13 Oct 2021

Announcing October's Geospatial Champion

You can read our exclusive interview with techUK's new Geospatial Champion below #GeospatialFuture

Congrats to Jonathan Saunders, Head of Data Insights for being techUK's Geospatial Champion 

The purpose of techUK’s Geospatial Champion campaign is to celebrate the work of those pushing forward adoption of Geospatial in the tech sector.  This is also an opportunity to learn from those working in Geospatial about the current landscape and examples of the strides being made in enhancing awareness. 

A new techUK 'Geospatial Champion’ will be chosen every other month, so if you would like to nominate a friend or colleague to be the next Champion please drop us a line. You can read out interview with Jonathan below


What is your current role and what does a typical day involve?

My role as Head of Data Insights is to lead the GeoPlace Data Insights function providing high quality research and analytics, prototyping and developing data quality insight and solutions for content enrichment.

I really enjoy how GeoPlace is continuously looking to improve how we work and enrich the data that we manage. Our ultimate goal is to benefit the users of address and street data as much as possible.  Projects are varied from working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on developing an excellent address list for the Census to prototyping specification changes for data quality enrichment to creating a PostgreSQL database for managing address and street data.


Why is geospatial data valuable to the UK? 

There are so many reasons why geospatial data is valuable!  We’re seeing take up of geospatial data in sectors like utilities and finance and the importance of location increasingly recognised in these sectors to deliver services.

With COVID-19 affecting us all, delivering crucial services for health has been critical. At the heart of that is the need to know where people are and what services are available to them. Linking different datasets such as vulnerable people, pharmacies, hospitals, supermarkets and doctors’ surgeries to UPRNs and USRNs to provide exact locations has helped health services, local and central government to deliver vital support measures and services exactly to where they’re needed most. Our recent research project, ‘The role of UPRNs in delivering health and social care’, undertaken jointly with the Local Government Association (LGA), illustrates the need for accurate data in providing efficient & effective service delivery solutions.


Do you think the conversation around geospatial data is changing in the UK?

Yes, there are several drivers for this but two of the biggest are society and technology driving the change and putting geospatial data front and center of most of what we do.  The need for real-time, accurate data when you are out and about on a mobile device always requires knowing where you are or where you are going!

Open data initiatives are playing a big part allowing more people to access geospatial data and use it in combination with other data in new ways.  In particular, we are seeing a surge of interest from the property sector who believe that UPRNs are the golden key to unlocking value at every stage of the property chain.

This view also supports the desire for geospatial data at a more granular level, as illustrated by the work of Transport for the North. As a strong advocate of UPRNs, the more datasets linked enables huge potential to unlock better analysis and insight to be gained at a property location level that can be powerful across local and central government. 


How do we showcase the value of geospatial data to the technology sector?

The fact that the conversation is changing is a way to showcase the value to the technology sector.  The sector is an enabler of geospatial data and its uses.  The prevalence of mobile devices and the huge rise in home deliveries is a big factor enabling more up-to-date, accurate data to be consumed and served up to the masses.  Whether it is locating your nearest supermarket and your quickest route to getting there or managing streetworks maintenance, geospatial data and its application needs technology to make accessing it, managing it and improving it all the easier.


What are your key concerns hindering increased deployment of geospatial data in the technology sector?

As soon as data is published it becomes trusted by many and where geospatial data is used in so many applications and ways, I see keeping it up to date and accurate as two big challenges.  In this ever-changing world, businesses are opening and closing regularly, services are available around the clock and people want access to the data 24/7.  Keeping on top of these changes is a challenge and fundamental in ensuring data is fit for purpose and can be trusted for use.


What steps can companies take to utilize spatial data in their products and services?

There are two good steps; one is people based and the other is data based.  Employing and training people with a good understanding of geospatial data such as spatial data analysts, GIS technicians and data scientists will help in understanding geospatial data.

The second is linking your data to location.  Everything happens somewhere and being able to associate data to location will open up lots of possibilities to make maximum use of your data. This is why UPRNs and USRNs are such powerful reference numbers!    


Can you give an example of where geospatial data has been adopted in an innovative and new way?

50% of all new cars sold are expected to be electric by 2030, with 100% due to be electric by 2050. Almost every car and van on the road is projected to be creating zero emissions by that point, and this means the nation needs to move from the current 23,000 charging points to over 2.3 million by 2030, with 1.9 million of those on the street. Planning the location of those points is fundamental to creating a workable framework. Accurate analysis of the possible demand can only be done by understanding the weight and distribution of households, and that’s where UPRNs come in – they give the granular detail that’s needed for planning.


Regarding data access and availability – what is the position of the UK and in what ways should we encourage data accessibility?

On the 2nd of April 2020, the Government announced that UPRNs and USRNs would be released under Open Government Licence. Additionally, the Open Standards Board, via Government Digital Service (GDS), mandated that from 1st July 2020, the UPRN and USRN are the public sector standard for referencing and sharing property and street information. 

This represents a step change in the referencing of property and street information and supports GeoPlace’s vision where ‘everyone benefits from the power of location data’. The adoption of these identifiers across the public sector provides a platform for transformation and efficiency through the way location data is managed, linked, shared and used.


How can we equip the next generation with the most appropriate skills for a future in geospatial?

I think increasingly we’re looking for individuals to have a broad skill set and many education courses are adapting to cover this.  Given the prevalence of geospatial data many will have an understanding of it, even when you don’t realise you’re using it through an app or website. This understanding of geospatial data coupled with a good understanding of coding and technology for serving up data will put you in a very good place for the future.  Good inter-personal skills are also important, we’re continually looking at new ways to analyse data and being able to communicate this clearly and simply can often be an art in itself!



Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Head of Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

[email protected]

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