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Should INSPIRE be a priority?
03.05.2022 by John Boudewijn, Akshat Bajaj

To INSPIRE or not to INSPIRE – implementing the directive is often a much-debated question within organisations. Some see it as a resource intensive project, some see it as the future of Spatial Digital Infrastructures (SDI), and some see it as both.

We’ve seen a number of organisations deprioritise INSPIRE, due to a variety of reasons.

Chief among which:

  • The ROI: INSPIRE implementation can seem like a resource draining activity. There is a need to create and update metadata, harmonise data, and to publish view and download services. In the short term, it can be difficult to see how this can benefit the implementing organisation beyond just enabling data exchange and ensuring compliance to the directive.
  • Limited Resources: Public sector GIS analysts deal with a plethora of digitisation tasks and projects at any given time and are usually understaffed. The priorities of these tasks are often set by high-level decision makers who are themselves not very involved in geospatial data analysis.
  • Project Complexity: INSPIRE is very intricate. Transforming and validating gigabytes worth of shapefiles to nested GML files and ensuring a high quality of published data is no easy feat. Coupled with the lack of resources most GIS departments have, the probability of a successful INSPIRE project can seem low.

However, INSPIRE implementation has been a success for many organisations! Just on our own platform, we see 150 million hits a month, and most of the issues mentioned can be mitigated by engaging expert assistance.

Some of the organisations we’ve spoken with have gone so far as to call INSPIRE the “Rolls-Royce of SDIs” and have committed to making INSPIRE a reality.

Why are there such divergent perspectives on INSPIRE?

The short answer – it’s because of short-term thinking vs. long-term perspectives.

The long-term perspective on data management always contains INSPIRE.

In our modern world, the amount of data collected is staggering. It can be as technologically advanced as remote sensing, or as simple as a national bird count. Even our fridges and vacuum cleaners are becoming tiny data hubs. As a matter of fact, the global data pool is expected to almost triple, from 64.2 zettabytes in 2020 to over 180 zettabytes in 2025. For some perspective – 180 zettabytes of storage need nearly eight trillion Blu Ray discs. That amount would get you to the moon 23 times, just by stacking them!

So, what is this growing data pool good for, except for selling targeted advertising? If all we needed was massive quantities of data, surely by now we should be able to solve climate change and save the world at least ten times over by lunchtime? Unfortunately, data collection is merely the beginning of a much more complex process.

The way data can flow from its initial collection point to national institutions and international decision-makers is by using agreed-upon standards to format and work with this data. Standards like INSPIRE.

INSPIRE enables interoperability, which is key in enabling vast amounts of information to flow in a way that supports multiple parties, without being hampered by differences in language, formatting, and the like.

While the benefits of interoperability may not be immediately visible to the naked eye, in the grand scheme of things improving it can save up 500bn EUR. If you’re hesitant about allocating resources towards improved interoperability, check out this article on the quantified benefits for citizens, governments, and businesses..

According to a marketing study we conducted that targeted over 100 INSPIRE implementers, 80% of INSPIRE implementers said that transforming data is the most complex part of the INSPIRE process. They also found it hard to attain the necessary knowledge in a time sensitive manner to deal with this complexity. However, with the right tools and knowledge, harmonisations and publishing processes can be a relative walk in the park compared to going it alone. We even see an increasing number of clients who have previously implemented INSPIRE turn to us in order to improve their efficiency!

The value of harmonisation is huge. The past is full of challenges in which greater interoperability would have made a significant difference. The Icelandic volcanic eruptions that cost US $1.7 billion could have been handled more effectively if geodata could easily be transferred between different parties. This very incident was one of the strongest cases for INSPIRE to become a priority!

As further challenges to our ecosystem loom on the horizon, you can bet that harmonised data will be a part of the good fight, not in the least by enabling further innovation like Artificial Intelligence.

In short, implementing INSPIRE is very much what you make of it. It does not have to be a complicated process that you go alone, and the future impact of improved interoperability is a significant one.

For people who work with data all day, every day, sometimes it’s almost too easy to forget why enabling interoperability is so important. Words like “compliance” become key and priorities are set based on what will or won’t incur fines.

Sure, for a single institution that’s important, but in the bigger picture it is even more important that we avoid the data-equivalent of bowling shuttlecocks at baseball players. If we all actually try to play the same game, we stand a much better chance of winning.

Improved access to clean data enables the creation of better AI models to save forests and set up drone corridors. Implementing something like INSPIRE may be a challenge for a little bit, though significantly less so when utilising our tools, but it has big implications for the real world.

When people hear “science”, they expect that somewhere, someone smart is going to look at what has been provided, go “A-ha!” and then solve a problem.

Is that reality? Of course not, but we get closer to it with every step towards making collected data more valuable and interoperable.

So, the next time a question like “Should INSPIRE be a priority for us?” comes up, remember that it is a priority. For everyone.