At a recent gathering of the fourth meeting of the UN Committee on Development Information (CODI), in Addis Ababa, South African business made a valuable contribution to CODI's objective of 'promoting and growing of an information society in Africa'. CODI is one of seven technical committees established by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Conference of Ministers.
It sets the scene for information specialists to discuss ways and means of creating appropriate interventions in Africa's development process and highlights the relevance and need for African decision-makers to gain access to reliable and accurate information for timely and effective choices that would make a significant difference in the lives of all Africans.
Ray Wilkinson, MD of SA's digital map developers, MapIT, was invited by the United Nations to present a paper on MapIT's successful involvement in the area of electronic cartography applications. Considered an opinion leader in e-mapping, location based services and geo-spatial applications, Wilkinson was proud to represent SA at this esteemed assembly.
Over 300 delegates and observers attended representing government officials, NGOs, civil society, academicians and private practitioners in the fields of ICT, geo-information, libraries and statistics. The overall objectives are to increase the understanding of the key role of data and information in planning and implement projects, examining and investigating the opportunities to set the path for the development of the ECA two-year programme on harnessing information for development.
Wilkinson's presentation, entitled: 'Location-based services - a South African case study that can be applied to Africa', led delegates through the process of location-awareness having become a significant feature in communication technology around the world and the influence this has had in the pursuit of new and innovative ways of creating differentiation in service delivery. Drawing from his experience in this field in SA, he expanded on the local model having achieved success in personalising services by basing them on location. With South African companies being eager to enable key business processes to be conducted via mobile devices and desktop applications, Wilkinson explained the opportunities that exploring location-based services would have to offer Africa. With products ranging from full service navigation from a handheld device to realtime asset management from a desktop having being realised locally with the use of spatial information, the prospects for the wider continent looked good, he disclosed.
The successes in South Africa have spurred development further into Africa with Nigeria being one of the first African countries to start reaping the benefits with MapIT Nigeria creating both a paper-based and electronic mapping enterprise empowering the needs and demands of sustainable development in that country. Wilkinson's belief is such that LBS has a role to play in ensuring that such development takes place and that to achieve this, factually correct geographic information is an imperative.
He announced that location-based services meet the call from the market for systems that answer the questions: 'Where am I', 'Where is it', 'What is around me', 'What is around it' and 'How do I get there'. This has spawned a wide range of positional products and services that find people, places and things and help you get to them. Location-based services for mobile devices adapt to a user's location and situation. They sift, sort and deliver the requested data most relevant to the user's request. A big advantage of location-based services is that users do not have to enter zip codes or other location identifiers to them. MapIT identifies the following as examples of location-based services:
* Facilitating emergency services and locating stolen mobile phones and vehicles.
* Scheduling fleets for transport operators and locating convenient modes of transportation.
* Locating people and businesses listed in electronic directories.
* Locating people who could be missing.
* Full service navigation and routing.
* Displaying market intelligence and database information geographically on a map interface.
With the map building process requiring the use of every tool available for the map base creation, both traditional and hi-tech modalities, plus mobile GPS-verification, the process that MapIT uses encompasses all of the above and further ties in with their mission of creating a seamless map for Africa.
Wilkinson demonstrated in this paper, that there is a dire need for LBS to be constructed, refined and distributed throughout the continent. MapIT believes that it has found a working model and in order to help Africa help itself, he suggests a scenario where Government, international funders, private local enterprise and a specialist in the area of digital mapping join forces.
Wilkinson's paper is currently under peer-review for a book to be published showcasing selected work presented at the CODI IV conference.