Can geospatial engineers lead the UK’s post-Brexit innovation drive?

London-city-1149601_LowResHaving waded through the Government’s latest Green Paper consultation on “Building Our Industrial Strategy”, tackling low productivity is clearly key to driving growth and boosting living standards across a post-Brexit United Kingdom economy.

As such, the ten-pillar plan published this week and trumpeted by Prime Minister Theresa May to “tackle our underlying weaknesses” should make encouraging reading for professionals in the emerging and technology-led geospatial sector.

Encouraging because, while the paper is intended as simply the starting point for discussion about how the UK creates the vital modern industrial strategy to help us survive the inevitable challenges of life outside the European Union, it certainly signals a desire to invest in innovation, in technology and in the technical skills that will secure that future.

And of course, the strategy places upgrading of infrastructure across digital, energy, transport, water and flood defence sectors at the heart of plans to “make this country a fertile ground for new businesses and new industries”. This is clearly good news for all businesses working in the built environment supply chain.

But it is the emphasis on the need to seek and develop new, more efficient and effective ways deliver this goal which should bring more opportunity and excitement to sectors such as geospatial. Sectors which operate – or should be operating – very much at the cutting edge of the new digital enabled data-led future.

We will see this first hand when industry gathers at the Geo Business show in May. The ability to lead and drive the use of technology to plan, design, deliver and, of course, to operate and maintain infrastructure really can create a step change in the efficiency and reliability of these asset and prompt just the kind of boost in productivity demanded by the government’s green paper.

“Places with higher rates of investment in research and development, more highly skilled people, better infrastructure, more affordable energy and higher rates of capital investment grow faster and have higher levels of productivity,” it explains.

Figures in the paper certainly highlight the extent to which the UK needs to raise its game. Productivity per worker and per hour worked is outstripped by our rivals in Germany and France and across all measures sits a shocking 25 percentage points below the US.

Equally enlightening is the productivity gap between London and the rest of the UK, once again underlining the vital need for the UK rapidly rebalance its economy and step up investment and support in the regions.

Clearly tackling these challenges must mean embracing and investing in innovative new approaches and in technology solutions.

“Improving productivity does not mean making people work harder,” the report makes clear. “It means helping them to work smarter – producing more value for each hour of their time and thereby increasing their earning power.”

In the built environment sector that means embracing Building Information Modelling but more importantly it means embedding the digitally enabled principles as set out by the Digital Built Britain strategy into the heart of infrastructure procurement practices.

All of which must offer the geospatial sector a real opportunity to step out of the shadows and position itself at the centre of the require built environment technology revolution. To help the UK “become a more innovative economy”.

With the recent Autumn Statement setting out a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund including £2.6bn earmarked for transport improvements, a £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund, a £1.7 billion Accelerated Construction programme and £1.1 billion of funding for local roads and public transport networks there is certainly, potentially, a rake of activity champion an assault on productivity and so “drive innovation and enable the development of UK supply chains”.

Fundamentally the government’s industrial strategy seeks to find ways to more effectively channel government support and so accelerate the post-Brexit route to improving living standards and economic growth across the whole country. For geospatial professionals this is a moment to step forward.



This article was written by independent editorial expert and journalist Antony Oliver, who regularly contributes industry content for GEObuzz. Find Antony on Twitter @_Antonyoliver_

GEO Business 2017, 23 – 24 May 2017, Business Design Centre, London UK

The geospatial event for everyone involved in the gathering, storing, processing and delivery of geospatial information. Incorporating an international trade exhibition, a cutting edge conference and a programme of live commercial workshops sessions, featuring the technology and services used by those working with spatial data.

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