More OSMA, Addressing Thoughts and Progress Update

In my last blog post, I suggested that it should be possible to build a reasonably priced national address dataset which could be made available as OpenData.  There was a meeting of the Open Data User Group held on the 14th of August and I was contacted by Bob Barr who was in the process of writing a paper for the meeting on that very subject.  We had an extremely interesting discussion about the length of time that this had all been going on for (20+ years), what the acronym NLPG perhaps stood for (but not allowed to say it!) and how we felt that things were coming to a point where it might come to pass.

The idea goes along the lines that GeoPlace (and OSG for that matter) has a processing hub that is capable of allowing centralised maintenance of gazetteer data.  Some of you will be aware that it is intended to pilot the use of this with some LLPG custodians and that it is included in the Data Cooperation Agreement as a possible future development.  Assuming that all goes to plan, and it is a big assumption, the NAG would contain virtually real time information, maintained by the source of street naming and numbering and managed in a web-based application.  It seems to be common knowledge that Royal Mail’s ICT infrastructure is elderly (or it could only be a common rumour) so rather than investing in duplication the GeoPlace processing hub could be opened up to Royal Mail to maintain their bits of the addresses.  It could also be opened up to all sorts of sources of address related information – the elusive but much desired business and organisation name spring to mind – through an element of crowd sourcing.  I would argue that doing something along these lines would reduce the cost of maintaining addresses to the point that it would be feasible to make it a free OpenData product, which would be capable of providing a platform for all sorts of applications.

 I had a discussion with Heather Savory, who chairs the ODUG, and we agreed that of all candidates for making data open, addressing had possibly the greatest potential benefit to the UK.  Heather also said that she had been “advised” that addressing was too difficult and that others had tried and failed.  Let’s hope that we have some momentum building up now.

The replacement OSMA project is still progressing.  The business case is a work in progress and I have been asked to revisit potential funding models and recharging proportions in case we cannot agree to centrally fund it.  I have also been asked to demonstrate whether or not the proposed payment to Ordnance Survey represents value for money.  In order to inform a discussion on the vfm point I have been having a look through the Ordnance Survey’s Annual Reports and Accounts for the last few years and have drawn some interesting conclusions.  There are almost certainly valid explanations behind the figures of which I’m unaware but on the face of it the operating profits from 2008 to 2012 (excluding extraordinary items) are £22.5M, £16.2M, £16.6M, £24.1M and £32M.  These profits are then paid back to government as dividends.  However, as 62% of the OS market segmentation is business to government, surely logic suggests that government is making a profit by paying itself too much for the OSMA/PSMA products.  As ever I’m sure that someone will be able to explain the flaws in my reasoning and am prepared to be corrected.  It is still interesting!

We have sent out the SLA document to the councils for the One Scotland Gazetteer and have some feedback and questions.  The major change this year is the Gold, Silver and Bronze levels for councils measured against a number of key indicators.  This has proved effective in England and Wales and has help to raise the profile of the value which the custodians bring to addressing on behalf of their council.  Our custodians appear to be very supportive.

There are a couple of other developments also ongoing.  The Detailed Rivers Network project has reached a stage where there are one or two loose ends to tie up in terms of sourcing data where watercourses go underground but it seems that the target dates for the alpha release should still be met.  There is another Scottish Government funded project to produce a Heat Map for Scotland and we are looking at how this can be progressed.  It is an interesting project, and I don’t pretend to complete understand the details, which basically maps out where there is surplus heat from factories, large building etc and where there is a potential for using this to heat other facilities and homes.



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Robert Barr 7 Years Ago
Iain You are right to point out the circularity of returning OS profits to government where much of that profit has already been paid to OS by government. Much of the rest is down to non-discretionary use of OS products. Many situations demand an OS map and no alternative is available, or could be used. The 'profit' on those transactions is actually no more or less than a data usage tax collected by OS and passed to HM Treasury. This is a real stealth tax, which among other things is levied on planning applications, in England and Wales, which have to be supported by a current OS map extract. So where the applications are for glazed room extensions it is a real 'Conservatory Tax' rather than the imagined one which is a favourite of the Mail and the Express. Bob
Former Member 7 Years Ago
Iain, many thanks for another informative post. It seems to me that the best way to crack the nut on address data would be to make Ordnance Survey (and GeoPlace) publish their revenue from all licensing of AddressBase/NAG -- outside the scope of PSMA and other public sector arrangements. I don't think there's any need to reinvent the wheel by building a new dataset or examining too closely the arrangements for collecting the data. A wide range of public bodies need address data to deliver services, and (however this is presented for accounting purposes) the bulk of the cost of collecting the data and producing the dataset will necessarily be borne by the taxpayer. For purposes of an open data business case it's only the existing additional income from commercial licensing that hangs in the balance. That should be the real comparator, set against the projected benefits to the economy (and therefore the Exchequer) of open data release.