Sunday, July 20, 2008

Queensland Spatial Conference

This week brought me up to the classy little town of Surfers Paradise for the annual Queensland Spatial Conference at the Holiday Inn. Cameron and I arrived Thursday morning, but only just, at ten to noon. We setup the OSGeo booth, lovingly donated by the conference organizers, and tried to get ourselves organised for the afternoon workshop.

AutoDesk was putting on the workshop, with MC duties provided by Andrew Bashfield. First up was Cameron Shorter, delivering a talk about the business case and advantages of open source and open licensing. The talk covered the basics very well, but some elements were written from the consultant point of view. Since we were speaking to a room full of government agency representatives, he glossed over some of these to focus on the more relevant tidbits.

My presentation was next. I've given this same presentation a few times, originally writing it for the WALIS Forum in Perth. The difference was that at WALIS I had half an hour and felt rushed. Here, I had 15 minutes, and I had added slides that were omitted previously due to overlapping topics. Fortunately I hadn't spent much time reviewing the presentation, so I had forgotten much of the interesting detail that eats up so much time. I'm still new to presenting at these functions, so I'm not comfortable with how I sound when heard half through the speakers and half through my head. I'm also not used to the blank looks of participants. I heard nothing but positive feedback after the fact, but only one person in a room of 26 seemed to be listening. One guy, front row center, looked like he was about to fall asleep and plummet from his chair the whole time. He didn't, but it was close.

Next was Zac Spitzer and Sam Majid from Ennoble Consultancy. They took the group through a case study based on a deployment they performed at Ballarat University. It was quite lively, and my first proper look into MapGuide. Zac was an especially good presenter, considering he is a techie, but managed to meet with my biggest presentation fear. He finished five minutes early. After a few seconds of 'whoops', he proceeded to continue his talk by adding his personal commentary on the project and the use of open source. Aside from being quite impressive under pressure, it was the most interesting bit for me. It's all too rare that I get to hear from the technical side at these events.

Afternoon tea follow the Ennoble presentation, which was chased by a round table discussion. This was what I was looking forward to most at the conference. The room was divided into three groups, with a couple of the presenters 'chairing' each group, and the discussion topic was given: "What are the impediments to uptake of Open Source solutions?" My group was fairly lively, with half the participants controlling the floor most of the time. It was great to see the passion people had, not so much for the open source, but for their issues with their IT departments. I won't go into all the detail of the results, but a quick summary of the points that stuck in my mind follow.

IT Department

  • Policies don't allow Open Source.
  • Technology strategies are set well in advance and are not amenable to change.
  • Desktop systems are so locked down that no experimentation is possible.
  • Must be able to prove the utility/advantage of Open Source to effect policy change.
  • The above two make the change process very difficult and tedious.

Vendor Neutrality

  • Tenders are required to be vendor neutral, but...
  • They must integrate with existing proprietary and sometimes closed protocol systems.
  • Proprietary is seen as lower risk: "If you buy it, it must be better."
  • "Nobody gets fired for buying ESRI."
  • It's very difficult to migrate from the status quo.

Open Source

  • There is no support for Open Source. (lies, but it's a visibility issue)
  • Time is required to investigate the available options and make recommendations.
  • Security of Open Source is perceived to be laxer than proprietary.


  • Proprietary vendors not responsive to customer needs.
  • License costs are formidable.
  • Proprietary vendors often build blocks for integration with outside products.

None of this is especially revolutionary, but I was surprised how much frustration I saw towards the IT departments, especially considering the horror stories I've heard about administrating and maintaining some popular proprietary packages.

Finally, there was a presentation from Milton Lofberg, walking the group through the production of a web map using MapGuide. Milton walked us through the process starting with loading data into the repository, right up to adding widgets to the map view. It was a long presentation, but showed the power of MapGuide Studio to bring web cartography to the masses through a well-thought-out and mostly intuitive interface.

I spent the rest of the conference at the OSGeo booth. It was time well spent, with many advocates and many curious delegates finding their way to us. I fielded quite a few questions on the licensing issues surrounding Open Source software, especially in government, and there was a great deal of interest in simply knowing what we have to offer. All in all, it was a great excuse to see Surfers Paradise, and a productive effort in promoting awareness of OSGeo, as well as LISAsofts support of Open Source Geospatial products.