ISDE7, WALIS and the State NRM Conference

This week most of the Spatial team at Gaia Resources went to the jointly titled ISDE7, WALIS and State NRM conference here in Perth.  It’s a three day conference that covers a wide range of topics.  You can look at the conference program on the main web site of the conference here.

Of course with any conference, it was great to catch up with people in the breaks and to see the talks being given by colleagues and clients.  I ended up having to come back to the office each night in the preparation for the move next week (more on that next week) so I wasn’t around as much as I would have liked to have been.

This was another conference that was covered on Twitter quite strongly – you can see the archive directly on Twitter through the search functionality here: (get in quick before they’re gone!).


We thought we’d try to summarise our experiences of the conference… so here goes…


Day One (Andrew, James and Piers)


The conference kicked off with a keynote from Chris Holmes of OpenGeo which focused on the value of collaboration and how it is central to everything they do. There were a lot of echoes in this talk to the way we run our own business and it was a great way to start the conference. The other exciting part for us about this keynote is that OpenGeo are undoubtedly the number one company globally in the open source geospatial space, so it was fantastic to see them represented at a ‘main stream’ GIS conference.


On Day One I quite liked Peter Woodgate’s talk, because it looked at the big picture, but also started to show off what the broad overview bodies do in our industry.  I don’t often see what these groups are up to when I’m down at the coalface with clients, so it was interesting – although as the (as usual, brilliant) MC Gerry Gannon asked – do we have too many of these organisations? I think Gerry is on to something there (Gerry, if you read this, you’re “spatial” too).


I also chaired one of the NRM sessions.  This was an interesting experience for me professionally, as it took me back to some of the work I’ve done in the past.  I quite enjoyed chairing the session, and being able to do so in a session I had a real interest in probably made that work for me.


Another thing that really jumped out at me on day one was the lack of representation by the big resources companies at the conference. I’m not sure what to put it down to but there was only a very small number attending this year.


Day Two (Andrew, Ben Z, Charlotte, Grit, James, and Piers)


For most of us, Ian Jackson’s talk on OneGeology was the highlight. Ian had a great presentation style that was entertaining, but the fact that it’s something that was done rather than going to be done was a great reminder that doing is more important than talking.  OneGeology has a great aim – and has already achieved a lot of it’s intended outcomes with effective collaboration.  Their idea of a data buddy system was a great one, whereby there are partner countries willing to help out others – the sort of thing that has worked in Australia in the past in the Museums community with projects like OZCAM


I also really liked the presentation by Robert Kay on Kiribas.  It was sobering to see how much of that country is going to be affected by climate change.  There’s no doubt that there will be an impact, and for those of us living more than 1m above sea level it’s a sobering reminder that not everybody is doing so.


For me personally, Day Two was a busy day as I also gave my presentation on Citizen Science in the afternoon.  The Slideshare of my slides is embedded below.



Citizen Science and the Environment

View more presentations from piers_higgs

I got some good feedback on this talk – a modified version of one I’ve given before – but I think I’ve reached a good point with that presentation set and now I’ll start looking for different things to present in the future, although I don’t actually have anything submitted anywhere at the moment, so I’ve got a nice blank slate ahead of me there!


It was also interesting to participate in the aerial photo from Nearmap.  We’re in the photo (look for the two baldies here to see me and Andrew) and I even threw in a photo looking back up at the plane and posted it on Twitter (


Day Three (Andrew, Piers and Tom)


We split up for the last day amongst the three of us.  Andrew let me know (as did Twitter) that there was an excellent panel discussion on the state of cloud computing featuring representatives from Oracle, Google, ESRI, Amristar and CISC. The highlight for Andrew was a question from the audience regarding the level of compensation available to customers when cloud providers are unable to meet their agreed uptimes, cue squirming from the vendors. It did highlight one of the big risks of putting mission critical data in the cloud though, what happens when your internet connection dies?


For me the highlight of Day Three, and the more memorable technology presentation was from Matt Coller on his SahulTime presentation (you can find the site here: .  The way you can zoom out of the time slider and show everything in a temporal context was really inspiring.  I also like the way that you can open a visualisation (such as Sydney) and as you change the time slider, the popup image reflects the changes as well.


The afternoon saw Andrew in the rapid-fire session with a number of different speakers given 10 minutes each to provide an update on the work they have been doing. All the speakers in this session were excellent but what really jumped out at me were the mind bogglingly large numbers coming out of Nearmap in terms of data storage and numbers of tiles served, pretty amazing considering the tiny team they have. The stat of the conference was Joseph from ESRI causally dropping that ESRI had spent $800M on the development of ArcGIS during one of the last talks of the day.  Meanwhile, I was being inundated with remote sensing equations and Tom was enjoying himself in the NRM stream.


Wrapping up…


I asked the team if they could each give me a short outline of their own take on the conference and what they thought about it.  We all struggled to encapsulate so much content into short versions, so I thought I’d give it a go here.


Several big things leapt out at me;


  • True game changing innovation in our industry rarely comes from within it.  Google Maps, mobile phones, cloud computing and a range of other things which have massively changed (or are changing) our industry rarely (if at all) come from within the spatial field
  • Collaboration is key. If you’re not collaborating with other people in terms of open source development, or data collection from citizens, or other areas, then you’re going to be increasingly isolated and marginalised.  Collaborate or die was how I heard it summarised last year in some business magazines, and that’s proving to be true.
  • The cloud looks big. Even if it’s got latency issues, risks, security issues, or other issues, the idea of distributed computing and storage is here to stay, solely because the big players are behind it.  Who can resist?


One of the most pertinent summaries I received came from Ben Z;


“Overall we are currently in a transition period where the GIS/Digital Earth technologies are maturing and moving from the realm of scientists and specialist professionals into the general public. The focus for development now is really on accessibility of these technologies to an untrained person for the benefit of all.”


Very true, I think.  Now, which conference is next…




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I got some good feedback on this talk – a modified version of one I’ve given before – but I think I’ve reached a good point with that presentation set and now I’ll start looking for different things to present in the future, although I don’t actually have anything submitted anywhere at the moment, so I’ve got a nice blank slate ahead of me there!

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