Gaining confidence in geospatial data
by Andrew Clouston, on 27-Feb-2020 10:26:42
In today’s world, we’re continually trying to assess the value of something, understand if it involves risk, and plan for potential consequences when things go wrong. Why? Because there are few iron-clad guarantees in life. When we seek assurance, we're rarely afforded a certainty... but we can gain confidence.
Depending on the situation, insurance, indemnities, guarantees, warrantees, penalties and other forms of redress may be appropriate. But most of the time, we simply need some form of reasonable assurance (or reassurance) to bolster our confidence and know that reasonable steps have been taken to reduce risk.
In many instances we can do this ourselves, by undertaking research, performing checks and audits, or simply doing the work ourselves. However, our time and resources are limited, and sometimes we don’t have the necessary skills or capability. That’s why it’s common practice to outsource work and seek various component assurances such as quality, timeliness, credibility and cost from a third party.
Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung said: “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do”. In this context, it means that the security and confidence provided by an assurance is only as good as the credibility or trust that we have in the service provider.
For those of us in the service or consulting industry, we recognise that our skills and expertise are only in demand while we can provide credible assurance. There's a vast array of spatial data now available from the private sector, government, and international companies like Google and Microsoft. Almost anyone can solve what used to be quite complex spatial problems, because of the availability of this data and the ready availability of GIS software, web-mapping, and data analytics to process and manipulate it. Too often we focus on the service that we provide, based on our skills and expertise, and overlook that it’s the assurances and their credibility that plays a major role in why customers choose our services.
Critchlow Geospatial have operated in the geospatial domain for over 30 years. Our experience alone adds to our credibility when providing assurances regarding the delivery of mapping services. However, we don't to claim that we know 'all things spatial’, because assurances must be limited to an attribute, property or some specific aspect of the subject of the claim.
With that in mind, it's therefore important to know that we specialise in independent measurement services and smart routing. But in terms of assurance, is it enough? This is where the need for evidence or supporting information, standards and independence all play their inter-related roles that enables the true nature of the assurance claim to be understood. Standards and process help ensure repeatability by enabling claims to be validated, checked, and tested for accuracy by others.
The warrant of fitness (WOF) on a car is a good example. If you're buying a new car and it has a current WOF, you can be confident that it met the minimum standards when it was last checked. This is where independence is an important consideration. If the WOF was approved by the same auto service provider who also performed maintenance on the vehicle, assurance becomes somewhat less credible than if the WOF was issued by a provider totally unrelated to the one who performed maintenance or repairs. Similarly, if the company issuing the WOF will be undertaking any necessary repairs, is the finding or the extent of faults as credible as that from a company with no vested interest in finding a fault?
Independence can also provide further basis for levelling the playing field, especially for competitors within the same industry. This is because their customers can directly compare key service offerings or metrics with similar providers. Independence is also important for providing confidence against ‘supplier self-interest’. For example, many health and pharmaceutical products are tested in independent labs. This removes the perception of bias that may occur if the testing was performed in-house.
Within the wider spatial industry, independent measurement and analysis can provide similar wide-ranging benefits for their customers. If ours are looking to us to solve complex problems or questions, such as determining land use change for economic reporting, then even greater value can be extracted if the information can be re-used, re-purposed or relied on for other ancillary purposes. So, we must focus on being able to provide robust transferable assurances. This requires us to not just be highly skilled and knowledgeable but also non-partisan and objective. If we are non-partisan then we can additionally provide the same service to different competitors in an industry, without creating a conflict of interest.
However, that type of service needs to be based on robust repeatable processes or methodologies, that could be repeated by someone equally skilled and qualified.
Not only that, but that someone would have to be equally as comfortable endorsing the process. In other words, our processes and methodologies must be able to be auditable, defensible and ethical.
At Critchlow Geospatial, we're not just delivering innovative mapping and spatial analysis. We’re also backing that up with repeatable processes and methodologies that allow information to be compared, verified and relied on. And not just by our direct customers, but also our customers’ customers. The emerging role of spatial professionals and spatial consulting companies is evolving. No longer are we backroom technicians that can 'work magic' in a poorly understood domain. We are instead trusted advisors that can take on critical spatial measurement, calculations and mapping - independently and in a non-partisan way - so that the benefits of the work can be reused.
If you want assurance that your spatial analysis and results can stand the ‘heat of examination’ then maybe now is a good time to talk to us.
Andrew Clouston is a Senior Consultant at Critchlow Geospatial.