Poland User Forum “Satellites for society: operational uses of satellite-based services by the Polish public administration”


The Eurisy “User Forum Poland” was organised to present the results of the Eurisy survey on the use of satellite-based services within the Polish public administration and to discuss the main challenges still facing public authorities to fully exploit the potential of satellite applications. The over 100 participants, representing public administrations, private companies and other stakeholders, provided feedback on the results of the survey and helped contextualising the 49 replies received by Polish public authorities between March and September 2015.

Opening the conference, Jadwiga Emilewicz (Undersecretary of State at the Polish Minister of Economic Development), and Marek Banaszkiewicz (President of the newly formed Polish Space Agency) underlined the key role of satellites to support fundamental public services, such as transport and rescue services. Ms Emilewicz praised the Eurisy initiative to survey current operational uses of satellite-based services within the Polish public administration and recognised the importance of building a data system as a first step to fully exploit the potential of such services. She also pinpointed that the challenge for the future will be the “operationalisation” of the data available, to make it immediately usable by public managers. Mr Banaszkiewicz also emphasised the role played by the academia to link R&D and societal needs, to raise public awareness on these new developments, and to generate new jobs in high technologies. Johannes Ortner, Vice-President of Eurisy, recalled the lasting presence of Polish institutions among the Eurisy members and recognised Polish endeavours in space policy and developments.

The keynote speeches introduced the basic concepts of the conference. Thibaud Delourme, representing the European Commission, stressed the difference between intermediate users (transforming satellite signals and data into usable applications) and end-users, more concerned by the usability of the applications than by the technologies behind them. To favour the development of increasingly user-friendly services, collaboration between the public and private sectors remains fundamental. Indeed, Ms Otylia Trzaskalska-Stroińska from the Ministry of Economic Development explained that two of Poland’s strategic objectives in the space sector are to increase the competitiveness of national enterprises and to enhance the capabilities of public administrations.

During the “User testimonials” session, the audience was presented with four experiences from Polish regional and national administrations using satellite data and signals routinely. Representatives from the Jastrzębie-Zdrój City Office showed how they are able to monitor soil subsidence caused by mining activities. The Office of the Marshall of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship in Warsaw described their use of satellite data to coordinate ambulances and rescue teams during emergencies. The Maritime Office in Gdynia presented a range of satellite-based services which allow the Office to monitor ships, to intervene on oil spills and to ensure coastal security. Finally, the Central Statistical Office explained how they use satellite data provided by the Institute of Geodesy and Cartography to monitor crop yields on the national territory.

The Eurisy survey showed that demonstration projects can result in services that are used also after the conclusion of the projects. The following session gave examples of such virtuous processes, which were described by the private company SmallGIS and by the Crisis Information Centre at Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The first presented a web-based service to monitor forests, including data from satellite imagery. The second reported on a system relying on satellite data to help coordinating rescue operations during emergencies. These examples, together with the user testimonials previously presented, confirmed the results obtained from the Eurisy survey: public authorities are interested in satellite-based services and actively participate in their development, although technical and economic challenges are still to be faced. The examples were also representative of the main sectors of application of satellite services mentioned by the respondents to the survey, i.e. transport, agriculture, urban planning and risk management.

Finally, the roundtable allowed participants and speakers to discuss challenges and opportunities linked to the use of satellite-based services within the Polish public administration in the coming years. In addition to the previous speakers, the panel included Anna Kacprzyk, from the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, Zbigniew Burdzy, from the Polish Space Agency, and Norbert Hübner, from ESA’s Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Department. During the discussions, Mr Banaszkiewicz confirmed the existence of a growing ecosystem of private companies with an interest in satellite applications in Poland. Ms Kacprzyk specified that most providers of satellite-based services in Poland are SMEs and praised the work of the ESA IAP programme to support such entities. Mr Delourme added that while to develop a competitive upstream space market might take years, developments in the downstream sector are much faster, since small companies can enter the market from an IT, rather than a space perspective. Mr Hübner confirmed that most private companies benefitting from the IAP programme are SMEs. He then identified a number of challenges that public authorities face to use satellite-based services. Among those, he mentioned the need for tailored-made services within the public administration, the disconnection between operational needs and procurement mechanisms, and the absence of specific reference to high-tech services in public tenders.

Conclusions and recommendations

With a population of almost 40 million, a growing average GDP, and raising income and consumption rates, Poland is ready to take up the challenge of becoming a regional reference for higher-technology production. This will imply aligning academic skills with labour market needs and strengthening the managing capacity of public administrations. Within this process, ministries, regions, academia and private companies are showing a growing interest towards space and space-based technologies. The Polish space strategy for the coming years aims at creating a competitive national space supply and value-adding chain and at providing public administrations with better tools to manage public services.

The current process of reorganisation of space governance, with the creation of the Polish Space Agency, will lead to a multiplication of efforts to create a downstream market for satellite-based services and to favour the development and uptake of services which respond to operational needs of the public administration. On their side, public authorities have already seized the potential of satellite-based services, sustained by a growing ecosystem of IT and data analysis private companies, including SMEs.

Indeed, the replies submitted to the Eurisy survey indicate that not only national authorities, but also administrations at the regional level have been consistently using these services, motivated by the will of improving the quality of the services offered by the public while saving resources. Three quarters of respondent public authorities have been using these technologies since at least five years. Satellite-based services are employed in sectors such as transport, environmental monitoring, agriculture and urban planning, which are considered of primary importance for the economic, social and environmental well-being of the country.

In most cases, satellite-based services are used to respond to existing needs, replacing ― fully or partially ― previous systems used to perform similar tasks. The public bodies who took the Eurisy survey mentioned international organisations and private companies as the main entities providing them with satellite-based services, while only 16% of the sample relies on academic and research institutes.

Public authorities report a number of benefits entailed by these services, in particular time savings, the improvement of the services provided to the public and better information for decision-making. Although such benefits are clearly perceived by user public authorities, these remain difficult to quantify. Moreover, and despite the relatively low costs of satellite-based services, public authorities still face economic, material and technical challenges to first adopt these services. Most public administrations also face organisational and technical challenges to use and maintain the services. At the regional level in particular, one third of the surveyed sample reports technical challenges to first adopt and then use satellite-based services.

Based on the information collected through the survey and the feedback provided by public administrations during the User Forum, the organisers propose the following set of recommendations to favour the uptake of satellite-based services within the public sector in Poland: 

In order to develop an efficient downstream market for satellite-based services, the government shall support intermediate users.

  • The great number of national private companies, especially SMEs, who attended the event proved the existence of a favourable ecosystem for the development of satellite-based services in Poland. Moreover, the results of the Eurisy survey showed that Polish public administrations are already collaborating with private companies and international organisations to adopt and use satellite-based services. To support intermediate users, governments and international organisations should keep offering them access to data, funding and expertise. Intermediate users can already profit from satellite-based data made available through national and international portals, and in particular through Copernicus. They can also participate to national and international tenders to get financial and technical support to develop new applications. Indeed, the projects presented at the User Forum showed how such schemes can lead to the development of satellite-based services for which users are willing to pay in the long-term. At the User Forum, intermediate users were invited to apply to the ESA’s Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) Programme, offering support to SMEs to create and validate applications and services based on the integration of space assets with existing assets of the targeted customers and market segments.
  • Private companies, public administrations and the academia should not compete as providers of the same satellite-based services for the public sector. Policy and decision-makers should identify the sectors of national interest for which a number of satellite-based services could be managed entirely by the public sector. Other services, dealing with less sensitive data, should instead be outsourced from private companies. Public procurement tenders for private companies should mention specifically the use of satellite data and signals.

The development of new satellite-based services for the public sector shall take into account current needs, workflows and the organisational structure of public administrations.

  • Service providers should become acquainted with the current organisation, working flows and needs of public administrations, and consider them when adapting or developing satellite-based services for their use.
  • Policy and decision-makers should favour interaction among public administrations and service providers, be them private companies, research institutes or international organisations.
  • Project tenders for the creation of new satellite-based services for public authorities should require competitors to realise an assessment of the operational needs of the public administrations that are supposed to test or purchase the new services developed. These should be adaptable to the existing structure, mechanisms and workflows of the user public administrations.
  • Governments should create mechanisms of interaction between the public and the private sectors to inform private companies of the current and emerging operational needs of public administrations. The organisation of periodical public fora in specific sectors (e.g. agriculture, environmental monitoring, or transport) would allow public administrations to provide feedback on their use of satellite-based services. Private companies could profit from this feedback to understand how existing services could be improved and which new services might be needed by public administrations in the future.

Polish regional authorities are already using satellite-based services operationally. Local authorities seem instead to be less aware of the existence of these services. More efforts are hence needed to stimulate the uptake of satellite-based services by local administrations.

  • National and regional administrators should raise awareness on existing satellite-based services among local public managers. Awareness raising could be organised by regions for the local administrations within their territory. Ministries, in collaboration with the regions, could also target local authorities in different regions, by raising awareness on available satellite-based service in specific sectors.

Public administrations using satellite-based services should foresee a budget for training their staff on the use of these services.

  • Most of the public authorities taking the Eurisy survey overcame their challenges to use satellite-based services through training and only a few among them reported having hired new staff. To favour both the smooth uptake and the enduring use of satellite-based services, public managers should be periodically trained to use the satellite-based services implemented by the institution. Both, when these services are implemented within the regular operations of a public administrations, and when these are adopted within a demonstration project, a specific budget line should be dedicated to training. In public procurement procedures, the provision of periodical training could be considered as a preferential condition to select the contractors.   

To support both the downstream and upstream sectors of the space market, the Polish government could launch a programme that would act as a “middleman” among public authorities, research centres and commercial service providers.

  • The participants to the conference agreed on the need to reinforce links between the private and public sectors to produce satellite-based services that will find a market. As an example, the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre, established in the UK, provides interested companies with tools and datasets to develop and test new services based on satellites. Within such programme, funding and expertise could be made available to consortia including public authorities, private companies and research centres. According to Poland’s economic, social and environmental priorities, sub-programmes could focus on specific sectors of application.

End user public administrations need specific support to become familiar with satellite-based services and to identify the required services and procurers. POLSA, the Ministry of Economic Development and relevant stakeholders could offer punctual advice and technical support to public authorities interested in the uptake or in the development of satellite-based services.

  • The examples showed that satellite-based services are available at relatively small costs. Nevertheless, funding this kind of solutions remains a challenge. Furthermore, public authorities face challenges to translate their needs into technical specifications to write procurement tenders for satellite-based services. To link the public and the private sector, the Ministry of Economic Development, PARP, POLSA and other stakeholders are willing to cooperate to establish mechanisms to support public administrations finding and procuring satellite-based services. An example of such an initiative that was mentioned during the discussions of the User Forum is the Space for Smarter Government programme of the UK Space Agency. The programme aims at leveraging national investments into the space sector by fostering the use of space-based technologies by public administrations.
  • POLSA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Development and other relevant stakeholders (such as PARP) could work towards the establishment of a hub of experts who could support public authorities writing procurement tenders for services based on satellite data on a punctual basis. Sectorial meetings including public administrations, academia and private companies could also be organised to raise awareness on existing satellite-based services, assess specific needs and establish public/private collaborations. Not only would sectorial meetings help identifying public authorities’ specific needs. They could also lead to the development of satellite-based services that can be shared, scaled or adapted throughout the Polish public administration. The implementation of satellite-based services which can be used by different public administrations at different levels would lower the costs related to both the development and maintenance of such services.