7 with its mapping for emergencies service, whether for a natural emergency or security threat.
Another focus for OS is health and wellbeing. I think the concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood will become part of a louder conversation as we recognise that transport contributes to around 26% of greenhouse pollution. An initiative that means individuals can do their bit for sustainability by leaving their cars behind, and also keep themselves active and more healthy, is going to gain greater momentum and has already been adopted in cities across the world. OS data has been used in a project in Scotland to explore this; and our teams have supported NHS England in an initiative to map neighbourhood walkability.
What's going to stay the same in 2024?
A trend I mentioned last year, which is significant for businesses and the geospatial industry, is the continued adoption of, and focus on, AI in all facets of life and industry. And with that, people are going to look for trusted organisations to underpin their understanding and decision-making with authoritative data.
For a number of years, we have been researching and piloting AI and Machine Learning within OS, which is centred on our data capture operations and how we can use the technology to deliver richer specification and more timely data to support our customers. Two examples are automated change detection and automated feature extraction. Through projects in both Great Britain and overseas (Zambia) we have seen the benefit that these technological advances can bring to our data capture operations, as well as the benefits which are passed on to our customers.
This year will see AI further embedded, playing a significant role in the creation of some of our new products.
What would you like to change in 2024?
All businesses and organisations, whether private or public sector, need to continually change and embrace new technologies. In recent years OS has transformed how our data is stored, accessed, and used by our customers through the NGD. While we have already seen customers using and getting value from new products and services, there are users still to adopt the NGD within their organisations. I would urge any interested customers to contact us and we can support them on their geospatial journey.
I would also like to see greater recognition of the importance of location in large infrastructure projects. It is often considered far too late in the process, as there is still a limited awareness of the significance of geospatial data amongst non-specialists. One example of this is the ongoing roll-out of 5G networks. How can providers ensure that all areas of the country and communities can benefit rather than select cities and towns?
We believe location can enable more effective planning and delivery, from optimising the location of assets, to understanding population and movement of citizens. In another tech roll-out, OS was enlisted to help Government agency Building Digital UK level up the connectivity of lightning-fast broadband to hard-to-reach homes all over Britain. A new routing model was created using OS Highways, Roads, and Paths data, combined with datasets on addressing, routes, and buildings, to better understand those remote communities.
Trusted location data should be an essential tool in any planning process. Understanding what is where, and therefore what is needed, is crucial.
Managing Director of National Mapping Services