Skip to content

National Mapping Agencies

The inexorable rush of technology affects all organisations. National Mapping Agencies (NMAs), having celebrated their existence of 100 years or more, at times feel overwhelmed by this rush. Time and tide and, I may add technology, wait for no one. It is a situation of absorb or perish. As the demand and need for geospatial content went up manifold, NMAs had to quickly change strategies to stay relevant in the game.

There was a greater rush for accurate maps, regulations on what is being mapped by private players and how, and more user-friendly applications to cater to the demand of the industry. And NMAs had no choice, but to adopt and adapt to technology in their fields of work. Of course, the adoption has not been uniform. There are two aspects to it — the policy environment for the adoption of new technologies and processes, and the inclusion of data from these new technologies and processes.

“Our overall aim is to deliver the best data to the society; be they private companies, governmental bodies and agencies, including the municipalities, or public at large,” says Anne Cathrine Frøstrup, Director General of Kartverket, Norway. “Everyone should have the right to easy, accessible data. The data we distribute is ‘public owned’, therefore it is important that every user, including the public, also gets the data required,” she adds.
A very forward-looking approach that is worth emulating globally.

Interestingly, as Frøstrup points out, ever since data became open and free of charge, there has been a significant increase in the demand for data, proving how important it is to make data easily accessible in all respects. Almost all countries talk of Spatial Data Infrastructures, or SDIs, as the medium for data sharing and delivery. Developed countries like Norway are creating a single massive depository of all types of data, while in larger countries, one may require a distributed architecture. That said, what is important is the need for data to be freely available to a wide variety of users. Stuart Minchin, Chief, Environment Geoscience Division, Geoscience, Australia, calls it essential in today’s world as geospatial content is becoming economically significant.

Authoritative Data and NMAs

Traditionally, the NMAs have been mandated to be the creators and suppliers of authoritative, trustworthy, comprehensive and regularly updated data, like national and international boundaries, place names, locations of cities, towns and villages, transport infrastructure and most importantly, precise geodetic benchmarks. Such data is of guaranteed quality and contents, so it can be used for conflict resolution, disaster response and management, planning and implementation.

“Authoritative data is frequently updated and because of this, the comprehensive accurate data offers high levels of trust to users and customers,” says Peter ter Haar, Director of Products and Innovation, Ordnance Survey, Great Britain. Location data is used by both public and private sector to deliver a vast range of products and services — which now include emerging areas like Smart Cities, Internet of Things and Big Data — by geospatially connecting datasets and information sources, including sensors and beacons. A common, authoritative geospatial dataset leads to easier decision making, and reduces confusion, conflict and error.

However, in large countries, some of this work gets delegated to local government bodies in their areas of jurisdiction. But, they also have to follow the base authoritative data of the NMA and need to get it vetted and approved for distribution and use. In countries like Norway, the NMA may set the standards for the private companies to collect data, but manage its distribution.

Thus, the question arises whether the NMAs should be the only source of authoritative data. Frøstrup believes We should not be the only ones. Every public agency distributing datasets from our ‘common heritage’ must expect to meet the same expectations from the society

See more at