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Campfire; Symbol for the new role of geo-information

A blog by Michel ten Brummelhuis, project and account manager at Argaleo

Like many of us, I work a lot from home during this special time. My daughter's old room, including pink wallpaper and posters of K3, has been my daily office for some time now. Because my life mainly takes place at home, it is wonderful to go out every day for a long walk, fresh nose and head. In and around the house, life sometimes seems boring and quiet. However, the opposite is true. My work has never been more fun, dynamic and interesting. I see a considerable shift in how governments organise and use 'information on the map'. In this blog, at the end of the year, I'd like to take you with me to look back at these changes. I'll also indicate how we as Argaleo fit in with these changes.

Geographical images as a campfire

The government faces many societal challenges in this day and age. Whether it concerns working on a healthy and safe living environment or making cities more sustainable and accessible: in order to achieve results in tackling these major issues, it is important that policy departments work together.

In this way, a lively neighbourhood contributes to a more general sense of security among residents and businesses. Municipalities therefore see the need to organise more cooperation between, for example, the domains, spatial planning, the economy, care and public order and safety. This cooperation starts from a joint coherent picture in the area. The map, geographical information, plays a catalysing role in this. Joost de Kruijf (Programme Manager at the LCB) recently translated this driving role into a striking metaphor. In his view, a map has the same function as a campfire during a camp week. This as a place where people come together, look at the flames and where stories between people come out, good ideas arise and new agreements are made. That metaphor has been the inspiration for this story.

Whereas information on the map used to be mainly provided by geographical information technologists (also known as 'Gissers'), who occasionally provided colleagues with maps, it is now a good means of getting conversations going between people and departments. It is now also an important source of information for administrators, programme managers, policy advisors and executives. So one of the most decisive shifts in my field is that the use of geographical information is increasingly finding its way from the basement or rearguard to the 'front line' of government organizations. That's why I more often speak directly with representatives from the business world. As a result, I see even more the added value of information for practice. That's what makes my job so cool these days.

Campfire; Symbol for the new role of geo-information

From compartmentalised registrations and data to comprehensive information

In order to provide administrators and the various domain specialists with an overall picture on a daily basis, the need for integrated information has increased. In addition, the shift in use mentioned above (by administrators and policymakers in particular) makes it more important than ever to make this information simple to interpret and easily accessible.

The challenge for information managers at municipalities and safety regions is above all to obtain and keep the necessary information available from the multitude of sources, up to date and in coherence.

Base registrations

Fortunately, we now know the 10 basic registrations. These are registrations that must be used by all government organizations when performing legal tasks. In this way, all governments act on the basis of the same information, with less chance of errors in the use of data. Each basic registration is set up from a certain process or for a certain domain. For example, the basic registration addresses and buildings for managing address details and a number of building characteristics. These are, by nature, compartmentalised registrations in which government organisations have to arrange facilities themselves in order to be able to link and use data from multiple registrations.

It is nice to see that the central government and the municipalities are taking various initiatives to make it easier for organisations to combine data from different key registers. For example, there is the Common Ground movement, the DiS-geo programme and the scaling up methodology Samen Organiseren (Organize Together). These initiatives, however, take a long time to produce concrete and widely deployable results. In addition, each government organisation still has to organise and regulate a great deal itself in order to be able to query data from the various basic registries and to be able to access and use them in a coherent manner.

An image of a part of Rotterdam showing in red the buildings where hazardous substances are handled or stored. The light brown objects represent buildings where many people are present during the day. The dark brown buildings are objects where less self-reliant people are present during the day (elderly/small children). The green-coloured objects represent buildings where an environmental permit has recently been issued and which are currently undergoing renovation or new construction. Finally, the circles represent the so-called P10-6 contours. The area in which, according to the decree: 'External safety facilities', no objects may be built where many people or less self-reliant people gather. This is because of the risk of fire or explosion. This creates a usable overall picture of the physical safety in an area. It thus provides relevant insights for planning.

More government sources

The existence of the key registers helps information managers with their advice for the organisation. In this age of data, however, municipalities, provinces and the national government produce much more relevant data and information than is managed and accessed from the 10 national facilities. Where the number of key registers is limited and there is clear governance, the landscape of facilities where open data (open government sources) can be found is still highly fragmented.

As a result, municipalities spend a great deal of time gathering and correlating data in order, for example, to identify safety risks in the surrounding area. They are obliged to do so by environmental law, because planning must take into account the possible dangers in an area. In order to be able to paint this picture, the use of data from basic registrations alone is insufficient. This requires a combination of data with various open government sources.

Reinventing something with the familiar wheel

In my contact with municipal information and Domain Managers, I have noticed once again the astonishment that in hundreds of places in the Netherlands a lot of unnecessary time and therefore costs are lost in the 'gathering' of data. Precisely now, in this special time for Corona, municipalities need to make extra efficient and effective use of their resources.

Combating this unnecessary waste of FTEs in raking data together was an important reason for our partner SPOTInfo to develop the Environment Server. This dynamic data platform in the cloud (DAAS) already brings together more than 250 relevant datasets with data about the physical living environment, from key registers and open government sources, and keeps them 'up to date'. In this way, it answers the question: What is true? This goes far beyond the standard PDOK facility (public services on the map). Everything is accessed via web services and can be used by organisations in their own application landscape.

From 2D gisviewers to Digital Twins

Luckily, in my conversations with information managers or project leaders I experience that they increasingly use geo information as 'the campfire' within the organisation. Administrators and policymakers more often develop policy and measures from a joint overall picture.

The Digital Twin, a 3D copy of the physical environment in an area, is therefore on the rise. In a Digital Twin, the effect of a policy, a measure or a calamity can be better interpreted. For example, the consequences of a fire in a childcare facility located in an apartment building. Especially for administrators and policymakers, who find GIS a difficult subject.

Cap Gemini has recently delivered a report commissioned by the Ministry I&W: An inventory of Smart city projects in the G40 municipalities. I find the conclusion that it is important to have data directly available in a Digital Twin. In my experience, an empty digital copy does not stimulate movement in use. Precisely by providing integral insights and showing the images, inspiration is created, conversations between policy professionals and administrators are initiated and the concept comes to life.

Another appealing conclusion from the report is that for policy insights it is not necessary to generate a very detailed picture of the built-up environment in a city. This costs a great deal of time but above all a great deal of money. In addition, it requires a lot of computing power from desk- and laptops. This is precisely what stands in the way of use by administrators and policy professionals.

According to clients of the projects in which I may be involved on behalf of Argaleo, this is an important strength of our 3D DigiTwin. They can get to work immediately because the combination of data from the Environment server and the organisation's own data provides them with the necessary relevant integral insights. They see that it immediately inspires colleagues to use it and gather ideas for further development. The Insights are given in a good and fast working 3D image (even easy to use on mobile devices).

View of a part of The Hague where the live positions of all buses, trams and trains can be seen. 

Campfire stories in 2021

I am pleased with the development that geographical information is becoming more and more important and the starting point within the various policy areas of government. This makes my work more visible and gives me a better view on the success of its use in practice. Precisely because of this shift, I am very much looking forward to next year where we at Argaleo can look forward to many great projects.

In order to answer the question of 'use cases' and to provide inspiration, in 2021 I will regularly share a nice campfire story about the use of our DigiTwin.

For now, I wish everyone a happy ending to this year!


Would you also like to try your own campfire and experience how the DigiTwin can help stimulate the connection between people and departments within your organisation?

As project leader in the field of data and ICT, Michel ten Brummelhuis has over the past 10 years been heavily involved in innovative projects commissioned by municipalities or organisations such as security regions and environmental services.