“Smart Nation is not just the work of the government,” said Tan Boon Khai, Chief Executive of Singapore Land Authority. This may come as a surprise, as this is the Prime Minister’s flagship programme to renew Singapore, and has a dedicated unit in the heart of the PM’s Office.

“It is the work of each and every one of you,” Tan stressed when speaking to an audience in Singapore last week. Citizens, businesses and government should come up with new ideas together. And the special ingredient is geography, he thinks: “Geospatial is the common language that all of us understand”.

Of course, he was speaking to the home crowd. The Esri user conference brought hackers, officials, academics and citizens together to hear about the software company’s mapping tools. “Esri has been at the forefront of trying to proliferate geospatial for many years”, Tan agreed.

So how can geospatial be the secret ingredient for Smart Nation? Tan set out three ways that Singapore is using geographic data to build better services.

1. Using data in unexpected ways

Singapore Government has used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to make life simpler for Singaporeans in sometimes unexpected ways.

Take the trees. Singapore is known as a garden city, but that greenery needs continued pruning, maintenance, and attention. The National Parks Board has created a system to map every single tree in the nation and track their condition.

“It is impossible to go around Singapore counting every single tree. But with a geospatial platform you’ll immediately know how many trees are under maintenance, what is the maintenance frequency, and more importantly, what is the greenery structure around Singapore’s island,” Tan said.

Citizens can also track this system, and provide feedback on their favourites – that old cherry tree by the main road, or the ficus at the railway terminus. “It’s about getting the community involved in building a greener Singapore,” Tan said.

2. Increasing Singapore’s safety

The nation famously build an app that let first aiders see nearby cardiac arrests, rushing to the scene before the ambulance arrived to provide vital life-saving support.

That has now had a further upgrade. “It has now morphed into a larger role where you can help extinguish small fires in neighbourhoods,” Tan said. GIS is saving lives, bringing in the community to participate alongside government.

3. Making everyday decisions

Geospatial can help people with “everyday decisions,” Tan said. For example, government has used it to track all feedback given across government so that it can allocate resources more effectively. SG Enable, meanwhiles, use mapping information when planning their services for disabled people across the island.

This is all underpinned by the Singapore Land Authority’s ‘One Map’ system, which is a single record of all geographical datasets in Singapore. This system is getting an upgrade, he announced, being moved into 3D. This will help create new augmented reality and virtual reality datasets as well.

OneMap is available for everyone to use: government, citizens and businesses. “It is not something that we do because there is a lot of money to be made,” he said: “it is because it will help build a better world and people live better lives”.

Tan believes that we are “at the cusp of the next revolution” in tech, brought about by these datasets. “Costs are coming down, many of us have geospatial within our hands” he said. “We need to bring together the masses and harness each and everyone to use the power of geospatial”.