Technology

IGN: Sébastien Soriano at the helm to build a counter-model at GAFAM

To stand up to GAFAM in the field of geographic data and new technologies, IGN is committed to an open data policy and to the realization of projects born from the collective. Sébastien Soriano, the former boss of Arcep who moved to geodata and maps, has been leading the ship with pragmatism and curiosity for six months.

This shift towards open data, anticipated by the National Institute of Geographic and Forest Information for some time now, took a serious boost at the start of the year. The public availability of data generates a new way of thinking about cards, and is accompanied by an effort to encourage uses and encourage people to work together.

With his new responsibilities, the director of IGN is fully operational after six years at the head of the telecoms gendarme. “The Arcep authority produced decisions, whereas IGN produces databases, paper and digital maps and provides a whole host of services, services to local communities, within the framework of the so-called support policy for public authorities that we are in the process of putting in place, ”Sébastien Soriano told .

The former director of Arcep is also well placed to bear witness to the digital breakthrough in IGN’s research and innovation fields. “This is the great revolution that has been going through cartography for the past fifteen years, with the democratization of a certain number of tools, the emergence of large companies, the place of local authorities and contributory communities, such as Open Street Map, which redraws the landscape of cartography, ”observes Sébastien Soriano. IGN teams are keen to experiment with new production techniques to improve precision and automate or pool data production, for example through its Lidar HD project, or by using deep learning and artificial intelligence.

“Bridging the gap between data and its use”

The historical model of paper maps and paid digital databases is outdated. Sébastien Soriano compares open data to a “Copernican revolution” of which the IGN must take the measure. This policy of openness entails a change of paradigm, which is already materializing by a shift in the economic model. Subsidies for public service charges represent roughly 50% of IGN’s activity, which must now compensate for the missing 40% by deploying a support model for public policies. “We are a factor in the pooling of increasingly numerous public needs, which are emerging in geographic information. We bring together people who have similar needs, who depend on a common investment, and we make this investment for the community of public actors. This is typically what we do through this Lidar project, which is an exceptional acquisition program. We are going to fly all over France for five years, to make an extremely precise 3D model of the whole territory! “Enthuses Sébastien Soriano.

But “what remains to be done”, he indicates, is “to bridge the gap between the data and its use”. Sébastien Soriano notes that “IGN data is too alone” and “not used enough”, despite “immense potential”. He is of the opinion that IGN’s open data “brings exceptional capacities, if only for a city to be able to decide on its urban development from the data that can be provided on buildings, on the road, etc. », He specifies. Likewise, “there can be fantastic businesses that can be set up to exploit this data,” he adds.

How then concretely to bridge this gap? For the head of the IGN, this amounts to building interfaces, APIs and services which are of “good quality”, and which “comply with a certain number of standards used by people likely to obtain this data. “. Which is not currently the case, confesses Sébastien Soriano. IGN, which has been facing infrastructure problems on the Oshimae cloud for nearly two years, is working on modernizing its systems.

Geo-commons, a project at the consultation stage

By initiating its modernization, IGN also hopes to “challenge its development methods in order to integrate by design in large communities ”, where its tools will be based more on“ building blocks of common interest between different actors ”.

Going hand in hand with this digital transformation, IGN is investing in its titanic “geo-commons” project. This open system “allows people interested in geography tools to work together, to pool efforts to crack a certain number of problems together”, explains Sébastien Soriano. Support that the director considers necessary, in short, to give the open data policy “all its fullness”.

As part of the geo-commons, the IGN closed on June 5 a public online consultation, which had received at the end of May, at the time of this interview, a little more than a hundred contributions. These first steps are rather promising for Sébastien Soriano. “In the idea of ​​public consultation, there is the idea of ​​a new beginning. It is somewhere to reconnect with a form of purity of public services, ”he believes.

Among the exploratory fields that interest geo-commons, AI will be an important element, specifies Claude Penicand, deputy director of programs, delegate for strategy of IGN, at . On the methodology side, Sébastien Soriano underlines that the work undertaken adopts a “bazaar” logic, the idea being to “see what can work”. The objective, underlines the director, is to “seek winnable victories” compared to the large companies of the tech which have an enormous capacity of industrialization, like a Google Maps which is displayed on almost all smartphones.

Open Street Map inspiration

In its development, the IGN relies on collaborative models that have proven their worth, such as Open Street Map. “What should be remembered is the extraordinary dynamic that this movement has created around the sharing of data. It is for me a strong source of inspiration, and it is clear that the fact of highlighting the commons through the geo-commons largely finds its source of inspiration in the success of Open Street Map ”, assures Sébastien Soriano. It does not exclude that potential alliances could emerge.

The institute relies more broadly on communities of contributors to enrich its databases. This is referred to as “community sourcing”, as illustrated by the collaborative Aléa reporting tool, which enables property markers to be identified, and which mobilizes the community of expert surveyors and that of owners.

On the side of public administrations, multiple projects are emerging in parallel. Sébastien Soriano observes a rise in “the use of cartographic representation as mediation for public authorities”. The geo-platform project led by IGN takes on its full meaning here. This future public space for geographic information aims to optimize the production and dissemination of geo-data in the service of public decision-making, we can read on the presentation page of the project. “We are currently in the phase of choosing our host,” says Sébastien Soriano. Development is expected to start “from the end of this year” and then gradually take place in 2022.

So many great ambitions to offer a counter-model to GAFAM, which are still at the project stage. Asked about the European regulatory project ex-ante structuring platforms, unveiled by the European Commission last December, Sébastien Soriano provides an unequivocal answer: “it is clear that the DMA [Digital Markets Act, NDLR] is an important part of reopening the market. However, I do not want to build the IGN’s strategy to win back on the basis of regulatory or litigation opportunities. I first want to convince with my products ”.

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