Spatial information has been at the core of Irish government and semi-state activity from its earliest days, but technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) have driven a real revolution in understanding the country.
Key to this is understanding the country, its geography and demographics.
GIS is everywhere, really,” said Michael Byrne, market engagement manager of Esri Ireland.
“The National Broadband Plan is underpinned by it. We see it being used by local authorities and in utilities, and what we’re starting to see is a lot of thought about regional and national development in terms of housing in particular."
It may not yet rival Estonia, but Ireland is a forward-looking country when it comes to delivering services online.
“It’s quite good in terms of the laying out of policy. The actual development of capacity is always a challenge, of course,” Byrne said
The coronavirus pandemic has not only made this essential, but the work-from-home order and expected post-pandemic distribution of the population nationwide as workers choose to leave the cities doubly demonstrates its importance: not only will remote workers need government services, they will need the National Broadband Plan to be a success.
ESRI Ireland also worked directly on the pandemic, though, supplying GIS-based mapping services to Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI), the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Department of Housing for the national Covid-19 hub.
“The hub provides access to the daily statistics reported, and the ability to see the various hotspots and figures on the rollout of the vaccine,” said Byrne.
The Covid-19 hub is interesting because it shows that GIS is about more than static maps.
“The speed at which that data needs to get out is incredible,” Byrne said. “We’ve also done the [Irish] UN Sustainable Development Goals hub, again with OSI and the CSO.”
ESRI Ireland supports this speedy use of data with a cloud-based system that allows field data to be processed live where connectivity is available and near-live when it is not.
Data can then be overlaid with other information, giving a real picture of an area or project. Data is also shared and reused: collected once, it can be used many times.
“All the infrastructure is cloud-based and we’ve created this ecosystem of users around it, including an alignment of public service bodies,” said Byrne. “You get joint knowledge development.”
He said this meant co-ordinated decision making could be supported across agencies and at every level of government, all backed up by data.
“The key thing is that GIS means you can overlay so many pieces of data to a location, whether at a local level or nationally: taking regional development as an example, you have the National Planning Framework, a cross-government framework, the regional spatial and economic strategies that are trying to manage the growth of cities and towns, manage investment and manage climate goals. So how do you manage that? That’s where GIS comes in,” he said.
ESRI Ireland has also worked with local authorities to help them explain how and why spatial decisions were made.
“Decisions are becoming more and more evidence-based. There is more and more pressure for that and decisions made locally may be well-understood locally, but they [also] have to be understood nationally,” said Byrne.
Other bodies that have taken to GIS include Irish Water and the Department of Housing’s MyPlan planning portal, as well as other OSI projects. Byrne said this kind of innovation, while perhaps not always visible to the general public, drove a more responsive public sector.
“GeoHive is the geospatial hub for the state, a focused node for all the data. Off this the Covid-19 hub and UN hub have been developed, as apps coming off the content hub. One advantage we have is that Ireland is a relatively small country.”