Oct 23, 2014

Copernicus: Public and Private working together

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Recently, we published an EARSC position paper looking at the industry prospects to participate in the supply of the Copernicus services. Overall, Copernicus presents a unique opportunity for the European industry to develop its business by leveraging the public investment in the programme hence creating jobs and economic growth but a number of concerns on the procurement process have been expressed by the industry which we have captured in our paper.

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Copernicus: Public and Private working together

In our paper we promote “A new public-private partnership; working together” since we consider that the strengths of both private sector and public bodies can be harnessed to deliver for Europe. By “deliver” we mean two things; firstly, to ensure that the European policy makers get the best information possible and secondly, to ensure that the programme can deliver economic growth through the downstream sector.

To achieve this will require a political recognition that industry should be engaged wherever possible and an open approach where industry views are listened to! We recognise that compared to the US this is not always easy in a Europe of 30 states (EU 28 plus 2 ESA) but we shall need to find ways to exploit this diversity as a strength and not cede to it as a weakness.

We consider that the key to success is an appropriate participation of industry in the supply of the services and to maintain a strong competitive environment. But, for this to happen, a number of conditions will need to be met which are discussed in our paper. Both of these objectives unfortunately seem to be at risk with the current approach.

One concern is that the competition will become distorted through over-participation of public bodies in the supply of services. We see two different situations. Firstly, where Member States have designated agencies for certain tasks eg environment or civil protection, and which are expected to be the channel for generating/delivering national services. Secondly, where a PSB through their public task, has developed the technical skills and competences which they wish to offer in the supply of Copernicus services. In both cases, the national body will distort the competition unless they are open to work with any potential industrial bidder.

A second concern is that through the participation in a service supply, new products and services are developed which duplicate similar ones already available commercially. I already hear of a case where a company has been told that they should supply a service until it becomes available for free through the Copernicus services. Similarly, there are instances where companies have invested in developing a new product only to see it being offered to Copernicus by a public body.

Both concerns discourage industry from investing in either R&D or commercialisation. Indeed, the latter may not be possible if public bodies make products available free of charge. But to be clear, this does not mean that the free and open policy is wrong – quite the contrary, we consider that it is fundamentally sound – but that the boundary of what industry can do relative to the public body is neither clear nor frozen. This is the issue which we now face where there is a strong possibility that investments being made by Europe in the Copernicus Services will not deliver the expected growth in jobs in the downstream sector.

To overcome this risk, some of the specific measures which we feel must be taken are:

  • Harmonised procurement approaches, rules and conditions across all the services including especially a dedicated emphasis on service quality rather than on pure cost.
  • Transparency between the stakeholders and in particular scope for discussion and negotiation of the service provision for an efficient and effective supply.
  • Consideration of the commercial situation in determining the portfolio of products within any particular Copernicus service.
  • Steps to ensure that the possibility for competitive procurement is maintained and to avoid that de-facto monopoly supply chains become established. This requires an open bidding process especially in the participation of public sector bodies.
  • A good understanding of “who does what” between the industry and the public sector bodies. To understand the boundary is extremely important to enable industry to invest in the provision of new services.

One measure which could help in this last point is to develop a Research Roadmap for EO services.

Last week I participated in a workshop which looked at how to stimulate the user uptake of Copernicus services. Overwhelmingly, the message coming from geo-spatial companies and users was “What can we do with the data? Where can we get hold of it? And who can we talk to about it?” An awareness campaign is clearly necessary and it might be considered that the EO companies which can benefit from the free Sentinel data would be out there selling it. That they are clearly not – or we would not have heard this very strong message – in my view is down to this uncertainty. If having promoted a product they are told, yes but we expect to get this free from Copernicus, they will not be active. For the future success of the programme, it is vital that we clarify the boundary between what public bodies will do and where industry can anticipate doing business.

By Geoff Sawyer,
EARSC Secretary General
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