I am grateful for the invitation to attend the Committee of Public Accounts to discuss Ordnance Survey Ireland, OSi. OSi has been the national mapping agency for Ireland since 1824. We operate under the Ordnance Survey Act 2001 and we have a dual remit covering both public service obligations and commercial activities.
OSi operates and is funded differently to other public sector bodies. As part of our remit is commercial, we must design and sell products that can compete in a cutting edge marketplace. We have been successful in carving out a significant commercial market for OSi products and services, despite the impact of the recession. Like many organisations in the private and public sectors, large portions of OSi’s revenue, particularly in the construction sector, were wiped out by the recession. However, through proactive development of new products and markets, extensive change management and judicious cost cutting, a substantial percentage of lost revenue was restored over time.
Public bodies, both national and local, and public utilities are the primary users of high quality spatial data sets and high resolution mapping. OSi’s total revenue is €23 million, of which almost €10 million is derived from a variety of public service customers, including Departments, State agencies and local authorities. A further €8 million comes from private and commercial sector customers.
Today we are an organisation of 240 people with a focus on supporting the public service by providing it with the authoritative spatial data needed to support planning, conveyancing, construction and effective management of State assets and key national programmes. When OSi was set up as an independent entity under the 2001 Act, we continued to operate as an aligned public service organisation. As the national mapping agency we adhered to the Act by putting in place commercial strategies to enable the generation of revenues from the public and private sectors. The benefit of this was two-fold, in that it provided commercial income to allow us to further invest in surveying infrastructure, technology and product development while at the same time impOSing a commercial culture in terms of how we evaluate and deliver services.
As the committee is aware an issue has been identified relating to the need to build our commercial marketing ability in the context of the recession and the loss of revenue in specific market segments. Prior to the moratorium, therefore, we recruited on a fixed-term contract a marketing expert to assist us in addressing this need.
In the development of the digital economy, OSi has been an early mover in ensuring that the database infrastructure is in place to support related EU directives such as INSPIRE, and developed and maintains, geoportal.ie, the national environmental data portal, as a shared service on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. We have also been intensely focused on future-proofing the management of spatial data by investing in a national spatial data infrastructure which will enable consistent and accurate referencing and management of location information. Further developments in the use of this database will support e-Government and the wider public sector reform agenda and public service planning.
The committee will be aware that the Government has decided to proceed with the merger of Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Property Registration Authority and the Valuation Office. A project board comprising senior officials from the three parent Departments and the chief executive officers of the three organisations has been established recently to oversee the process. As an outcome of this measure we will be positioned to enhance public service reform and planning for the future by being more closely aligned with our public service clients and Civil Service colleagues to drive efficiency, value for money initiatives and transformation through the effective use of our spatial data.