The state of the Australian geospatial sector
An interview with Ben Berghauser
This article appeared in the December 2022 issue of Position magazine as part of their Leaders' Forum edition.
Ben Berghauser is the managing director and co-founder of Onneer, a company that specialises in enabling large-scale enterprise GIS using Esri’s ArcGIS software.
Ben is a public-sector capability specialist with a long history of applying geographic information systems. Early in his career he worked as a geospatial professional in the Royal Australian Air Force, before moving to the Australian Public Service as a geospatial data manager where he applied these principles to a range of capability delivery projects.
Now that the COVID pandemic seems to be behind us, do you feel the Australian geospatial sector is in good shape to help contribute to the needs of the nation, eg. dealing with climate change, the transition to renewable energy, urban challenges, infrastructure projects?
The geospatial sector is needed more than ever to assist with the many challenges citizens, governments and private industry are highlighting. Unfortunately, while the geospatial sector is perfectly poised to meet these challenges, I feel we’re missing the incubators necessary to bring the multi-disciplinary next generation onboard.
Our specialists are expected to be cross-skilled across many technical skill areas, with a sometimes-vague description about what ‘is’ a geospatial professional. I think this leaves the profession exposed to being gutted by other industries in the race to acquire the increasingly scarce skills of knowledge/information workers.
The challenges the nation faces will put pressures on all the specialists who can support it and I’m not sure that the geospatial sector stands ready to participate as an equal. While under pressure in a tight labour market, the general lack of recognition and any limitations in the ability to attract and retain talent will surely undercut the sector’s ability to assist.
What do you think are the most urgent or important challenges facing the sector, and do you have any ideas for solutions?
The biggest challenges are the skills and the understanding and recognition of the different specialisations which comprise the geospatial industry. For a layperson to understand how the geospatial industry can help them, they must first understand what’s on offer. It’s akin to seeking a doctor for a medical issue. Everyone knows what a doctor does and what they’re responsible for; or at least they can search and discover for themselves.
If the industry can’t represent itself and the benefits its varied professions provide, how will the broad group of other professionals involved with the future challenges know who to call and for what?
What’s on your wish list for industry, regulators, innovators or researchers to achieve in 2023?
My hope is for a greater focus on what’s already available. Too often not enough is known about the existing capabilities before something else is introduced.
I’m not against progress, but I’d like to see innovation in communications so we can better express the benefits of the geospatial sector as they stand today. I see a lot of focus on the new and shiny (which is infinitely interesting to me as it is to everyone else) but many times, the foundation just isn’t there.
I wish we went back to basics for a period, ensuring that the foundation is there to better shape the application of future innovations.
What do you think your customers and collaborators are looking for in 2023?
There’s a glut of outcomes yet to bear fruit because they’re on hold, stagnant or haven’t really progressed much in the last few years, so my prediction is that action and progress without delays is what 2023 will be about.
There is this renewed sense of urgency to get results as we get back on our collective Australian feet. Specifically, our customers are looking for results that are cost-effective to implement, fast to deploy, sustainable and have a level of familiarity.
There is less appetite for delivery and sustainment risk and I feel that has stemmed from many delays and interruptions because of lockdowns and the other pandemic impacts.
What are your and your company’s plans or priorities for 2023?
Our priorities are in streamlining pathways which support our long-term needs for high-quality professional staff. We are focussing heavily on how we define the skills we need to deliver our services, how we retain them and how we replace them in a tight labour market.
We are also further refining how we support sustainable solutions in light of these factors especially knowing our clients will be under the same pressures to attract and retain skills and experience.
Overall, 2023 will be structured around our people and any subsequent options we have around leveraging those same efforts for our clients and customers.