LINZ Data Service

By Josh Wright

In June 2011, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) launched the LINZ Data Service (LDS), a web-based tool which allows users to map and download LINZ data. LDS licences most of its data under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence.

We sat down and had a chat with Manager Jeremy Palmer and Planning and Support Advisor Vicki Lindsay to talk about where the LDS came from, what it’s currently doing, and where it might be headed in the future.

LDS was born, Jeremy says, out of the need to do two things: “first, to drive innovation in the private sector to get better reuse of our data, and second, to drive efficiencies within government agencies.” One of the operation’s key requirements, Jeremy says, was the open licensing of data.

Thanks to the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework, deciding to license with Creative Commons was a relatively simple process. “We brought NZGOAL into the equation early on, which allowed us to analyse our methods of licensing—previously, each dataset had its own terms, conditions and restrictions based on various levels of complex copyright.”

“We concluded pretty quickly that we could relicense most of our datasets under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licences—bar a few which have legal restrictions on them.”

Screenshot of ‘NZ Mainland Topo50 Maps‘ by LINZ Data Service. Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

Vicki described the LDS experience as a “bit of a test pilot” for the implementation of the NZGOAL framework. “It was really good for us because we didn’t need to develop any licences, but could adopt a licence recognised both nationally and internationally.”

LINZ’s Chief Executive at the time, Colin MacDonald, was intimately involved in the cross-government programme for data and information re-use. The adoption of the NZGOAL framework was strategic decision on LINZ’s part – an opportunity for LINZ to show leadership in the open data space.  Jeremy says that stakeholders and partners that contributed to the design of the service would also chip in with advice: “we were  working in partnership with Koordinates, who provided the technology for LDS and who are heavily involved in the open data movement.”

Before the launch of the LDS, access to LINZ datasets was primarily done through manual requests and provided on DVDs—a “labour-intensive” and time consuming process. While some of these ‘legacy services’ are running alongside the LDS currently, Vicki notes they will be streamlined into the LDS in the long term. As with any  major change in service delivery, the transition can take time to negotiate.

But Jeremy says the change has been for the best: “the service is a professional service, enabling easy online access to our data via a sophisticated set of tools and functionality. In a typical week, LDS gets upwards of 500 file downloads of our datasets—which is much, much more than when our data distribution was manually administered.”

Not only has opening the datasets increased usage in numbers, it’s also invited a more diverse user-base, says Vicki. “Because it’s much more accessible now, and free to access, we are seeing our customer base grow to include smaller organisations that may not have used LINZ data before  , whereas customers who used our previous services were generally professional organisations who could consume that complex data quite easily.”

Screenshot of ‘NZ Property Titles‘ by LINZ Data Service. Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

“It was generally very complex, so it was quite a shift in philosophy for us to go from being a raw bulk data distributor to taking that data and making it accessible to that a wider range of users” adds Jeremy.

Landscape architect Nigel Cowburn, of Growplan Ltd., uses the LDS’ datasets in order to arrive at worksites to meet clients “fully armed” with information about the property and landscape as it currently exists.  He says the LDS enables him to prepare ahead of time. “It’s free and reliable, and helps me ask intelligent questions,” Nigel says. “It makes the remote part of my work possible, as I have a good idea of the landscape before I go—the more information I can access online, the better.”

LDS is frequently updated to meet the needs of its customers. But as with any large operation, the project didn’t come without its obstacles. “The release and simplification of large datasets were a big challenge for us to manage—from the outset, however, by partnering with Koordinates, they had already solved some of the issues..”

Jeremy notes that the service is really showing results. The number of registered users of the LINZ Data Service, currently standing at almost 6.500, continues to climb by an impressive 300 users every month. These customers, spanning government, geospatial, survey, utility, contracting, and engineering sectors and beyond, are using the LINZ Data Service to realise efficiencies, innovation and improved decision-making.

The LDS’ efforts haven’t gone unrecognised. LINZ was the recipient of the JK Barrie Award for Overall Excellence at the Asia Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards—the premier forum for recognising the spatial information industry’s top performers. Of the award, LINZ Chief Executive Peter Mersi says “it is recognition of the highest order of the value of developing and implementing an easy-to-use geospatial data sharing service.” Mersi says LDS has played a part in “revolutionising the way people can discover, use and share New Zealand public data.”

Jeremy notes that Australians are “envious of the openness of the whole ecosystem” that LDS uses. “In Australia, the multiple levels of government have imposed a model where they’re trying to still do cost recovery for their assets. The fact that we were able to remove barriers with Creative Commons licences really made an impact and helped us win that award. Over there, a lot of their data is still very locked up.”

Quizzed about their advice to other government agencies considering using open licencing, both Jeremy and Vicki are supportive of the measures. “I’d definitely recommend opening access to public, non -private  information across government. If there’s a mandate to adopt open licensing, and you want to get it done, NZGOAL and Creative Commons licences get really good results and can reduce timeframes to actually just get the data out there.”

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