Sun shines on new Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence


The Sunshine Coast, Australia is emerging as a potential hub for geospatial intelligence where diverse players in the US$520 billion global industry can collaborate to explore and resolve universal problems using geospatial technology.

The concept for an Australian Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence (GICoE) in the region was introduced at an ideation session of more than 40 sector representatives in late 2023 and is gathering momentum as the opportunities and potential for growth become evident.

Harnessing the potential of geospatial intelligence

Geospatial professionals analyse and interpret information about locations on Earth. Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) contributes significantly to a wide range of industries, using geographic data to understand and address complex challenges and make informed decisions based on spatial information.

Dr Adrian McCallum is the Head of Engineering at the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) where he manages courses in geotechnical engineering and weather and climate. An expert in remote area science and engineering, Dr McCallum says the Sunshine Coast has all the right ingredients to harness the potential of geospatial intelligence.

“The collection, analysis and exploitation of geospatial data is exploding in importance. So much data is available today that can be used for an almost infinite array of purposes. In parallel with the data itself is our evolving capability to utilise artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract maximum value from such data to solve problems and identify opportunities from further data leveraging,” Dr McCallum said.

Sunshine Coast is enabling the future, today

Australia’s Sunshine Coast is a tech-savvy region with a reputation for innovation. The newly developed Maroochydore City Centre was designed to incorporate the latest in data networking technology, including a city-wide deployment of fibre broadband, with Wi-Fi 6 and LoRaWAN wireless network access points and pole infrastructure.

The city centre hosts NEXTDC’s tier one data centre (SC1) providing the perfect hub to connect the Sunshine Coast’s international submarine cable with major networks and digital service providers.

“The establishment of a GICoE on the Sunshine Coast could catalyse the creation of a whole range of data management, analysis and exploitation opportunities, many of which we are probably yet to conceive. With Australia’s newest high-speed internet cable coming ashore here, our ability to transmit/receive, analyse and leverage geospatial data is second to none so establishing an Australian Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence on the Sunshine Coast now makes sense,” Dr McCallum said.

Tech infrastructure the jewel in Sunshine Coast’s crown

Geospatial professional, Mark Billing, whose career in the sector spans more than 30 years, says the city centre’s tech ecosystem is a key driver for GEOINT companies to establish or conduct testing in the region. As Head of Business Expansion for global leader Geospatial Intelligence Pty Ltd, Mr Billing is currently growing the business’s Sunshine Coast operation.

“Spatial tech crosses over a range of capabilities including data analytics, big data, AI and cyber security. There’s already a network of broader surrounding capabilities that exist here on the Sunshine Coast,” Mr Billing said. “We have instances of companies with AI or geospatial capability using data centres in Canberra and London, looking to move here to distribute around the world. They’re lured by the benefits of redundancy and latency and having everything local means better performance. Also, data sovereignty requirements often mean government agencies and private businesses want information kept in the country, especially sensitive data.”

Supportive tech ecosystem

Beyond the world-leading tech infrastructure is an exceptionally supportive local council committed to thinking outside of the box to establish the region as a leading smart city. Council’s support for developing revolutionary tech-led solutions is evidenced by its successful Testing Tech in Paradise program which offers technology developers, providers and manufacturers the opportunity to test and trial new technologies in a real-world environment in the new Maroochydore City Centre.

“It’s a very progressive council and seen as a leading council in terms of smart cities. The testing environment is very important if we are to stand up projects and proofs of concept. There isn’t really any place better to do that sort of thing,” said Mr Billing.

Genesis of a Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence

The well-attended ideation arranged by Sunshine Coast Council and Geospatial Intelligence Pty Ltd late last year spawned interest in creating an Australian Geospatial Centre of Excellence to leverage the Sunshine Coast’s tech infrastructure to attract geospatial projects to the region.

A call for expressions of interest for a GICoE Steering Committee attracted around 40 applications from a broad cross-section of the sector, with the next step a meeting of the newly appointed steering committee which will be initially led by Mr Billing. The committee will establish clear objectives for the centre, aligned with broader goals of advancing geospatial technology, fostering education and driving economic growth.

An invitation to collaborate and showcase capability

“GICoE intends to establish a coalition of capability through the development of a critical mass of regional geospatial expertise,” Mark Billing explains. “We’ll be developing strategies for attracting geospatial projects, showcasing the unique regional competency and capabilities of the centre as well as exploring funding opportunities, partnerships and revenue streams. We are enthusiastic about creating a network of partners who can work together on new projects and invite anyone interested in becoming involved to get in touch.”

GICoE is seeking to collaborate with industry, research organisations and government and would particularly like to hear from professionals in sectors that haven’t been heavily involved to date, including defence (both uniformed and civilian), agricultural and land management, logistics and transport.

UniSC already plays a pivotal role in fostering and translating research within the region, enabling local, national and global impact. The university holds extensive networks across many research areas pertinent to GICoE. It is expected to work with the centre and Sunshine Coast Council to bring stakeholders together, support data collection and analysis and feed the growing sector with emerging GEOINT professionals.

Attracting and developing tech talent

A key role of the GICoE will be to develop a plan to attract and retain talent, leveraging the robust STEM programs in local high schools as well as UniSCs international leadership and research strengths. UniSC offers many undergraduate and postgraduate programs that align with a Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence, including School of Science, Technology and Engineering programs across Science, Engineering, IT and Cybersecurity.

“Talent acquisition and retention is a problem that all industries, particularly tech industries are facing at the moment,” Dr McCallum explains.

“The Centre of Excellence and UniSC would need to provide pathways to opportunities in this area but the opportunities must exist beforehand. Not everyone is familiar with the term Geospatial Intelligence. Demystifying the language and educating our communities on the opportunities is essential if we are to encourage growth in this field; growth to which we can ultimately direct home-grown and locally nurtured pipelines of talent.”

“The nexus of a forward-thinking regional council, advanced, proven industry partners with an agile and growing university on the doorstep of Australia’s newest international fibre optic submarine cable, makes the Sunshine Coast a prime location for an Australian Geospatial Intelligence Centre of Excellence.”

“In an increasingly data-driven world, all geospatially evident industries would benefit from the collection, analysis and leveraging of geo-spatiotemporal data. The Sunshine Coast has the tools, the expertise and the ardour to leverage such capability for the benefit of the region and the nation,” Dr McCallum said.


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