New Zealand ESRI User Conference

  • Mark Mitchell
Land Information

Good morning everyone.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging Corallie Eagle, founding owner of Eagle Technology Group, and your son Duane, co-owner and Executive Director; Group CEO Mark Allan; Scott Campbell, Head of Geographical Information Systems (GIS)  technology at Eagle; and special guest Martin O’Malley, former Governor of the US state of Maryland and former Mayor of Baltimore.

Thank you for inviting me to this year's ESRI conference – the biggest event on New Zealand’s geospatial calendar in 2017.

Since the open government data movement began in 2008, considerable progress has been made towards getting geographic information, and other types of data, out of the back rooms and into the hands of the innovators and entrepreneurs among us. 

Today, Government departments are doing much more with geographic information than simply making it publicly available for re-use.

They’ve been getting creative with their data, joining forces with the private sector to come up with tools and resources to make it useful to New Zealanders.

Whether it’s support for a farmer trying to cut fertiliser or irrigation costs, a developer looking at where to put that next urban project, or a scientist investigating the effects of climate change, tools and resources are available.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is a good example. It’s using smart city technologies around the country to pull together data on traffic volumes and road safety to make transport decisions. That’s geographic information driving future transport decisions – not just to ease congestion on a busy road today, but to help decide whether we’ll need to build a new road tomorrow.

Most of these recent innovations with geographic information are the result of joint efforts. Rather than just going it alone, agencies are now joining forces with others to make data work for Kiwis.

Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment recently teamed up on a project to pull together data on things like water and air quality, rainfall statistics, seasonal temperatures and pollution levels. The product was the first ever interactive map giving a complete picture of how the environment has changed in different locations over time.

ESRI software also has a significant presence in my other portfolio, Defence. It is crucial to Defence Force operations, planning and training - most modern command and control systems rely on such software to function effectively.

I recently travelled to Queenstown to launch an app that’s helping authorities fight wilding conifers – an invasive pest tree that poses a threat to our ecosystems. Again, this was a product of a national programme that required collaboration between my department, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Department of Conservation, regional and district councils, forestry, farming and community groups. 

LINZ works with councils and private enterprise up and down the country to gather information about property, the land and even the ocean beds. These partnerships have resulted in all kinds of resources that can be used by anyone – key decision-makers, planners and developers, or techies.

They’ve recently started working with councils and others to make data about the height of regional land features available on the LINZ Data Service. This data can be used by planners and researchers to better understand the impact of natural disasters, such as floods and coastal erosion.

Of course, none of this could have been achieved without strong private/public sector relationships. So, to Eagle, and the other specialists in geospatial software here today, I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of your systems and technical expertise to public agencies.         

The examples I’ve shared with you demonstrate the potential of geographic information to transform the physical environments of our towns and cities. But geographic information also has huge potential when it comes to getting better results for communities and solving tricky problems. This is a space with a lot of potential and I’m keen to see more.

The issues that Government are working to address are often complex and span several areas of Government. This is particularly true of social and economic problems.

Again, the formula for success here is agencies such as Ministry of Social Development, Police, Justice and local government coming together to bring their data to life and make a difference for New Zealand.

These are all great ideas and examples of Government doing more with open data. But there are still many more data sets sitting around in public agencies waiting to be released.

All innovation with geographic information – whether private or public – relies on Government continuing to prioritise making their data publicly available.

While some public agencies have good policies for open data, others are still struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for data from a fast-paced and ever-changing digital world.

Early this year I signed off on a proposal to transfer the open data programme to Statistics New Zealand. As world leaders in data analytics, Stats are uniquely qualified to take this work forward, providing agencies with advice and support on how to overcome barriers to releasing their data. 

LINZ sets an example by making all its data available via its award-winning LINZ Data Service, LDS. It’s also lending a hand to other public agencies needing help with releasing their data by making the service available under a syndicated contract.

This will be a huge time-saver for government departments who don’t yet have a portal for their data. It means they can pick up the tried and tested platform that supports LDS without having to go through a lengthy procurement and design process. By signing the contract they’ll be able to use the service to publish their own data.

This is a big deal – a major step forward for the public availability of geographic information. It is the first time in New Zealand that a syndicated contract has been applied to a government data portal. I understand it has been a popular move with a lot of interest from LINZ’s colleagues across the public sector.

The LINZ Data Service is a great service. Free of charge and with nearly 30,000 users, it is being used to make all kinds of tools. A few examples that spring to mind are products for monitoring pests that might harm our horticultural industries, planning landscape gardens, and creating map apps.

It’s also used every day by people involved in infrastructural development, such as the planners and developers working to get Kaikoura back on its feet.

They access the data and imagery that LINZ collected shortly after the quake to understand how the land has changed as they repair buildings, roads and other vital infrastructure.

So, looking to the future, I can see a lot more that can be achieved to make geographic information work for New Zealanders.

What’s changed, though, is it’s no longer just a pipe dream or a future state - it’s a reality. Yes, Government has more work to do, and more challenges to overcome. But real progress is being made as agencies and private enterprise team up to get geographic information working for Kiwis.

Thank you, again, for the invitation to attend and thanks for your attention. I’m impressed by the range of presentations and exhibits at this conference and I would have liked to spend a bit more time here, but as the House is sitting I have to go straight back to Wellington.

I wish you the very best for the rest of the conference.