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The PSMA was introduced to allow public sector organisations access to high quality geographic information to inform decision making, plan and monitor better service delivery and generally improve efficiencies and service levels. In the past different organisations had access to different datasets negotiated through a range of individual and collective agreements. As a result information sharing between different areas of the public sector could be difficult and costly and some smaller organisations with limited resources lacked access at all. The centralised nature of the PSMA brings this information into the reach of public sector organisations regardless of size and resources, amplifying the benefits this kind of data can bring.
The PSMA has been a resounding success with uptake now at over 3000 users since the agreement came in to effect in April 2011. It has delivered real and demonstrable benefits for a wide variety of public sector organisations. For example Blackpool Council are making extensive use of the geographic information available through the PSMA in support of ‘Project 30’ - a major four year programme to address a maintenance backlog to its highway and footway network. Valued at over £500m this network is Blackpool Council’s largest asset and obviously key to the functioning of the town.
This network is expensive to maintain and the council, like many others in the UK had underinvested in maintenance over the years resulting in gradual deterioration of the network with dual costs of reduced efficiency and claims for ‘trip and slip’ type accidents. The Highways maintenance management department attempted to increase repair programmes but found it hard to make a solid business case for investment in one area over another, lacking the data to support such decisions.
With the help of technology partner Gaist Ltd using Ordnance Survey data provided through the PSMA, Blackpool Council was able to develop a new system of recording, managing and reporting on their highway and footway assets. This provided the platform needed to assess the condition of the assets and determine required maintenance allowing a strong business case for investment. This management system (Gaist Geographical Resource Platform) also allowed for more efficient implementation of investment once it had been secured. Based on savings on the Project 30 programme and projected further savings from the use of PSMA data in areas such as tourism and emergency response planning Blackpool Council expects to save £100 million over the next 25 years.
The benefits of the PSMA extend far beyond what may be seen as ‘traditional’ areas for geographic information such as the infrastructure management example given above and have also had a positive impact on service delivery and resource management. For example Cardiff Council managed to deliver savings of £1.3 million on the provision of transport for children with special educational needs. The project allowed the council to optimised the routes and vehicles used allowing for beneficial contract renegotiation and shorter planning time resulting in a more efficient tendering process. As well as the financial benefits the improved route planning means reduced journey times for the children and reduced emissions from the vehicles.
As well as the obvious need for up to date and accurate mapping for effective emergency response delivery the data provided through the PSMA has also had interesting implications for preventative care. In Bristol the NHS Avon IM&T Consortium HealthGIS were able to use data provided by both health and social care organisations accessed through the PSMA to produce geographic information on the accessibility of local drug and alcohol treatment centres. This enabled them to compare the provision of services to where the service users lived allowing for more efficient distribution of resources as well as more joined up working between the City Council and the local Primary Care Trust (PCT).
The Association for Geographic information (AGI) is a strong supporter of the PSMA as it falls in line with one of the foundation principles of the organisation’s mission , this being to enable’ greater uptake of geographic information for better governance and benefit to the citizen.’ The examples above demonstrate how the PSMA has ensured increased and more coordinated use of geographic information has delivered significant benefits to public sector bodies in terms of more efficient use of resources and significant financial savings. These benefits in turn are passed on to the citizen as they experience better service provision and more efficient usage of finite resources.
The huge uptake and considerable success of the PSMA perfectly showcases the role geographic information can play in driving efficiencies across a huge range of services and sectors. High quality, joined up and readily accessible geographic information such as that provided by the PSMA is a crucial part of the data needed to inform everything from strategic decision making on major infrastructure projects to the daily management of local services. Any service or project that has a spatial element benefits from the application of geographic information.
With 3000 users the success of the PSMA in widening the knowledge and use of geographic information cannot be doubted. However the massive uptake of data and the huge range of users now accessing this data provide an interesting challenge for the PSMA and the geographic information community in general.
With the massive increase in the number and type of users seen through the PSMA there is an increased demand for web and mobile based provision of geographic information. To enable this information to be used effectively and on demand outputs can no longer be tied to a PC with the appropriate software package installed. Flexible working and the need for access outside of the traditional office are driving demand for web and mobile interfaces.
One example of such a web based system is in operation in the health sector. SHAPE (Strategic Health Asset Planning and Evaluation) is a web enabled; evidence based planning application that is built around accurate geographic information provided through the PSMA. SHAPE’s strength lies in its ability to link a wide variety of national datasets such as public health and primary care with demographic data. This allows detailed analysis of health care provision and needs including overlaying data such as travel time analysis and this encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to health care provision.
Another key strength of SHAPE is that it is web based making it easy to access and also allowing it to be extended to new user groups with relative ease. For example it has now been rolled out to local authorities to help them assess the public health needs of their communities. This wide range of access to the same data allows for increased cooperation and joined up working between different authorities and stakeholders in order to deliver better outcomes for the citizen.
The comparative ease of integrating new user groups into web based geographical information applications is likely to prove key to further expanding uptake of the PSMA. Training provides the major challenge in these cases but this can also be provided over the web as it is with SHAPE compared to the significant hardware and software costs of traditional programme based services.
With the increased provision of 4G services and greatly improved Wi-Fi coverage mobile is likely to become an increasingly popular platform for accessing geographic information as it already is for a wide range of other business critical applications. This seems especially likely to be true as the PSMA and the increased awareness of the benefits of geographic information expand its usage beyond the traditional GI professional to a range of more casual users. Users in the field and those for whom geographic information only makes up a part of their role are likely to want quick access to relevant data on mobile devices.
This could mean sacrificing range of functionality on mobile applications for quick provision of the most relevant data. For example a mobile application could allow users to choose between a number of preset filters applied to a dataset. Whilst this would not translate the full functionality of the application it would enable the user to access relevant high quality datasets within the processing and connectivity limitations of a mobile device.
The next challenge
With continuing improvements in mobile capability as well as an ever increasing and diversifying range of users it is likely that the development of web and mobile applications will be the next challenge in the drive to increase accessibility to geographic information across the public sector. The PSMA has been hugely successful in driving this improvement in access and the AGI foresees that the application of web and mobile technologies will be at the heart of furthering this, along with all the associated benefits to the public sector and to the citizen.
About the AGI
The AGI exists to represent the interests of the UK’s GI industry; a wide-ranging group of public and private sector organisations, suppliers of GI software, hardware, data and services, consultants, academics and interested individuals. For further information visit www.agi.org.uk