Caroline Bellamy became the first chief data officer at Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s mapping agency, in June 2017 after many years in the commercial sphere. She talks about her plans for her new organisation, and why partnership and collaboration are so important to data professionals.
Caroline Bellamy’s sense of excitement about her new job as chief data officer of Ordnance Survey (OS) is palpable, as is her desire to make the way the agency shares and collects data as effective as possible.
“I know as a data professional that the data can really inform decision making, so the more I can work with departments and other areas of government to do that more effectively, that really excites me. It excites me because we are working both with the traditional public sector and very commercial organisations, platforms and technologies,” she said.
In her view, she is there to help drive not only collecting the information, but also ensuring it is very easy to use and share. She is also there to maintain the integrity, quality and control of it so that it is as powerful as the government needs it to be.
“Location changes all the time."
OS gathers geo-spatial data, which is another way of saying location data. This is collected by surveyors in the air and on the ground using GPS, as well as GNSS and geodesy. GNSS is the global navigation satellite system, while geodesy is the branch of mathematics that deals with the shape and area of the Earth or large portions of it. The database has 500 million unique geographic features, but it is not static and 10,000 changes are made to it every day.
“Location changes all the time. Lampposts can be erected, bollards can be taken down, roads can be altered, bridges can be built, flooding can take place, fields can be merged into one,” explained Bellamy. That data and those methodologies are used to create a mapped and a digital view of the country.
Understanding the physical landscape to this level of detail is crucial as tiny structures can have unexpected effects. Bellamy said that even lampposts and hanging baskets could possibly affect the strength of a 5G signal, for example, so it is crucial for a telco to know all these details to work out the best place to put up an antenna. The work done by OS also goes towards supporting social policy, social housing and landscape development.
Just as important as collecting and maintaining the data is the ability of the OS to share it. Bellamy said other departments will approach the OS with a request for data just as often as the OS will go to another department and offer it.
“As the experts on our data, we identify opportunities with it. We’re not the ONS or Defra or the Home Office, but they need our data so we have to engage with them in a really helpful way. It is not a case of demand supply or supply demand. It is an absolute partnership,” she said.
“We have to work out what need we’re meeting."
Some of the other agencies in the wider geo-spatial community that Ordnance Survey works with are the Hydrographic Office, Land Registry, Geographical Services and Valuation Office. There are also international collaborations as OS is supporting the UN with global geospatial information management.
Furthermore, OS International has a started a two-year project that will assist Singapore to map the city digitally. Bellamy pointed out that being good at working with partners is a strong trait among data professionals. “We have to work out what need we’re meeting. We work out how we can deliver that, so in nature we tend to be very collaborative,” she said.
Bellamy also highlighted collaboration within the organisation. “It is not just about me. It’s about OS as an organisation under the leadership of Nigel Clifford [chief executive] stepping into working across government and with the commercial sector into doing what they do better,” she said.
This is not to discredit the work the OS has done in the past. Bellamy said that OS has always had a consideration of the legal requirements around data, of cybersecurity, of data protection and now of GDPR. Part of her role will be to consider what are the things OS can learn from other industries around those issues.
"I look to bring the special expertise of our industry and make sure that it is deployed for best effect."
The new CDO has a wealth of experience in industry, having started her career in the advertising sector and then moved on to work at data and marketing stalwart dunnhumby, Sainsbury’s, Centrica and Vodafone. She said that one of the things she is bringing is knowledge of how to work at a commercial pace.
“I understand the technologies, data principles, governance, roles and responsibilities of the profession. I look to bring the special expertise of data and our industry and make sure that it is deployed for best effect in the sector and across other government departments.” While not a commercial organisation, the OS licenses data for commercial purposes at an equal and fair, agreed crown rate.
For the past 15 years, the OS has been undergoing a transformation to become a data-driven organisation and it will continue to incorporate new technologies to improve the services it is able to offer continually.
“We can do virtual reality views of the mountain peaks and any town that you’re in."
While many members of the public will associate OS with ramblers using paper maps, it has created apps that offer standard, aerial and greenspace maps for free and 3D maps and AR features to premium users.
“The OS maps still exist in paper, but the most exciting thing is stepping into a much more phone-based, mobile-based way of using that information,” said Bellamy. “We can do virtual reality views of the mountain peaks and any town that you’re in. That gives you an insight into why I love being here."