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Interview with Mr. Guy Weets, Deputy Head of the ICT for the Environment Unit of DG INFSO

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the privilege to feature an interview with Mr Guy Weets from the Directorate General for Information Society and Media at European Commission.

-In introduction, could you briefly describe the current responsibilities of the Unit of the Information Society related to GMES?
Until now, researchers have painstakingly collected their own data needed to carry out their own research. As many new questions emerged, it became clear that the only way forward was to use existing data, generally collected for entirely different purposes. Since this data was not originally designed to be shared, the interoperability problem has become a formidable task.
No service market will develop if we don’t address properly the issue of data access which is partly only a technical problem. The DG Environment initiative to enforce the creation of a European wide geo-spatial infrastructure for the environment is a key step forward toward a single information space for the environment in Europe. In support of this initiative some of our RTD projects are working on an open service-oriented architecture for the environment which aims at reducing the interoperability problems to a size that is manageable. Another set of projects address the harmonization in in-situ monitoring. We believe that those two set of actions are the prerequisite for a successful deployment of GMES services. In short, most of the future GMES services will require full access to a wide range of ancillary data, geo-spatial or not, and also will need a kind of automatic calibration and validation of EO data thanks to well designed in-situ sensors.
Due to the high numbers of users and the huge variety of application domains, the design of such a unique information space cannot be made using traditional engineering methods, the best metaphor to describe this information space for environment is to see it as an “information ecosystem” very much like the Internet. The challenge is therefore to create the pre-conditions for this “ecosystem” to grow. For us it is partly a research task, partly a huge standardisation effort and last but not least a mechanism (still to be defined) to reach a critical mass of applications and early adopters so the system will be self sustainable
- Is the “Information technology model” a tool in emergency & crisis management?
If access to information is crucial for the researcher, it is also essential to emergency personnel and thus plays a vital role in saving lives. Information interoperability harnesses the power of the network to bring the right data to those who need it most, when needed. Today we stand at the threshold of a network-enabled future; this future may never materialize without a large part of R&D funding being allocated to a common approach to define the architectural framework(s) and the reference models that identify open standards and their pattern of use.
-During a crisis event, the lack of communication is a fact. What are the necessary steps to solve this problem?
Exchange of information involving all the emergency management chain is required with collaboration from different entities and countries. There is a real need for a proposal for standards to exchange emergency information between the different entities or agencies involved in a crisis event.
- How do you see the environmental information systems architecture? How do you see the steps and iterations within INSPIRE and GMES and what about GEOSS?
For the information and society perspectives all the mentioned initiatives are the same. Environmental information needs a minimum set of tools to allow interoperability to reduce the cost of making transaction between information systems.
“For example; I would like to have a kind of “google tool for environment” where I can answer a query from spatial data for a specific zone. The result will be all those data from different sources including the information on where I can find those data”. Nowadays, the problem is not the technology or how to obtain the data. The key question to be solved is “data policy” to share that data. Advanced techniques on the field of information technology will be needed. We are approaching a special “user architecture in connecting systems” which will know in advance what kind of information systems we will need from the beginning and all will be known through a kind of “data browser”. For simplification; a kind of “google for environment”
-Now moving to business and real market, “effective communication” to all the key audience is needed, following your professional experience how should industry build the communication bridge with new customers?
My personal view is that earth observation has been pushed to potential markets. Industry should understand the real user needs in long term vision (customer most of the times doesn’t know technology and industry does not understand the customer approach). Technology should be pulled by market.
The incompatibility between different sensors is also a big issue and that is against to the principle of information society. There is a need at least to offer “interoperability” and “compatibility” to protect the public investment and future markets. The problem could be solved investing more in the ground segment making transparent the process of receiving the data and specially insuring the compatibility between systems to process the information. Space industry should deliver an information product with affordable price. Together with a common understanding for the market exploitation this should be the approach.
-Google Earth or Virtual Earth are big brand initiatives which have shown the potentialities of earth observation for the normal citizen, so it is a kind of EO communication’s revolution driven by market forces. Why was it for EO industry so difficult to anticipate this market movement?
Mainly because the “lack of market vision” of what technology can do outside the domain of interest. Industry should identify the “state of the art” and the advances on communication technology.
The view of what technology can do is obvious; the problem is that industry does not know which kind of information will be required by user. It is always interesting to analyse the following questions: (i) what can technology do (ii) what can market accept (iii) what is the current approach and (iv) what will be the inter-disciplinary domains to work with (that was the success business model for “Google Earth”)
- Could you please provide me with some key indicators to measure the potential progress of the market in Earth Observation, especially the communication initiatives?
Maybe innovative but I would like to see a space sensor integrated in a kind of “semantic way”. There is then a need for “ontology”, a specification of a conceptualization and the hierarchical description of the attributes and topics. Space sector should find its own “ontology”; defining terminology and the existing paths interoperable between sensors. One will need a structure to define the vocabulary for the discipline as well as standards providing the logic from data to service and the right context for each application. Those steps will require an Industry agreement.
Once space community will reach the “standardization”, it will be easier to develop more services. Standards will simplify the output of the system reducing uncertainty. Having more EO VA companies on the market, the specialization of the services will be extremely efficient; a hi-tech performance transformation of data into real applications providing a professional product that market can use today. Companies will cover a piece of the production chain specialising on their products and reducing their cost by a simple “workflow”. When a space value added service is integrated within another sector, the business model is a success.
Last thoughts
The idea to follow is the “internal reorganization” of the systems. The Earth Observation value added sector should evolve with “interoperable services” and using “standards”, independently of the space data and of the sensor. The “quality model” could evolve in various directions and should be flexible, that is “ecosystem” could be the word to use. Finally the model should be “simple” and “affordable”. It is much more difficult to do something simple than complex. So there is a big work to do in front of us but we are looking forward to the future.
Mr. Guy Weets
Deputy Head of Unit Information Society Directorate-General at European Commission
Av. de Beaulieu 31, BE-1160 Brussels,
Tel/Fax: 32 2 296 35 05/ 95 48