1990's: Data, Data, Data!

  • This page:A summary of the 1990's decade based on a perspective working in the OS headquarters
  • Status : Completed [sub pages to be added in a future release.]
  • First published: 11 March 2019

os photo missing

Minister Nick Raynsford opens the new Maybush entrance, reception & exhibition area. 1999

Photo credit: OS Press Office

map missing

This article covers the period from 1990 to 1999

It provides an overview of Ordnance Survey during the last decade of the millennium with links to further pages describing map data developments.

Overview of this decade:

State of play:

The commitment to accelerate full digital cover, partly forced by users in the late 1980's, led to greater take up, supported revenue, led to growth in Sales & Marketing staff numbers and created a very big problem. In response to demand and opportunities a variety of new datasets were established [addresses, height data & MORE?]. These were in addition to the existing core topographic mapping products that came to be known as "Land-Line". In addition the small scales maps such as the 1:50,000 map was scanned (ie raster data) and eventually released. The issue with all of this was that we were managing independent data stores and in most cases isolated datasets. This was recognised in an internal strategy document [1995] and a programme created to establish a more holistic longer term solution [1997].

Externally customers were becoming increasingly vocal about OS licensing restrictions and copyright fees [1997]. OS was being pushed towards a full cost recovery model.

An internal market had been established to drive down expenditure [1993] which enjoyed mixed fortunes.

PRISM, a pen based rugged table became operational in the field {~1996] and surveyors now made changes to data on site. The data left their units and went into the datastore and was immediately available for customer supply.

Towards the end of the decade a new Director General [Geoffrey Robinson] undertook a full review of OS activities [1998-99] with the aim of better focusing and positioning the organisation fit for the 21st century. the outocme used the banner of "Joined up Geography" and in response the to new Government's "Joined up Government" and "Modernising Government" initiatives.

OS in stats:

A brief profile of Ordnance Survey during this decade:

Staff Numbers

Year Survey Oprns Map Prodn. Computer Svces Sales & Mktg Other Total staff
1989-90[1] 882 848 108 148 541 2,525
1994-95[2] 802 -- 452 490 331 2,075
1998-99[3] -- -- -- 559 1,305 1864

[1] Other includes 28 in R&D & Mgmnt & Admin 414, [2]
Computer Services includes ~200 Map Production staff [3] Other includes "Operations" ie Survey & Map Production & Repro at 1,079




Outoings vs Income

Year Expenditure Income
1989-90 £66.2M £44.0M
1994-95 £72.3M £58.6M
1998-99 £87.0M £81.0M

The shortfall in income would have been supported by the Parliamentary Vote.

Products ~ Income

There were three primary income streams in 1994-95:

Source Value
Core [Large scales] £46.4M
Small Scales & Special products £7.1M
Repayments £4.8M

Copyright included under each head as appropriate



Source: OS Annual Reports for years 1989-90, 1994-95 & 1998-99

Review of the decade OSGB:

Summary: Challenges in this decade came thick and fast. The transition over the 10 years was remarkable and many lessons learned. A lot of energy went into tightening up on internal costs but conflicting ambitions in the middle of the decade eventually led to several challenges. The "New OS for the Millennium" initiative was a significant step in the right direction in clarifying the role of OS.

Personal profile for 1990's:

I was fortunate enough to manage the introduction of stereo superimpostion (viewing digital maps in 3D over aerial photographs) in Photogrammetry [1992] and then the PIES Concept Study R&D [1993] which moved the portable edit station out of research and into production (renamed PRISM). As a senior manager in Tech Systems I had the job of implementing PRISM [1994]. After a spell as the Research Manager [1996] I was given the job of establishing the Geospatial Data Programme - taking forward the new corporate data strategy [1997]. Finally in support of the new DG's positioning review I led the data strategy component (aka the N's Project leading to the Digital National Framework and OS MasterMap).

Summary: As can be seen from the above summary - this decade was an exciting time in OS for anyone interested interested in digital mapping. The time was not without difficulties of course. The year working with Geoffrey Robinson was probably the most rewarding of my whole time at OS because I learned so much from the process and it helped contribute to much greater clarity for the organisation going into 2000 ie a clearer set of achievable core objectives.

Related material:

The articles below offer additional material related to this decade:



  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1989-90 | Published: 1990
  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1994-95 | Published: 1995
  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1998-99 | Published: 1999
  • "New OS for the Millennium" - Press Release | Published: 1999

Last Updated: 20 April 2019
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