Announcing September's Geospatial Champion

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

Congratulations to Pascal Coulon, CGI for being selected as techUK’s ‘Geospatial Champion’ for September! 


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 Pascal below

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

I am what CGI calls a Director Consulting Expert (DCE), essentially a technical director. CGI is a large multinational company and my focus remains within our UK Central Government Business Unit. I am responsible for driving the technical road map of our Geospatial Proposition: I am there to ensure best technical delivery of our geospatial projects for our UK central government clients. I will often wake up looking up in the sky out at the sentinel satellites, have lunch surrounded by ecologists safeguarding our UK forest heritage and complete my day looking at coal mine plans; never a dull day!

Why is geospatial data valuable to the UK?

Geospatial Data has shown again its power with the recent COVID-19 outbreak - not a single day without a map on the news. It has also shown its limit with a number of examples where miss-handled geospatial data can lead to serious issues and misunderstandings. Geospatial will carry on being valuable, but only if:

  • Continuous promotion and safeguarding of data is key as it helps us drive strong project governance; with clear guidelines on data access, privacy, ethics and security, and promote better use of location data.
  • Well-managed and governed geospatial data is key to accessing data across government agencies.  I am a great believer in open architecture solution and this starts with data that it is findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable and of high quality.

Do you think the conversation around geospatial data is changing in the UK? Why/ why not?

Since 2006, when The Guardian started its “Free Our Data” campaign, the UK geospatial data landscape has dramatically evolved and changed for the better. Over the last 15 years, it is great to see that most OS datasets are now either partially or fully freely available for the private and public sector. The UK should not be complacent and keep looking for new opportunities to increase sharing data and its geospatial component across different industries. The recent progress on the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) shows what will be the next step, in enabling another major part of the UK economy.

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

The next big challenge in the UK is cutting down our carbon footprint. The UK government is pushing the UK population to shift to electric powered vehicles. Access to electric charging points to enable this shift is without a doubt a problem that should be resolved using location based data. The use of free open data (e.g. Ordnance Survey, Satellite data) presents a unique opportunity to keep demonstrating the value of free open geospatial data.

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

As previously mentioned, I am a strong believer in the use of Open Architecture based systems. The use of open standard and well-defined industry format should remain a key concern when implementing and delivering geospatial projects. Over the last few years, a gradual shift to openly and freely share data has been noticeable across the industry; the main concerns remain on data security. We cannot be complacent when designing and implementing geospatial data systems, we need to keep putting data security as the prime requirement.

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

I have mentioned this topic in a number of fora. The best way to utilise and promote spatial data is by sharing it using open standards and well-defined industry formats. Do not lock your data away. But, no one should be complacent with the likes of OGC standard; they are starting to show some limitation. OGC services have shown their use, but it might be time to start looking at the new generation of OGC API, which presents a lighter way to access data. A number of emerging cloud based formats are also evolving and with the volume of data now expected; it is time to start considering parallel and additional options for serving and sharing data.

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

At CGI, we believe in putting innovation first. The use of Open Architecture is a key factor in driving changes and increasing innovation. We see this used to great effect with our clients, for example the recently delivered DataMapWales projects, using an open data platform. With a continuous re-use of a core central data store, the Welsh Government was then able to focus their attention on the delivery of tactical solutions for the management of their Active Travel policies as well as their Emergency Management portal.

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

15 years ago, I would have never said that, but today geospatial data should be less and less considered as special, it is just an extra dimension to the data.  Within the Geospatial industry we have long mastered the need to openly share data driven by the INSPIRE directive. The next challenge is to keep on applying this thought process to the “non-location based data”.

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

Geography is well taught in the UK, with centers of excellence driven by the likes of Ordnance Survey and their drive to open their data to the public. Most of the basic cartographic courses in universities across the world have been replaced by GIS courses and “maps are no longer necessarily created by experts, but instead by software”, highlighting the focus on IT skills rather than spatial literacy. It demonstrates that a good geospatial engineer is now more often first a good software engineer. The geospatial industry is a technical subject, to describe our environment we need data and a generation of scientists and engineers that understand it. At CGI we are a big believer in helping the community. Check out our STEM based activity packs for children aged 6 – 14 - It is never too early to learn IT.

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, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally 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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Rory Daniels

Rory Daniels

Programme Manager, Emerging Technologies

Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.

During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.

Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.

Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.

[email protected]

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Elis Thomas

Elis Thomas

Programme Manager, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Elis joined techUK in December 2023 as a Programme Manager for Tech and Innovation, focusing on AI, Semiconductors and Digital ID.

He previously worked at an advocacy group for tech startups, with a regional focus on Wales. This involved policy research on innovation, skills and access to finance.

Elis has a Degree in History, and a Masters in Politics and International Relations from the University of Winchester, with a focus on the digitalisation and gamification of armed conflicts.

[email protected]

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