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Geospatial Information in Latvia to be Available Via Single Internet Portal

Gunta Kavia, Sakaru Pasaule, Latvia

Everyone needs geographic information maps, property border plans, geodesic data, various kinds of communications and road infrastructure maps, etc. It is very important to make sure that such information is available in a single location as an electronic service on a special Internet portal. The Secretariat of Special Assignments Minister for Electronic Government Affairs is working hard on creating such a portal, and Minister Ina Gudele is an active participant in the process. In this interview, she talks about what has been achieved and what remains to be done in creating a unified portal for geospatial information.

Q: The establishment of a unified geo-portal is one of the most important components and goals of the E-government programme.  After all, seven governmental ministries are involved in this process, but your secretariat is co-ordinating the design of the concept.  What is the real role of the secretariat?
A: Geographic information systems have been around in Latvia for a bit of time now.  As soon as the e-Europe programme appeared on the scene, the e-Latvia programme followed here in our country, and it provided for the establishment of a unified geographic information system.  I believe that the first conceptual document was drafted at the beginning of 2000 by what was then the Department of Informatics of the Ministry of Transport, but the system remained entirely on paper.  The laws were not in place, and there was no co-ordinating and neutral institution of the type that the Information Society Bureau eventually became.  Later the bureau was turned into the Secretariat of Special Assignments Minister for Electronic Government Affairs.
Now, we did not, of course, pull the new concept out of a hat.  Weve been working on this for two years now.  This fairly long period of preparation was needed so as to take a very careful look at the geographic and geospatial information which government institutions have at their disposal.  How extensive is this information, is it available in electronic form, are all of the systems compatible, etc.  I have to say that it often was quite hard to convince government institutions that we were not looking to take anything away from them, we are not their competitors, and we do not have and will not have our storage of geographic data.  The main thing was to ensure that the owners of the systems came to understand how important this information is to the public at large and how important it is to establish centralised and electronic access to GIS information.  Everyone will benefit.  People will no longer have to queue up at offices and waste their time after all, the relevant institutions are located not just in Rga, but also in the countryside.  Those who maintain GIS databases will receive fees from users for these electronic services.  My secretariat is simply co-ordinating these processes.
Q: The established of a unified geo-portal is very important for Latvia, because it is closely linked to the Land Service, cartography, land surveying, real estate, tourism, the road infrastructure, a variety of utility systems (gas, water, electricity, communications), and other sectors, too.
A: Indeed.  The secretariat and the various ministries are all responsible for their own part of the work in this project, but the secretariat will prepare the final concept to be delivered to the Cabinet of Ministers for its consideration.  This could well be the top priority for the state, because the geo-portal, after all, is most needed by the governmental institutions themselves so that they can offer various E-services.  It is indeed true that a wide range of institutions is involved in this project.  Examples include the Geospatial Information Agency of the Defence Ministry, the Environmental Service, the Environmental Ministry, and even the Ministry of Culture, which needs the system for purposes of tourism and mapping of cultural objects.  Well be bringing in some commercial partners which maintain GIS information.  We havent done so yet, but once the geo-portal is up and running, well have to ensure that someone who is interested in a specific plot of land can find GIS information not only about borders, the depths of the earth, communications networks, etc., but also about any and all encumbrances which apply to the plot of land (for instance, if a trunk cable line crosses it).  This means that we will need the involvement of commercial service providers such as Latvenergo, Lattelecom, Latvian Gas, etc.
Q: The idea is that the unified geo-portal might be the optimal solution, but youre also looking at two other options a geospatial database and a geo-portal with a database.
A: We are going to look at several different solutions, but our secretariat is supporting the idea of a geo-portal.  A similar solution has been selected in the Czech Republic, and it has been cited as one of the best examples of a GIS project in the European Union.  EU statistics show that much remains to be done in Latvia to achieve the level which other member states have reached in this regard.  At the same time, however, the statistics only show whether the country has a unified place where the GIS system can be accessed.  I have come to understand that the Czechs are not much ahead of us.  Yes, the Czech Republic has a geo-portal, but I think that the GIS system in Latvia, when taken as a whole, is more highly developed.  I became convinced of that when I was in the Czech Republic with specialists from other government institutions, and we all looked at what they had done.  We are certainly on the right path ourselves.  Our intended portal could be seen as an improved version of the Czech portal.  I dont think that we have any reason to be ashamed.  Were doing work that is as good or even better than the work that has been done in the Czech Republic.
Q: Let us assume that the establishment of a geo-portal will be approved.  What next?  And what will the portal provide for Latvia and for each of us?
A: The main benefit, of course, will be that people will no longer have to visit seven or eight institutions to get information about a plot of land, for instance.  Thats why we want the unified portal.  An authorised user who can prove that he or she has the right to the information (and this is a good use for the electronic signature, by the way) will be able to use the portal to find information about whether the necessary data are available and who controls the data.  The user will be able to seek out information about the plot of land and get a list of links where in-depth information can be accessed.  This means that the user will have access to a geospatial map showing various borders.  It wont be a fully detailed map, but there will be links to more in-depth information.  The portal will also allow the user to pay the state fee and to receive data in electronic form.
Q: When do you think this geo-portal will be online in Latvia?
A: We hope to complete the project in five years, starting with next year, but the first results should appear some 18 months from now.  We certainly wont have to wait for the whole project to be completed before people can start to access services via the geo-portal.  Of course, at first the level of services will be limited.  As soon as a new service is ready, well put it online, but thats going to be a gradual process.  We think that approximately eight months after the portal is established, it will offer links to the necessary information.  The aim will be to integrate geospatial information, well have a tool which will allow geospatial data from various information systems to turn into services that are available electronically and that are needed by the user.
Q: Here we should remember that geographic information systems relate to much more than land services, real estate and communications.  GIS systems are used by territorial planners, the police, rescue services, transport and logistics companies, retailers, mobile communications operators and travellers.  The bottom line is that hundreds of millions of people all around the world use geographic information without ever being aware of the fact that theyre actually using GIS.
A: Our portal will be part of the European geo-portal, and millions of people will use the information.  Some of it will be about Latvia.  Tourists with a rented car will be able to find information not only about interesting tourist destinations, but also about pharmacies, ATM machines, petrol stations, dining facilities or public wireless Internet access facilities.  All of that can be put together in a GPS (global positioning system) device it offers information and many different kinds of services.
Q: Who do you think will be your partners in this project?  How will the co-operation work?
A: Companies have already demonstrated interest in this project.  Were pleased to see that there are so many companies that are prepared to work on as important a system as the GIS.  Many have their own geographic information systems, and we can make use of those.  Much of the system can be based on public-private partnership.  We dont want to spend public money on things which already exist.  Instead, well be looking for models of partnership which are based on the need to make sure that all sides are the winners.
Q: This project will be financed with the support of the EUs Structural Funds, and it will then become part of the pan-European geospatial information infrastructure, correct?
A: Indeed.  Well be hooked up to the infrastructure that is being created on the basis of the so-called INSPIRE directive (Infrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe).  That will be the pan-European infrastructure for spatial information.  We will have not only experience, but also financing from Europe.  We will be able to use the best experience and methodologies of other EU member states such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Italy.  Italy is home to the research institute on which the entire INSPIRE project is based.  I also know already that we will be able to offer a great deal to this programme ourselves.

Authors contacts: gunta(at)

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