February 2014 - An Interview with Mark Watt

Mark Watt, a Business Aspect Partner and career ICT and management professional, has been instrumental in the success of numerous government, utility and corporate client projects.   Currently Mark is supporting the delivery of a major address management project in Australia and in this interview he gives us some insights into the complexities facing both government organisations and corporations when it comes to managing address related information across myriad systems and interdependent organisations.  Mark is also working on some interesting asset management strategies at present and shares with us his current observations on the impact of both address and asset management efficiencies on our national economy.

With a 25-year career that spans investment projects in remote sensing and precise positioning infrastructure; spatial information and data quality programs; asset management and associated spatial systems; High Performance Computing and large scale storage infrastructure for spatial and science applications; and business process improvement for mission critical applications in emergency despatch and field force automation Mark has an interesting career history and shares with us some notable highlights and thought-provoking insights.

Tell us about your latest work for Business Aspect clients?
There are several things on the boil right now and probably the most strategic of these is a national address management project. We have a team of experienced consultants engaged in the design and development of a national address management system that underpins the location services for network infrastructure. Managing the spatial relationship between a premise location, its unique address and the network is fundamental to the business and it’s not a trivial task. The concentration of expertise and experience with complex address management and geospatial systems within this team is exceptional and we’re excited about what can be achieved for our client.

You mention network infrastructure; we’re seeing a lot of activity in this and Asset Management generally. As our resident GeoSpatial guru what is driving this activity?
It seems that activity in this space is driven by two key influences:

  • Aging infrastructure assets such as roads, rail and utilities are not coping with increasing demand and expectations from the population for better services and more cost-effective solutions. This is driving the need for better asset management practices required to increase efficiencies and asset performance. Decision support systems must therefore be more sophisticated and more reliable. Location data and spatial enablement of enterprise information is a key component to being an efficient and more effective infrastructure asset manager.
  • Advances in technology for observing, visualising and modelling real world objects and features is generating more data and stimulating more innovative applications for planning, designing, building, operating and maintaining infrastructure assets. A new generation of asset managers is emerging who have grown up with the virtual and simulation technologies used in computer games. These future managers and leaders will want to manage their business using virtual reality technologies available in their pockets.

If you unpack these fundamental drivers there is a wealth of opportunity for tech savvy businesses and entrepreneurs.

What is the economic impact of automating these functions?
We are now capable of collecting vast amounts of high resolution data at relatively low cost. Converting this data to information for business benefits still requires extensive manual effort; far more costly than the cost of capture. I believe that the imperative for change is driven essentially by the need to be smarter about how we deploy technology to achieve greater levels of automation to reduce the manual effort that’s currently being serviced through off shore operations with better access to a cheaper labour workforce.
If as a nation we can’t reduce the cost of labour we must increase the degree of automation.  A good example is in the infrastructure asset management space by a) embracing sensor technologies for asset observation and field inspection tasks, and b) digital workflows and open standards to replace the vast quantities of paper based plans, drawings and reports generated by the infrastructure asset construction and operating businesses.

Aside from your current projects, what other organisations contend with automating or integrating Address information?
Address management is a key enabler to creating greater national economic benefit. The value chains operating throughout the information lifecycle of address data from local councils through to state governments and industry consumers are convoluted and inefficient; resulting in massive duplication, inaccuracies and poor decision making. There are enormous opportunities, and challenges, in fixing this situation so our clients can rely on timely access to a common, authoritative, source of truth for address data to underpin their business applications. E.g. insurance claims, target marketing, big data analytics, delivery logistics, emergency response and any demographic related applications.

Who have been the top 3 most influential people in your career so far? Why?
I had to think about this since I hadn’t been asked before. But firstly, I think of John Puttick, then back in 1980’s as CEO of Star Systems, who was one of my first bosses. John inspired me with his entrepreneur spirit to create my own business. 
Then I guess it was John Antenucci, CEO at Plangraphics Inc (USA) who supported me in my early establishment stages to create a geospatial consulting practice.
And, more recently, Peter Woodgate, CEO at the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI) who has impressed me with his diplomacy and his commitment to advancing the spatial information industry here in Australia.

What is the best advice you have ever received in relation to your work?
There’s one particular phrase that sticks in my mind when I think about all the conversations I’ve had with colleagues and associates over the years:
“We were born with two ears and one mouth, you should use them proportionately when meeting with a customer”.

You have been a technology and management consultant for many years now, what have been your most interesting experiences?
What’s exciting and interesting about my work is the variety of challenging projects to work on and the incredible richness of local talent in this industry.
One month I could be assisting with development teams creating an IT business solution. The next project could be flying autonomous (unmanned) aerial vehicles (UAVs) over power lines in outback Queensland. Or preparing a federal government report on the opportunities for investing in an Earth Observation (EOS) satellite for civilian use.

You were instrumental in the formation of SIBA (Spatial Information Business Australia) – what drove you to do this? What were the challenges? What have been the outcomes?
When the Queensland Government was struggling to identify a recognised single industry body representative of the spatial information industry to engage in policy and industry development dialogue, I initiated a special interest group of local core industry personalities to interact with the government via representation on their Queensland Spatial Information Council (QSIC). This proved to be a successful model for industry/government engagement for Queensland and I was subsequently approached by ANZLIC (Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council) to investigate how such a model could work at a national level.
After a lot of effort contributed in good faith by the spatial information business owners and influential individuals and with the support of AusIndustry, an Action Agenda was funded and the Australian Spatial Information Business Association (ASIBA) was formed in 2003. Much has happened from then until now due to the commitment and investment of many along the way and I’m proud to have taken part in stimulating these developments.
We now have a national spatial information industry framework coordinating representations from businesses, professionals and academic interests.

Tell us about your involvement with the CRCSI. 43PL.
Following on from the industry development activity already mentioned. The successful application for funding the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI) in 2003 was an outcome of the Federal Government Action Agenda for the Spatial Information Industry.
I became more involved with the CRC-SI in 2007 when I was engaged to assist with the Supplementary Bid to raise additional funding and more commitment from Queensland Government to raise its profile to Essential Participant status. Working as a team of consultants we were able to attract Ergon Energy into the CRC-SI also as an Essential Participant and boosted the R&D funding substantially (an additional $12M). The CRC-SI is now in it’s eleventh year and is scheduled to wind down in 2017.
Business Aspect is a member of 43PL, which is a consortium of SMEs that have a combined contribution to the CRC-SI to be collectively recognised as an Essential Participant. In this last year I have been elected to a seat on the Board of Directors for 43PL.

…and, when you’re not working…

Tell us about your favourite travel destination?
Locally, this would have to be Noosa Heads. I’ve spent so much time there growing up and on family holidays. It always conjures up emotions of relaxation, nature, fun, family and nostalgia.
Internationally, it would be Italy and I guess this might have something to do with my ancestry on my mother’s side. Love the climate the culture the food and lifestyle in general.

What do you do when you aren’t working?
If I can’t get to the beach (Noosa preferably) then I tend to be always finding things to do around the home. Owning an old Queensland style home can be a time consuming and at the same time rewarding activity. But it’s been in the family for 100 years and there’s always something to work on.
I’m a regular gym goer (not nearly as dedicated as my wife) and love cycling, swimming and playing tennis – something I need to get back into after some recent ankle reconstruction work.

For more information on any of the topics discussed in Mark’s interviews please contact Business Aspect Head Office or email Mark directly.