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Luxembourg, June 1995
Working Paper 95/2
The views expressed in this report are those of the IMO secretariat and do not engage the European Commission
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This paper was drafted by the Policy Studies Institute on behalf of the IMO. BR Sources include national press and information industry newsletters, BR proceedings of the 1994 Legal Aspects of Multimedia and GIS Conference and other publications noted in Key Sources. The exchange rate used throughout 1ECU = $1.18 (source Eurostat, yearly average 1994).


An introduction to GIS

Although there is disagreement about the size of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) market in Europe, few commentators doubt its potential. The aim of this paper is to explore that potential and consider the possible constraints that could prevent its realisation. Throughout the paper the term GIS will be used to indicate both the hardware and software and data content components of a system, except where indicated.

It will also consider the importance of GIS for the information industries and information producers such as map publishers, travel information providers, weather information providers and those who provide information which supports the real estate industry. More generally, GIS has potential for all information providers who have data which can be spatially referenced and this includes many mainstream business information providers.

The situation in Europe and particularly the moves towards a European Geographic Information Infrastructure (EGII), will be addressed.

What is GIS?

GIS is, in essence, a set of tools that enable the collection, storage, representation, retrieval, analysis and display of spatial data. The UK Association for Geographic Information (AGI) defines in its "GIS Dictionary" a GIS as, "A system for capturing, storing, checking, integrating, manipulating, analysing and displaying data which are spatially referenced to the Earth. The GIS is normally considered to involve a spatially referenced computer database and appropriate applications software. " Many technologies come together under the heading GIS, including remote sensing, computerised mapping, databases and spatial analysis.

Input to a GIS is traditionally via keyboard; digitising, which produces vector data; or scanning, which produces raster data. In addition, there are new hybrid techniques which use expert systems techniques to create vector data, with minimal human intervention. The majority of input to a GIS continues to come from paper maps, although data will increasingly be captured directly through remote sensing, aerial photography or ground survey.

The selection of this input depends on several factors such as the type of data (raster or vector), required accuracy and cost. In general, the more accurate the data required, the more expensive it is to collect. Output includes maps, graphs, tables and photographs.

Potential uses and applications

GIS are applied to solve many problems, traditionally those involving networks, such as roads, or spatial resources. Network applications include vehicle routing and scheduling as well as energy efficiency analysis of public and private transportation. GIS are also employed to solve broader spatial problems such as urban and regional planning, natural resource management and environmental impact assessment.

GIS systems are also becoming more widely used in non-traditional mainstream business areas. This includes the area of geomarketing whereby spatial data, for example postcode information, is used to help companies target their products or services more effectively. Mass mailings to consumers in their homes, should, in theory, be more efficient using a GIS, as instead of just having a list bearing names and addresses, vendors will have information on how these addresses are physically related to one another. Thus distribution of goods or services for particular locations can be more effectively planned.

Other such applications include retailing. Customers of a supermarket may be asked for their postcode which is then used to establish how far they have travelled and where the gaps in the network of stores may be.

Telecom companies have also become important buyers of GIS and many European telecomms companies are using GIS for network planning. Deutsche Telekom is implementing what is claimed to be the world's largest GIS installation, which involves using network data currently held on a variety of paper plans, data files and index cards. When complete, it will cover 11,000 workstations (running Smallworld GIS software) in 113 offices in Germany. Called Megaplan, the project is designed to provide up to date and consistent data on existing telecomms networks and planned extensions.

Insurance is another obvious example, whereby data such as accident or crime statistics can be plotted geographically allowing insurance companies to adjust their tariffs more effectively. The availability of such detailed information opens up the possibility of abuse however and has prompted concern over so-called "redlining" of particular areas of high crime or risk of subsidence. Residents of those areas can risk being denied insurance cover.

The "Holy Grail" of commercial GIS has for some time been the in-car navigation market. According to some predictions (GIS Europe, March 1994) this market could be worth ECU 65bn over the next two decades. With increasing congestion on Europe's roads and the realisation that more roads can lead to more cars, the idea is to work with the existing road networks and greatly increase the "intelligence" of cars to take advantage of them.

The on-board use of computers, digital road maps, sensors, infra-red frequency beacons and detectors should allow vehicles to exchange information with roadside data collection and monitoring systems about traffic conditions, congestion, weather conditions and alternative routes.

Such a potentially lucrative market has captured the attention of GIS vendors as well as car makers such as Renault and Daimler Benz.

A significant project in this area is the European Digital Road Map (EDRM) project. Two rival consortia ECT/NavTech and the European Digital RoadMap Association (EDRA) have been formed and are developing their databases. EDRA claims to have completed coverage for the whole of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. It also has coverage of metropolitan areas in France, Switzerland and Austria, while EGT/NavTech claims to have coverage for most German cities, Brussels, Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Turin and Milan.

Early in 1994, BMW became the first European car manufacturer to offer an in-car navigation system for its top of the range 7-Series models. These cars combine the CARIN, an in-car navigation system from Philips Electronique of France and the EGT/NavTech database.

According to a study carried out for ITS America, the Japanese Government spent some US$1.9bn between 1985 and 1992 on in-car navigation. This was in addition to that spent by motor manufacturers. Toyota's chairman Shoichiro Toyoda claimed that some 700,000 Japanese motorists are already using in-car navigation systems. In the US a US$200m "national automated highway" research programme with a consortia lead by General Motors has recently been announced.

Traditional and new marketsMarket sectors

The market research company International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that the world-wide market for GIS software can be broken down into three major sectors, with nine subsectors of particular importance. The largest of the sectors is government and public service, including local government and defence. IDC estimates that this sector accounted for 51 per cent of GIS world-wide software revenues achieved by US-based vendors in 1993.A further 25 per cent of the market was taken up by utilities and education, though growth rates in these areas were slower. Both these sectors would be considered the "traditional" GIS market.In contrast, the smallest but most dynamic segment, was the business and telecommunication sector, including marketing and retail applications, which accounted for 17 per cent of revenues.So different are these "traditional" and new markets in some respects, that it appears that two separate markets are developing. The traditional public sector and utilities market will continue to buy high-end systems (ECU 1,200 plus). Such systems will have increasing power to integrate many different data sets, which will benefit environmental scientists and other high technology users.

Table 1 : US-based Vendors' World-wide 
GIS Software Revenues by Market Segment, 1993

:                              Segments    Market  :                              Revenues    Share  :                               ($M)  :  Local governments                97.1        19  National defense agencies        86.9        17  Civilian federal agencies        76.7        15  Electrical utilities             61.3        12  Oil and gas                      51.1        10  Marketing/retail                 46.0         9  Telecommunications               40.9         8  Environmental                    35.8         7  Education                        15.3         3  Total                           511.1       100  Source: International Data Corporation, 1994  

This side of the industry resembles the Computer Aided Design (CAD) market of five years ago with vendors like Intergraph and Autodesk continuing to target users such as engineers, planners and architects.

The other market is a much less technical market and in this respect, GIS is somewhat like expert systems were 10 years ago. Soon many business users will be using a GIS in some form, but will not necessarily know it. Particularly in mainstream business applications e.g. marketing, it may be a good idea for vendors to play down the technical side of the products, as they did with expert systems technology in the early 1980s. Indeed GIS may disappear as a free standing activity in many corporations, as its functionality becomes absorbed into other business systems.

This market may be further divided into the desktop (ECU 600 - ECU 1,200) market and the bundled software PC market. The desktop market will be based on either Unix workstations or PCs and will grow in Europe only if enough Value-Added Resellers (VARs) emerge. These value-added resellers will be responsible for both data supply and in some cases, systems integration. End users do not need any more training to use a GIS than to use a spreadsheet or database, some commentators argue, but the difference is that while with those products end users may enter their own data, with GIS, it will in some cases be done by the VAR.

At the mass market level, PC software companies such as Microsoft and Lotus are already bundling GIS features with their products. This type of application is sometimes called "data visualisation" and simply means using the geographic component of a data item to cross reference between other software products and obtain new correlations and insights.

For many users, it will just be a way of developing better presentations, including more spatial data such as the performance of sales representatives shown by region or area. In addition, database and executive information system (EIS) vendors such as SAS and Oracle will also be looking to extend their products to include geographic data management. According to IDC, the potential impact of product bundling, particularly at the PC end of the market, could be huge. Spreadsheet users currently outnumber GIS users by over 3,000 to 1. More significantly, PC users will begin to learn how to use spatial data to solve common problems - in much the same way as they have learned to use spreadsheets or databases. This will help raise awareness of GIS and break down users' acceptance barriers to some of the more sophisticated products.

Some companies already see growth in this area. ESRI, producers of the ARC/INFO and ArcView products, see 30 per cent annual growth in the mainstream business market, particularly with companies looking for site location and routing information. This is almost twice as fast as the existing user groups of the public sector, utilities and the scientific community, which ESRI sees as growing 15 -20 per cent a year.

With the development of these discrete markets with their different needs, pricing in GIS is often problematic. Some estimates indicate that up to 60 per cent of the total costs of any GIS project are associated with data collection and it is not uncommon for the cost of data collection to exceed that of hardware and software by a factor of two. This means vendors of GIS systems sometimes having to price their products too high for mass market acceptance. There have been concerns that the cost of data collection in GIS risks hampering market growth.

For vendors, market price is always difficult to determine. The education and other public sector markets, which are the traditional home of GIS remain important but are cost constrained, while the emerging business market may be less price sensitive but also less aware of the value of GIS systems.

Table 2: Projected World-wide GIS Software 
Revenues by Geographic Region, 1993-1998 ($M)

Region        1993   1994   1995   1996    1997     1998 CAGR (%)  :  US           285.2  320.2  371.1  432.7   505.4    601.8  17  Western      231.4  246.4  277.0  312.9   352.3    401.3  13  Europe       109.1  122.6  149.7  183.7   226.2    282.3  23  Japan         40.3   45.2   53.5   64.1    77.0    93.5   20  Total        666.0  734.4  851.3  993.4 1,160.9 1,378.9   17  Source: International Data Corporation, 1994  


Market size

Estimates on the size of the GIS market are notoriously unreliable. The major problem is what to count as GIS? Special purpose hardware? Consultancy and training or just software applications such as those calculated by IDC above? Even counting software revenues will become problematic as GIS products are increasingly bundled with standard PC software, such as Microsoft Office. What percentage of the retail price of this product could be attributed to GIS?

Estimates of the size of the market should thus be treated with the utmost caution. Prof. Antonio Câmara (Legal Aspects of Multimedia and GIS, Lisbon, October 1994) estimates a figure of ECU 500m (1993) for the European market, including both hardware and software revenues. He estimates annual growth rates of around 14 per cent but this varies widely from application to application and national market to national market.

According to IDC figures, the Western European market for software alone was US$231.4m (ECU 196.10m) in 1993 with a projected 1995 figure of US$277m (ECU 234.74m). Another market research company, Frost & Sullivan, estimates a world-wide market in 1993 of US$1.2bn for GIS software and services and projects that it will rise to US$3.8bn by 1999. Based on IDC figures for software revenues, we can assume that the European market represents about a third of this figure with the US having about 45 per cent of the world market and Japan less than 20 per cent. This gives a figure of about US$400m, (ECU 338.9m) slightly higher than IDC's figure because it takes into account services. Perhaps the most comprehensive figure, comes from market research firm Dataquest which quotes a $2.2bn world-wide market for hardware and software alone but goes on to state: "The $2.2bn GIS market is actually a $3.3bn market when 3rd party services are included and a $4.5bn market when internal spending on data conversion is calculated as if purchased from GIS service vendors." This final figure is the closest we can get to a content-related market size approximation.

US and European market

There is a perception that the US market is more advanced than the European market. Some commentators point to the number of players and especially the number of value-added resellers (VARs) in the US, compared with Europe as evidence of this. Even though US companies have European offices, research and development (R&D) remains in the US, with European offices being used only for marketing or distribution.

European products tend to be for the high-end specialist market, for example, Laser Scan or Smallworld in the UK, but Europe produces fewer mass market products. There is very little PC software produced in Europe, with PROGIS in Austria, an honourable exception. Given the US dominance of the GIS software market, the best way forward for European firms is probably to carve a niche in the high-value service side e.g. implementation, localisation and customisation of off-the-shelf packages. In a typical application, for every 1,000 ECU spent on hardware or software, many times that amount will be spent on data, training, support etcetera, and this is where EU suppliers can win business.

In addition, the policy of the US government of not charging copyright or royalties on government data has been a big boost to the US market. However, the new Republican Congress may be looking to raise revenue from information assets and this will highlight the argument between those who support Freedom of Information and an administration committed to reducing public spending.

While US Government information is free however, there is concern that it is often out of date and of poor quality, whereas government departments which raise revenues from their information may tend to produce better quality data. Europe, with its later entrance to the GIS market can capitalise on improved technology to produce better quality data, though it obviously has more linguistic and legal barriers than the US.

Some commentators, including Mr. Chenez, Secretary General of EUROGI, argue that the US has a clearer concept of the importance of GIS. More importantly, it has a national champion in the person of Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, who provides very high level involvement and support and is well connected to the NII initiative. Such high level "championing" of GIS has borne fruit - in April 1994, President Clinton issued an executive order entitled, "Co-ordinating geographic data acquisition and access: The National Spatial Data Infrastructure." This order seeks to avoid duplication of effort and obstruction between different levels of the federal and local government and commits government organisations to producing key datasets and making them widely available within a specified time.

There is concern that in Europe, despite lots of grass roots enthusiasm, no single champion exists and thus such active commitment on the part of Europe's governments would be hard to achieve.

The US also displays a lot of co-operation between stakeholders, with grants available from central government to support local initiatives. In addition, such initiatives are heavily promoted, with some US$5m a year being spent on promotion, advertising and communication including conferences.

Europe, however has a number of opportunities whichare absent in the US. As mentioned above, the quality of European datasets is high, both in topographic data and in thematic geo-referenced datasets such as environment, property rights (land registries) and geology. It also has very high resolution satellites (SPOT and ERS) and significant skills in remote sensing. What is required is strong political support, effective communications between all the actors involved in the market and a clear vision of a suitable information infrastructure. It is in supporting the development of such an infrastructure, that some commentators feel the European Commission has a particular role to play.

The role of the European Commission

In the context of the development from "scribe to screen" in the emerging information society and in order to capitalise on Europe's strengths in national geographic information while helping to remove current constraints at European level, the European Commission is currently investigating the need for a European Geographic Information Infrastructure (EGII) for the provision of European geographic information. The EGII is being defined via a wide consultation process with industry, users and public bodies concerned with geographic information. A basic ingredient will be the networking of existing data whenever possible as well as supporting the development of EU-wide geographic information data sets, few of which exist today, especially in readily usable seamless format. The EGII will improve the standardisation in geographic information mainly by promoting the use of existing standards.

A major objective of the EGII would be to help organisations in Europe to use geographic information more effectively which, it is hoped, will contribute to sustained economic improvement.

The cost of meeting these objectives will be significant and will need to be funded primarily by the Member States through their existing national information infrastructure activities, especially those relating to geographic information, as well as by private industry with some EU funds to add a European dimension. To do this in the most cost effective manner will require co-ordination at European level. The European Commission will act as a co-ordinator and catalyst.

The EGII initiative is part of a tradition of increasing co-operation between stakeholders in this area in Europe. European National Mapping Agencies created CERCO (Comité Européen des Responsables de la Cartographie Officielle) back in the 1970s. CERCO later created MEGRIN (Multipurpose European Ground Related Information Network) to develop closer co-operation in the provision of pan-European mapping data. In November 1993, EUROGI, the European Umbrella organisation for Geographic Information, was created as one of the initiatives in the GIS activities of DG XIII/E's IMPACT programme. EUROGI is self-funding and its mission is to support and represent all GI groups at the European level and to stimulate, encourage and support the development and use of GI and to become the official partner with the relevant European Institutions. Through the EGII the role of these organisations is expected to be strengthened

EUROGI exists as a forum for both the public and private sectors, though in reality, 80% of its information comes from the public sector. A spokesman for EUROGI argued that the private sector does not use EUROGI enough and fears it is probably discussing its problems in its own sphere. In the USA, by contrast the private sector has a higher profile role in national standards bodies.

Public/Private synergy

Another area in which the US market differs from that in Europe, is in the respective roles of the public and private sectors. In the US, with its policy of free government information, government data is seen as "the gas that drives GIS." Although government data is crucial in Europe, there is no pan-European Freedom of Information Act.

One of the biggest constraints on the commercial GIS market in Europe is the lack of affordable digital geographic data and the attitude of some public sector agencies who have to provide the data. The financing of National Mapping Agencies has, until recently, been based on user pricing policies where only a fraction of the actual cost was recuperated from the market place. Lately many governments have changed this situation considerably and the pressure on government agencies to recover the cost incurred in collecting this information is seen by some to be severely impeding the growth of the GIS market.

Nearly all informed sources agree that lack of affordable data is one of the major reasons why essentially sound GIS projects are failing. And a survey at the AGI conference in 1993 identified data costs and availability as by far the two highest priority issues to be addressed by the industry. Yet in a report on the AGI (Association for Geographic Information)/UK Government Round Table meeting, held in April 1995 states that 'the meeting heard little first hand evidence that the present ad hoc arrangements for public data were causing either the public or private sectors any real problems'1. The AGI is therefore canvassing its UK members to provide written comments on this issue.

Even where digital data does exist within government, current arrangements for access, even by other public sector users, are variable. Most public sector users will rely on data from other authorities or agencies - particularly if they have a broad geographic remit. In the UK, for example, the National Rivers Authority need some 80 sets of geographic data to operate efficiently - of which around 30 are derived from external sources. It is hoped that, within the framework of the EGII, public agencies who hold geographic information will examine their pricing policies in more depth to see what the impact of alternatives might be on the market and on their own potential revenues.

Organisations have traditionally overcome this problem partly through the use of unofficial sources. Aside from the lost revenue, this results in the originating department losing control of the information with the attendant risks of duplicated effort and different versions of the dataset being in circulation.

The result of these economic concerns is a sometimes fraught relationship between national data suppliers and private sector information companies. National Mapping Agencies are particularly exposed to criticism as they are viewed in some quarters as monopolistic. They counter that they only have a monopoly on unprofitable data and that they have many competitors in the areas where they can make money. There is some truth to this as the value of geographic information varies widely. A street map of London or Paris has a huge market value, but other geographic information only becomes valuable in times of crisis. Examples of this would be data relating to areas of the Netherlands affected in the recent floods.

In addition, some commentators argue that making users pay more towards the cost of producing geographic data helps to regulate demand and ensures that those users requesting geographic data really need it.

Tensions between the public and private sectors may increasingly lead to the larger private sector organisation bypassing government sources altogether in their quest for data. An example of this is Project AutoMaps which was started in 1986 by the Automobile Association (AA) in the UK. This involved the complete building of a cartographic digital database, which was free of royalties to Ordnance Survey (OS), the UK's National Mapping Agency. It covers the UK at a scale of 1:100,000 and has since been extended to cover Ireland at 1:350,000, the rest of Europe at 1:1m and London a 1:10,000.

Until the mid 1980s the AA, like other map publishers in the UK, had taken its source material from the Ordnance Survey and paid royalties in the usual way. One-off royalties had already been paid in perpetuity for the AA 1:650,000 map, but when it was decided to produce mapping at the scale of 1:500,000, new royalties were required.

The AA decided that in the long run it would be better to produce its own royalty-free digitised mapping.

The project was very expensive and not without its own particular legal problems. These include questions about the copyright to the National Grid (Crown Copyright was eventually acknowledged and the OS agreed not to charge royalties) and problems about motorable roads. The OS road network could not be used without incurring royalties, so each highway authority was approached for their publicly available information about motorable roads and this was checked in the old-fashioned and labour-intensive way by members of the AA field force driving them independently.

Areas of more fruitful synergy between data holders and users are also evident however. In the UK, local government has already come to an arrangement with Ordnance Survey under which they can take an annual authority-wide licence for a large selection of OS products, both digital and paper. The recently-privatised utilities are reported to be interested in a similar deal.

Problems with European data

Europe in general possesses very high quality geographic data. However, as most of the data was produced for the needs of individual states, production bases and specification vary widely across the EU. In the age of paper-based maps this did not matter too much, but with the development of digital GIS, the existing diversity makes it very difficult to combine existing national datasets into a common European dataset.

Within Europe locational references and the areas bounded by them may differ widely. The problem becomes even more acute for geographic data represented by irregular spatial units such as counties, regions or postcode areas and can therefore pose a particular problem for the handling of demographic data.

France for example, has 36,000 NUTS5 level units, with a population of around 1,000 per unit; Portugal has around 10,000 people per unit. While postcodes in France cover an average of 5,000 households, in the Netherlands and UK there is a different code for every 15 households. As might be imagined, the physical area covered by these units is even more varied.

For these areas, Eurostat is tasked with collecting statistics from the national statistics institutions (NSIs), both for the Commission and for Eurostat to disseminate. But Eurostat has no power to say when and in what form the NSIs will deliver statistics to them. They are also charged with harmonising these statistics across Europe, which is laborious process and means that pan-European data can be slow to appear.

When the GIS company GeoInformation International embarked on the EURIPIDES project (see Section 5.2), it required 30+ variables from all European countries. It had hoped to go to Eurostat for all the data but is now going to each NSI individually, with Eurostat's tacit acceptance.

In addition, the type and quality of data collected varies. In Greece the National Mapping Agency had not digitised the necessary data, but a private company had and was prepared to licence it - but at a high price. Frequency of collection also differs. The last census in the UK was 1991 and it is repeated every 10 years, but some countries, such as the Netherlands, has no Census. Some have national registers of the population and some rely on sample surveys and do not survey the overall population at all.

While many users and most private sector information companies need access to pan-European data, it needs to be recognised that complete harmonisation is a very long way off. Some vendors argue that the important thing is to get the best data available out into the marketplace, with sufficient explanatory material (metadata) to allow users to make the best approximations that they can.

Another way of tackling the problem may be through the EGII and the discussion document on this initiative favours wide dissemination of metadata which could provide potential users with information on who holds what data, where and how to access it. The idea is that, through electronic means, users would be able to obtain meta-information on existing datasets before they undertake costly and possibly unnecessary data collection of their own.


One of the biggest remaining constraints on the GIS market is question of interoperability. Today, vendors have to work hard to make their systems work alongside database systems, read arbitrary data formats and run under different operating systems. In addition, procurement requests from Government and from commercial organisations are increasingly requiring data to be available in non-proprietary format and run on a variety of systems. These problems of course face the vendors of other non-GIS software and as usual, a plethora of standards bodies and committees are deciding on de jure standards. The history of the Information Technology (IT) market suggests that such committees are often lagging behind technological change and de facto standards will become established.

However, major efforts are taking place at national levels to ensure interoperability. In the US, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has established the National Spatial Data Infrastructure and is hoping to establish a standard for metadata and data content. In Europe, similar activity is also taking place, including the Geographical Data Description Dictionary (GDDD) system of MEGRIN, currently being completed by MMH in Finland. EUROGI is also engaged in defining a project to create an on-line directory for Geographic Information Data Description (GIDD), in co-ordination with MEGRIN's GDDD, based on the CEN TC/287 metadata standard. The Vienna agreement between CEN and ISO provides a framework for co-operation.

This current lack of standardisation, particularly with regard to operating systems, ensures the continuation of the kind of segmented markets described earlier. High-end systems run under Unix whilst PC based systems run under Windows or on Macintosh. There is currently no PC-based system that can provide immediate, seamless access to a high-end GIS database. Microsoft's dominance of the PC operating system world may soon bring this to an end, though not in the way the standards committees may approve of. When Windows 95 is eventually released, users should be able to access high end systems from their PC via a seamless interface and true corporate-wide GIS systems may arrive.

Even more significant to the traditional GIS market, is the establishment of the Open GIS (OGIS) Foundation. Supported by Intergraph, one of the most significant companies in this area, it aims to make data in any format available to users and includes opening up Intergraph's Modular GIS Environment by putting its data structure in the public domain.

Data standards and GDF

In 1989 the EU-supported project, European Digital Road Map (EDRM) was started. Its aim was to develop a the market for a pan-European digital road database by inviting and bench marking potential solutions. In addition it hoped to test standards for Geographic Data Files. The resulting standard has been called GDF 2.0. GDF is a data format in which the data is defined at three different levels. Level 0 contains the geography and topology of the information. On Level 1 real world objects are defined and on Level 2 functionally-related Level 1 features are grouped into higher order objects.

A follow up project called European Digital Road Map 2 was begun in 1991. During that project, standardisation activities were brought under a Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN) heading which will eventually lead to GDF being an official CEN standard.


A variety of legal issues confront the makers and sellers of GIS. Some of these problems are shared with traditional map publishers. For example, who can ensure that what is received by the end user is what was sent out by the map publisher? So far there have been very few test cases though print map-makers are deemed to be liable in some cases. In addition, error and fault, while perhaps less common that in paper-based systems will be repeatedly and easily duplicated in a digital system. Vendors are thus advised to make contractual provisions for the allocation of liability in the case of such error or fault.

For more specialist GIS applications such as land use or environmental modelling packages, health and safety issues may need to be considered. For example, if a building worker accidentally cuts through power cables while following detailed site plans from the local authority's GIS system - who is liable for any injury claim?

GIS will increasingly be used in critical systems such as flood or fire control where the risk of loss of life or damage to property may leave data providers open to prosecution.

Other problems, particularly those of copyright, are shared with other producers of multimedia systems. As discussed earlier in the AutoMaps project, copyright resides in the expression of geographic data. Different compilations of the same data presented in different ways can claim copyright protection. The problem is intensified because many different copyright holders may have input to a GIS. A practical example of this, quoted by Roger Longhorn (Legal Aspects of Multimedia and GIS, Lisbon, October 1994) was when an environmental monitoring system developed by the UN to assist in monitoring the health of coral reefs had to be cancelled. As the GIS consisted of maps, oceanographic data and photographs it was impossible to assemble all the components of the system from the various copyright holders at an acceptable cost.

The EU database protection directive, currently under discussion, could have dramatic implications. Monopolies will have to make data available at a "reasonable price." What effects will this have on organisations like Ordnance Survey, which operates under the UK Government's cost recovery mode and was criticised by the environmental pressure group, Friends of the Earth, among others for making its information too expensive?

As in other areas, unauthorised copying and/or distribution of data is bound to take place. With the advent of the multimedia era and even more accessible technology, GIS data will no doubt become harder to police.

The spread of geographic information technologies also involves risks to society. Wide collection of geocoded information on individuals and households by public agencies and the private sector, such as retail stores, travel agencies, credit card companies and telecommunication carriers, could lead to misuse of the data. Government agencies collect information for purposes such as taxation, road pricing or crime prevention. This creates new potential for intrusion of privacy and surveillance, including complete coverage of personal spatial mobility behaviour. In future, special attention may be needed on European-wide privacy protection laws in relation to geographic information.



OMEGA is a pan-European multi-partner project to develop an interactive database of geographic metadata. The data sources include paper maps, books, journals, and the contact details for GIS vendors and consultants. It will be published as a CD-ROM together with digital mapping, multimedia presentation and query software. The aim is to stimulate the European GIS market by promoting awareness of the products and services already available in the marketplace.

OMEGA is one of eight implementation projects selected for part funding by the European Commission. Its project partners include CNIG from Spain, IGN from France, GeoInformation International, Ordnance Survey and MVA Systematica from the UK and the MEGRIN Group which represents 18 European National Mapping Agencies.

OMEGA is intended to become an essential tool for any GIS installation and hence has to be fairly low cost. The makers hope to be able to sell it for a price between 150 and 200 ECU. Intended markets include libraries and research organisations, map sellers where staff need to give advice on which maps are available, consultants who need to offer advice to clients about sources of data and VARs, who will be able to add customised data to OMEGA for resale.


The EURIPIDES product will contain a description of 17 European countries based on over 100,000 small areas, including details of the areas, their population and economic indicators. EURIPIDES is based on the most recent Census data, in this case 1991, and countries which do not have Census were asked for their best data for that year.

The product will be aimed at:

A reduced version as well as educational discounts may be offered to the education market.

The price of 4,000 ECU for a CD-ROM is higher than was originally expected, because of having to pay high royalties to NSIs. The developer, GeoInformation International argues that while it costs a lot less than buying separate data sets from each country, it is more expensive than buying data from any one country, so they are not offering competition to the individual NSIs. Geoinformation International aims to co-operate with Eurostat, with future versions of the product being able to take advantage of harmonised data.

EURIPIDES is currently at alpha-test stage, with data from 7 out of 17 countries. It should be in beta test by June/July 1995 though negotiations with the NSIs are the major hold up.

When ready, the disc will be licensed on a single user per machine licence initially and a networked version may be produced later. NSIs will be able to re-sell the product themselves and will get the appropriate reseller discount.


VITAL is aimed at the travel and tourism market and is designed to facilitate travel to Europe's cities. It will act in effect like an electronic guidebook and is based on a digital networkwhich integrates road, public transport and pedestrian information.

Sources of information include a digital street network of cites developed by Tele Atlas, public transport information, textual information on tourist attractions, information on hotels and restaurants and city maps.

The system will be developed for two different applications:VITAL dedicated terminals on tourist sights where large amounts of traffic are to be expected and VITAL software which will run in a standard PC environment and be installed in hotels and tourist offices.

The system will be pilot-tested in Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich and Lisbon and it is hoped to extend it to other cites in the near future.


As we have discussed, the potential for GIS in Europe is enormous. Europe has high quality data in many areas, increasing number of trained professionals and growing demand, but it lacks the marketing infrastructure (VARs), indigenous software industry and access to free government data, available in the US.

In addition, markets remain fragmented and there is perceived lack of user awareness of the benefits that GIS can bring. In addition, many companies report that demand is still very localised and patchy in the EU. In some countries, particularly France and Scandinavia, pan-European distributors see a lot of competition from local products. The UK, France and Germany are unsurprisingly the largest markets, though Holland and Austria are also well developed.

What can be done to bring the market up to speed? Demand from users will be the most effective weapon. Business users are already beginning to see the value of GIS and when all drivers use a GIS to navigate in their cars, then a mass consumer market will have been built, with all its attendant demands.

In addition, there is great need for pan-European data and co-operation in general. The European Commission's current investigations indicate that an EGII will go some way towards addressing these problems, but there are fears that this will lead to an approach which is both too top-down and too weighted towards the public sector. Both users and private industry need to become more involved in European co-ordinating bodies.

In addition, the lack of a high level champion compared with the US is seen by some as a problem. There is concern that those working on co-ordination do not have enough executive power. It is also important that the various pan-European bodies focus on content and not merely on technology.

Another question which will have a bearing on the development of the GIS market is that of citizen's access to government data. Despite the US government's policy of free access, some European commentators believe that the USA will have a policy which is too market-oriented and not sensitive enough to citizens rights. EUROGI is now considering the question of access in this area, in consultation with legal experts.

In conclusion, the potential of the GIS market both for information companies and for consumers is huge. Many of the problems caused by sustainable economic growth have a geographic element and developing and maintaining a healthy GIS market will be a positive indicator of Europe's ability to create an information society. However, expectations are high, many prototypes are about to enter the market as fully fledged products and it is vital to ensure that the cost of data, unresolved legal questions and the problem of harmonisation are not allowed to strangle this market.


Conference Proceedings, "Legal aspects of multimedia and GIS" Lisbon, October 1994, DG XIII IMPACT Programme

Geographic Information Systems: A Buyer's guide, HMSO, 1993 (tel +44 171 873 9090, fax +44 171 873 8200)

GIS For Business, GeoInformation International, 1995 (tel +44 1223 423020, fax +44 1223 425787)

Mapping Awareness Magazine, GeoInformation International, 1995 (tel +44 1223 423020, fax +44 1223 425787)

GIS Europe Magazine, GeoInformation International, 1995 (tel +44 1223 423020, fax +44 1223 425787)GI2000 -

Towards a European Geographic Information Infrastructure (EGII). A discussion document, May 1995.


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