In a recent interview with Bobby Tuck, PE, RLS, CP, PMP, a surveyor of many years, for an article on mentoring in POB magazine, he said his advice for newcomers to the surveying profession is to associate themselves with forward-thinking colleagues who aren’t content with just doing things the way they’re used to do doing them.

I ran into Tuck at the International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF), an event he says he’s been attending since its conception. A forward-thinking surveyor himself, he was practicing what he preached. Along with the other ILMF attendees, he was exposing himself to a wealth of forward thinkers in LiDAR.

Through a video interview I later conducted with Jason Stoker, who works with the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Geospatial Program, and my interviews for this month’s feature on LiDAR data collection in Washington State, I learned a lot about the need for forward-thinking individuals to conquer open geospatial data. Both the USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNF) LiDAR initiative consist of government entities making 3D data publically available.

At first thought, this sounds great. What could be better than giving everyone — from geospatial professionals to everyday people — access to rich geospatial information completely free of charge?

The catch, as Esri’s Andrew Stauffer explains, is: Then what? A lot of effort has been put toward collecting largescale geospatial data and a number of groups are seeing value in putting it all together, forming one big picture. But, of course, it isn’t ever as simple as it sounds and that isn’t enough.

There are challenges with bringing different data formats together, for one. I hear about the difficulties associated with collecting, storing and sharing data often. The “then what” that Stauffer focuses on is the challenge of making the data meaningful and practical. That takes a lot of forward thinking. This step involves considering different audiences and developing different deliverables for them. Questions that have to be answered are: Do they know that this data is available? Do they understand how it can benefit them? Is the data easy to access? Can users easily comprehend what it is telling them? The list goes on, but the point is that with so much data to go around, not much is being achieved if very few know it is there to use. Even if people know where to find it, it’s useless if it takes forever to download, or if it hasn’t been packaged to solve a problem in their life.

There is so much potential and there are so many needs on so many levels with respect to open geospatial data that still need to be addressed. It will require some serious forward thinking to make the data as meaningful as possible.

This being a topic of increasing significance and complexity, we are actively seeking insight from experts in geospatial data management, and not just from a technical perspective. Whether you’re a pro in storage, application development, troubleshooting, all of the above or something else, I encourage you to reach out to me and share your take, whether it be through a blog post, guest column, case study or story idea.

Let’s continue to spread the knowledge on dealing with data not just the way we’re used to putting online and moving on, but making it as useful as possible — open data with a purpose.