Interesting discussion yesterday afternoon at Envireau Water's informal networking event with James Dodds and Ben Vivian on the question of "data". James took the view that all data is a cost and value isn't created until you have meaningful output from that data which allows you to make a decision or take a particular course of action. Ben likes data and in the world of corporate responsibility it provides evidence and a measure of how well (or not) you are doing. Both agree that understanding how you are going to use that data and the outputs is key in turning the cost into something of value.

Most of my work revolves around property management and planning and I use all sorts of tools to help with this notable Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and more recently UAV, aka drone, derived data. All of the data I collect has a spatial context. GIS in particular allows you to use a number of different data sources including UAV imagery and related outputs and thereafter interrogate and analyse that data with the aim being to solve or understand a particular issue. An important part of that process is collecting the right data for the task in hand and key to that is understanding the problem you are trying to solve. For most projects that is the starting point and both James and Ben in their work as consultants stressed the importance of getting a clear understanding of what your client is wishing to achieve.

Once you know what the goal is the relevant data can then be collected. Some of that data may already exist and be fit for purpose otherwise it is data you are going to have to source or collect yourself. At this stage you can determine the amount of data you have to collect and the accuracy required. I add accuracy as in some cases achieving high levels or accuracy can go considerably beyond the specification required and add cost for which they may not be a return. This is a balancing act as conversely if you don't collect sufficient data you could produce flawed results to worse case may not be able to provide meaningful outputs at all.

There is however one particular area of data collection and reporting that I find all too common and that is the format of the outputs and reports. In property and planning management the role is often as a "Project Manager" and bringing together various sources of data to enable a project to progress. All too often the reports are in quite different formats, plans and information are often at different scales and again in different formats. As a Project Manager you can streamline this by providing a specification, that can bring significant benefits. Only in the last month I have been involved in a project where the way ahead was being debated with 6 or 7 different reports to consider and a variety of plans laid out with no clear inter relationship between the data sets. GIS can go a long way to solving these type of situations and often provide the answers. As ESRI (world leader in GIS software) state "Unlock the full potential of your data."

So in conclusion data is a cost and value from it is not realised until its use and output provide an answer or solve a problem and when you achieve this your investment has paid off. On occasions it may be useless but I would suggest that in most cases this is because the wrong data has been captured in the first place without an understanding of the aims and goals of the project. However on some occasions even what may appear to be useless data can reveal surprising results and that may be down to understanding how you can use and interrogate that data in a GIS environment.


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