Posted by Davina Jackson on 24 Jun 2013

Dan Paull, CEO of PSMA, marketing Australia's government data.

Dan Paull, CEO of PSMA, packaging Australia’s government data.

PSMA Australia Ltd, the agency for collecting, packaging and distributing basic geospatial datasets from its Australian government owners to public and private sector customers, is distancing itself from concerns about its governance and operations that were published in the Lawrence Report to the Australian government during 2011.

In the lead-up to an expected change of federal government late this year, PSMA’s CEO, Dan Paull, said that recommendations about PSMA’s operations by Dr Vanessa Lawrence, CEO of the United Kingdom Ordnance Survey, are ‘not ours, not commissioned by us and not binding on us’.

The Lawrence Report — titled Investigation into the Spatial Capability of Australia – was commissioned by Geoscience Australia and approved by Drew Clarke on behalf of the Office of Spatial Policy, within the Department of Resources Energy and Tourism (DRET).

(As then Secretary of DRET, Clarke then supervised both Geoscience Australia and the Office of Spatial Policy but recently transferred to lead the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), from where he continues to chair ANZLIC – the Spatial Council, comprising  leaders from all ANZ government land information agencies.)

Lawrence’s main comments about PSMA Ltd were:

—It has potential to play a bigger role in the future operational delivery of geospatial data. For this reason, she studied its role, structure, processes and market positioning more closely than its current scale would suggest was necessary.

—Its staff (less than 25) are ‘very committed to their work and have a good level of technical expertise’. However its shareholder objectives, funding limits and other constraints have been preventing it from meeting growing expectations of customers.

—PSMA’s central role – to act as a ‘data conflation centre’ for the governments of Australia – has not been ‘championed vocally’ by its shareholders to its stakeholders, so it has been ‘buffeted’ by political influences out of proportion to its size and resources.

—There is ‘tension and often confusion’ between PSMA’s role to build a central piece of Australia’s basic infrastructure and the need for immediate income to keep it afloat. (It relies on revenues from selling data and services, returning 30% of its data sales revenues to its government sources.)

—There are quality, currency and accuracy problems with datasets published by PSMA. The data comes from  six state and two territory governments, which collate information received from 550 local governments.

—All PSMA datasets should be regularly audited for quality and across every step of the process from gathering to publishing.

—Apart from its G-NAF Addressing and Transport and Topography data products, most of its existing products attracted few customers and its CadLite (cadastral land and property) database was not detailed or definitive enough to answer growing market demand.

—PSMA Australia’s 2008 offshoot, PSMA Distribution, was becoming responsible for managing the network of value-added resellers and licensing end-users: thus distancing PSMA Australia from understanding the needs of its markets.

—PSMA needs additional investment (probably $A20m pa) to improve its technical infrastructure and to develop new products and channels to expand its markets and revenue from customers.

—Its Board (then comprising nine government representatives and two independents) did not share common objectives, was not consistently driving PSMA and mainly represented producers of data, so lacked ‘wider, inter-disciplinary experience’. The Board should have experience in not only data production but also data standards, data conflation, product management, sales and marketing, pricing and licensing and end-user requirements. Its composition should be reviewed at least biennially.

Since Lawrence’s report was submitted, PSMA’s then Independent Chair, Olaf Hedberg, has been replaced by Glenn Appleyard, and four other Board members (Ben Searle, Mike Bradford, Martin Holmes and Victor Stephens) have been replaced by three new members (Fabio Finnochiaro, Jodi Cant and Helen Owens).

In its official response to the Lawrence report, Department of Resources Energy and Tourism noted that ‘a significant amount of work already has been done against many of the recommendations contained in the Lawrence Report, which indicates that Dr Lawrence’s views on the Australian Spatial Capability already have a level of consensus.’

However PSMA CEO Paull said that ‘any (recent) activities of PSMA that appear to relate to the recommendations are co-incidence.’

Paull said the recommendations ‘relate to how the Australian Government might best utilise existing capacity within the geospatial sector in Australia and strengthen it and as I understand, the Office of Spatial Policy has been working hard on achieving these outcomes.

‘PSMA is a public company limited by shares and fully funded from commercial operations … looking for the best return on all investments that it makes. Its decisions will be driven by its needs and strategy as determined by the Board. While these may be influenced by the activities of the Australian Government, it is but one of many factors that shape the environment in which we operate.’