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Concept Note: Saudi Arabian National Geospatial Ecosystem (SANGE)
3 August 2023

​Concept Note: Saudi Arabian National Geospatial Ecosystem (SANGE)

Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management Thirteenth session New York, 2–4 August 2023 ​

​​​I. Background 

  1. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched Vision 2030, an ambitious and transformative plan to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and diversify its economy. One of the critical pillars of this Vision is adopting digital and geospatial technologies to create a more sustainable and efficient economy. Saudi Arabia has taken significant strides toward achieving its digital goals. Together with the worldwide leading organization on geospatial standards, the Open Geospatial Consortium, KSA has started to build a new generation of geospatial data exchange environment that goes far beyond the capacities of existing national and international spatial data infrastructures, the Saudi Arabian National Geospatial Ecosystem, SANGE. SANGE is not a spatial data infrastructure anymore. To build an efficient and sustainable digital future, SANGE understands geospatial data in broader contexts, thus the term “ecosystem” instead of infrastructure. Second, SANGE acknowledges that geospatial data does not live in isolation. To exploit its full potential, it is necessary to combine it with data from other sectors, such as social, economic, or governance.
  2. As the national agency, the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information (GEOSA) regulates, develops, supervises, and monitors the Survey and Geospatial Information sector in the Kingdom. This ensures quality, enhances performance, and maintains security in coordination with relevant agencies. It is mandated to contribute to the national developmental and international goals to which the Kingdom is a party by providing authoritative Geospatial information. To improve access to its data, GEOSA has taken significant steps recently. One such initiative was establishing the National Geospatial Centre (NGC), aimed at building Geospatial capacities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The center optimizes, standardizes, and publishes the Kingdom's foundational geospatial data and related services; supports and enhances the use of geospatial data analytics; and helps identify strategic investments to expand these capabilities. To respond to recent socio-economic, digital, and environmental changes, GEOSA is building the Saudi Arabian national geospatial data ecosystem.
  3. SANGE is the Saudi Arabian sustainable, active, and nationally relevant Geospatial Ecosystem that contributes to all activities and applications which require any element of Geospatial knowledge through an interconnected Geospatial ecosystem of people, policies, practices, and​ procedures addressing the needs of the modern world.

II. SANGE Requirements and Baseline

  1. T​o ensure a successful and efficient setup, SANGE builds on a requirements analysis. The resulting elements and actions can be classified as follows. 
    1. ​Policy and Governance Framework: A comprehensive policy and governance framework that outlines the Geospatial Ecosystem's objectives, vision, and guidelines is required and has been developed.
    2. Data Infrastructure and Management: A framework architecture and corresponding implementation of a distributed multi-user data infrastructure will be required. This will include providing and using foundation geodata and developing and maintaining related data and service models.
    3. Data Standards and Interoperability: Defining and promoting national Geospatial data standards and formats to ensure seamless data integration and interoperability across different systems and applications. This involves adopting internationally recognized standards and promoting adherence to these standards within the Geospatial Ecosystem.
    4. Collaboration and Partnerships: GEOSA will advance partnerships with relevant government agencies, private sector organizations, academic institutions, and international Geospatial communities.
    5. Geospatial Technology Infrastructure: GEOSA will invest in the necessary Geospatial technologies, software platforms, and infrastructure to support the Geospatial Ecosystem.
    6. Data Sharing and Open Data Initiatives: GEOSA will promote data sharing and open data initiatives within the Geospatial Ecosystem.
    7. Stakeholder Engagement and Awareness: GEOSA will engage with various stakeholders, including government agencies, private sector entities, NGOs, and the public, to raise awareness about the importance and potential applications of Geospatial information.
    8. Innovation and Research: GEOSA will encourage innovation and research in Geospatial technologies, applications, and solutions. Support research and development projects that explore emerging technologies such as Remote Sensing, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning for Geospatial analysis and foster entrepreneurship in the Geospatial sector.
    9. Continuous Monitoring and Evaluation: GEOSA will implement a system for monitoring and evaluating the performance and effectiveness of the Geospatial Ecosystem. GEOSA will continuously evaluate new technologies and their usability within the ecosystem.
    10. Human Capacities: GEOSA will develop a plan to build national Geospatial data management, processing, and presentation capacity. This includes working closely with the education sector to reach a critical mass of Geospatial data experts quickly. 

II. SANGE Objectives and Characteristics

  1. The goals of SANGE go far beyond the mere exchange of data. The goal is to create a network that provides powerful components, data, and services that directly address real-world problems and future what-if scenarios. At the same time, SANGE will be able to react dynamically to changes in the sense of a system. It is important that parts within SANGE can react flexibly to changing conditions without burdening the overall system. In detail, SANGE will work towards the following objectives:
    1. Create a secure, shared network based on commonly agreed-upon Geospatial principles, policies, and standards.
    2. Connect diverse stakeholders for Geospatial data and solutions partnerships.
    3. Integrate existing datasets within the Saudi Arabian Geospatial network by adopting a shared semantics-based architecture.
    4. Deliver knowledge-oriented analytics and solutions for real-world problems leveraging many Geospatial infrastructures and services.
    5. Provide advanced visualization options to experience the ecosystem’s Geospatial data and associated non-spatial attributes.
    6. Adopt an intelligent automated approach limiting human interventions.
    7. ​Embrace a user-centric approach to deliver personalized Geospatial products and services.
  2. As already mentioned, SANGE takes a systemic approach to this. Though all elements, including technology, actors, policies, or procedures, are deeply interconnected and have a profound impact on each other, they still have sufficient autonomy to dynamically adapt to changing conditions or requirements without burdening the whole system. SANGE will make use of the latest OGC full spectrum interoperability technology as well as artificial intelligence technology to do so. The new OGC technology applies successful methods from software development and IT operations such as continuous deployment, delivery, testing, and integration and maps these to the full ecosystem. Technically, the OGC technology maintains a knowledge graph of related elements so that all affected artifacts within SANGE can be evaluated for necessary modifications based on any changes in the system.
  3. One of the elementary lessons learned from previous SDI implementations is that an SDI must not work past the demands of its participants. On the contrary, a data infrastructure can only be operated successfully if it places practically no additional demands on the participants, i.e., they do not have to provide services in addition to their everyday work. SANGE, therefore, places the user at the centre of development. This user-centric approach continues to have a low barrier to entry for all participants and prioritizes the benefits of SANGE. Centralized knowledge-generation efforts will complement this user-centric approach. This work uses a central perspective on all SANGE data and services, creating a knowledge base beyond bilateral insights that often exist in existing SDIs. It will be supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect patterns and insights.
  4. In addition to the user-centric approach, SANGE will provide orthogonal services, such as cyber security, governance, legal security, and trust-building services. These services will enable a new level of collaboration and competition, as all parties can rely on the offerings technically, content-wise, and legally.
  5. In many ways, SANGE may seem futuristic. Not all details are evident by a long shot, and changes must be incorporated continuously as technology advances. However, through the cooperation between GEOSA and OGC, with its more than 550 member organizations worldwide, it is possible to incorporate the latest findings and solutions into SANGE. 

IV. SANGE High Level Architecture

  1. SANGE's systemic approach is achieved through an architecture based on insights into human knowledge acquisition and communication. Thereby, the elements of the real world are separated from the observations about these objects. A street is thus initially only a connection between two points. Only in a second step, the generic mental model "road" as well as the knowledge about a specific real road are enriched and communicated via the mediation of further observations about this road. The individual elements of our environment are thus defined in a largely value-free way and dynamically connected with observations.
  2. In this process, system-wide, shared principles are clearly separated from best practices and individually expressible solutions. Technically, this leads to a decoupling of five elements. First, system-wide shared (modular) conceptual models that define object identification and object relationships. Second, domain-specific logical models, which represent details about specific objects. Third, implementation profiles of both higher-level models, which (fourth) apply vocabularies of individual user groups. Fifth, physical or transactional models are then used to transfer data.
  3. OGC’s new full-spectrum interoperability concept will further achieve SANGE’s systemic approach. This concept is based on the assumption that one can get from any digital artifact to the following related artifacts without difficulty. SANGE will implement this concept following the linked data technologies. From any data set, service endpoint, or example, it will be possible to retrieve data set definitions, metadata, used sampling protocols, governance and provenance information, applied data model specifics or any other information by following links. In this sense, SANGE works like the World Wide Web, just with more types of relationships. SANGE will allow traversing from data to definitions, rules, specifications, or applications, similarly as the Web allows to jump from one website to another.
  4. The SANGE model is also based on the realization that the Semantic Web, as promised a decade ago, is unlikely ever to become a reality. However, a degree of semantic interoperability is required to create robust systems. SANGE is therefore taking a new approach to data models. Standard data models are powerful to enable data interoperability. However, due to their ambition to comprehensively represent a domain, they tend to be over-specified. On the other hand, they allow too much flexibility in implementation and modelling details to adapt to several use cases‘ needs. The OGC full spectrum interoperability approach intends to overcome the two issues by means of a methodology to define profiles through linked data technologies, operated via a dynamic graph system that implements successful patterns from the software development and IT operations domain: Continuous deployment, testing, integration, and delivery. If, for example, a specification is updated, all implementing units are automatically informed about the change and can be revisited for compliance analysis.
  5. SANGE implements a linked data concept at various levels. This includes the system-wide level described above but is also found on a more fine-granular level. SANGE will define building blocks for critical concepts along space and time. These building blocks result in the implementation of best practices for reoccurring challenges across geospatial domains. These include, for example, the handling of provenance, observations, and other concepts. Building blocks link the actual documentation of the building block to the specification(s), code snippets, data examples, etc., to support developers and system engineers.
  6. In summary, SANGE implements state-of-the-art concepts from the linked data space, semantic interoperability, and knowledge engineering. SANGE establishes patterns for doing things but leaves sufficient leeway for community-specific adaptations without sacrificing high levels of interoperability. 

V. SANGE Implementation Plan

  1. With SANGE, GEOSA has started a multi-year effort. To ensure a fair, vendor-neutral development of the whole ecosystem, GEOSA has partnered with the Open Geospatial Consortium, OGC. The OGC is known worldwide for its open, consensus-driven standards. In addition, the OGC operates a research and development program called Collaborative Solutions and Innovation, COSI. In COSI, OGC researches the next generation of spatial data infrastructures and develops solutions for complex data exchange environments on regional, national, and international levels. COSI develops the foundation layer for enhanced interoperability that cannot be achieved with current technologies and approaches, addresses semantic interoperability challenges, builds frameworks for linked data, and develops policies and guidelines for using standards in the geospatial IT sector.
  2. The first results of this collaboration are already visible in the recently published national geospatial policies and standards document. The multi-year SANGE implementation process foresees in its first phase three significant elements. First, developing a policy and standards report for the operation of SANGE and second, developing the roadmap for implementing SANGE (including the high-level architecture). And third, an implementation guide for foundational data models with corresponding technical artifacts such as schemas, metadata profiles, and feature-type catalogs.
  3. The standards and policies report has been published nationally and has undergone its first iteration of nationwide review. The national foundation themes have been incorporated into an automated transformation pipeline. The pipeline uses a Model Driven Architecture (MDA) approach to create various artifacts from UML models, in particular JSON Schemas, XML Schemas, and other formats that are required to produce the first iteration of essential SANGE components.
  4. Currently in its final stage is developing a metadata solution for geospatial data in Saudi Arabia. The solution builds on the Data Catalogue Vocabulary (DCAT) developed by W3C. The solution implements linked data technologies, as mentioned before.
  5. The next development steps, planned for August/September 2023, are the development of the implementation plan and high-level architecture and the SANGE operational model. 

VI. Proposed SANGE Organization Structure 

  1. As an ecosystem, SANGE requires work in technical, organizational, legal, and several other dimensions. Based on the requirements gathering study, the current National Geospatial Centre (NGC) in GEOSA operates on NSDI principles and needs to be enhanced to suit the future ecosystem approach. The opportunity to enhance the NGC is to look beyond NSDI utilizing the Geospatial Ecosystem approach. The re-structure of NGC is recommended as follows to meet Saudi Arabian National Geospatial Ecosystem (SANGE) objectives.
    1. Geospatial Data Excellence: This department will be responsible for managing and coordinating efforts related to Geospatial data, interoperability, semantics, streaming, processing, ontology management, and linked data management, amongst others.
    2. Geospatial Intelligence: This department will be responsible for Geospatial data analytics, visualization, and automation in the new ecosystem. 
    3. National Geospatial Platform: This department will take care of the components of the National Geospatial Platform, including responsibilities for enterprise architecture, cloud computing, AI/ML, Big Data processing, developing Geospatial solutions, user support, etc. 
    4. Geospatial Governance: This department will manage Geospatial policies, standards, advocacy, and outreach, amongst other functions.
    5. Geospatial Security: This department will take care of Geospatial data security, creating frameworks for data protection.
    6. Monitoring & Compliance: This division will be responsible for compliance, monitoring, and dispute resolution.

VII. Future Directions

  1. ​Having envisaged an outline of the Saudi Arabian National Geospatial Ecosystem (SANGE), the upcoming tasks include further research on building blocks generation and definition, knowledge graph handling, nationwide implementation plans and corresponding outreach activities. 
For further details on SANGE email: a.alghamdi@gasgi.gov.sa​