Mapping out a career in geospatial analysis

It has become increasingly routine to use a mobile app to order food, hail a ride or look for directions.

Just as how location-based information and services is being made more widely available and accessible to consumers through mobile apps, Mr Eric Koh’s role at the GeoSpatial & Data Division at Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is key in helping public agencies make sense of location-based information. Location-based information, or Geospatial information, refers to data that describes the characteristics of a place.

Mr Koh leads a team that provides geospatial advisory, services and training to support public agencies’ use of geospatial information for better planning and service delivery. To give an illustration of what he does at work, it can involve analysing the demographic profile of residents with existing locations of amenities and density of transport infrastructure such as bus stops and MRT stations to nail down potential sites suitable for setting up new amenities in the neighborhood.

Linking the environment with society

Growing up, Mr Koh particularly enjoyed learning about geography. “I was intrigued by how our physical environment and society are intrinsically linked,” he recalls.

This fascination led him to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Geography at the National University of Singapore. He signed up for the SLA’s Local (Mid-Term) Undergraduate Scholarship after hearing about it from his professor.

It was while studying for his degree that he discovered the branch of geospatial information science and technology. He found it interesting that the subject enabled him to understand how theoretical concepts in geography can be applied to everyday lives.

He explains: “I was introduced to techniques on how to collect and analyse data pertaining to facilities and amenities such as urban buildings, vegetation and drainage networks.”

The modules in geospatial information and technology enabled him to pick up data science and data analytical skills, as well as learn how to use artificial intelligence and natural language processing algorithms to identify thematic clusters in geo-referenced social media content. Natural language processing refers to technology used to aid computers to understand human speech.

Since joining SLA in 2011, Mr Koh has been rotated to three departments in SLA and seconded to the Smart Nation Programme Office for exposure. He has also collaborated with other public agencies on various geospatial analytic projects, and maintained whole-of-government geoportals: OneMap and Geospace.

After spending four years at SLA, he was awarded the Singapore GeoSpatial Postgraduate Scholarship to complete a Masters in Geospatial Analysis at the University College London in the United Kingdom. The postgraduate studies enabled him to take a deep dive into data science and learn how machine learning and artificial intelligence can be used for geospatial purposes.

He says: “I believe that understanding these will help me in both the provision of geospatial advisory services and training, and also in identifying technical competencies to support geospatial manpower strategies.”