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Cartography invades the Internet

Franck Ghitalla, senior lecturer at UTC and member of its Costech Laboratory is a pioneer in web cartography. Like the cartographers of terrae incognitae, he analyses the field before proposing a synthesis comprising more or less extended 2D disks, joined by lines the thickness of which define a function of chosen parameters.

Cartography invades the Internet

What topic, we may surmise, is on Franck Ghitalla's mind at the moment? The answer is to map innovation or as he says "My aim is to develop indicators that reflect on the vitality of innovation in the field". Patent claim registration, publication of articles in scientific reviews, creation of corporate structures, projects recognised in the competitivity clusters, etc.: the range and variety of information needed is vast and must be made intelligible. We have reached a point where the regular repetition of the term 'innovation' does not always correspond to a correct denomination; the proposed cartographic work will allow research workers to follow and assess public policies in this field. "What is the return on investment (ROI) for the subsidies provided by the regional authorities? We do not have the tools or methods yet to calculate the ROI", explains our research scientist who joined UTC in 1998. "We must also define the relevant ingredients to attain the level of an efficient public policy. Our first results show that the most resilient and most efficient regions favour the thematic diversity of innovative domains". This is a clear suggestion that it is wise not to place all one's eggs in the same basket, but not to the point of forgetting a concentrated thrust dictated by a strategic vision.

Detecting citizen innovation

This cartographic project is co-financed by the Region, the country and the EU, and must answer with two questions: 1° who else is working in the field? ; 2° with whom are they collaborating? We must therefore identify the networks between the actors, whatever their nature or their size. "The cartography proposes a larger, more complete vision of innovation than is usually the case, taking the logic to integration, if relevant, of the 'civvies' street' actors or associations. Innovation is not an area restricted for industrialists and scientists but is open also to citizens. This is indeed the case of innovations related to issues of sustainable development, many of which follow a bottom-up logic, staring at the citizens' level before the entrepreneurial world or the politicians form a relay", adds Franck Ghitalla. The vision of innovation, which may arise from local interactions and not only a top-down incentive from the top of the pyramid. It is in a position to offer a far more extensive cartographic dossier and a more fine-tuned understanding of the underlying processes.

Accounting for ecosystems and their interactions

The sources available to effectively carry out such a work load are numerous. "We are using literature supporting projects proposed by the universities, by competitivity clusters, technology intensive research establishments, chambers of commerce and industry, start-up nurseries, etc. The Internet also provides as vast source of information, which then demands an enormous amount of work to sift through and concentrate the data which will be of use to us", adds Franck Ghitalla. So, what will be the contribution of the cartography proposed here? That of overviewing a given complete eco-system, to the point that we are able to synthesise its characteristics and organise them. "Maps represent extraordinarily powerful tools to analyse interactions among the actors of a given eco-system, and this makes them very interesting when it comes to deciphering natural, biological eco-systems. If the data we are compiling are not resituated in a map form, the understanding of innovation will not go beyond some figures and trends. A territorial identity is therefore essential and the scale of our Regions in France seems quite appropriate", concludes Franck Ghitalla who - if we consider his explanations and objectives - could very well be in a front-line position in his own cartographic work!

Cartography creates business concerns round UTC

Franck Ghitalla attaches special importance to transmitting his passion for and his knowledge of the Internet to his students, some of whom created business concerns in his faculty office. He was already fascinated by the Internet worlds at the end of the 1990s, and he has always been convinced that a better understanding of web evolution would open up incredible new pathways to innovation. Two cases in point are Linkfluence and Gephi. The former company was launched in 2006 by 4 UTC graduates who developed solutions to listen in and analyse the social networks; they have now become a software editor. The company has raised 5.5 Meuros and is rapidly becoming an international actor. Gephi is an open source Internet cartographic company. Their success was phenomenal with a rapid 200 000 downloads It was bought out by LinkedIn and its inventor now works there. "I have other projects underway with my students, including mapping the scientific knowledge produced by UTC over its first 40 years, with its 5 600 papers published in highly reputed reviews", says the research scientist Ghitalla. "What I really would like to do is to invent and propose some new tools enabling the institution to explore its heritage".

Serving the cause of access to health care

Cartography can be applied to many different domains. The health sector is one that interested Franck, one of whose projects could fit in with the aims of the Health&Care Technology cluster under the responsibility of IYTC's BMBI and Costech laboratories (cf. Dossier pp.5-12). "A half-dozen strong group of UTC's students, in collaboration with the teaching hospital in Amiens (CHU) are carrying out a cartographic exercise of the health care system in the Picardie Region. This tool will allow the institutions to discover the bottlenecks and hurdles to attaining a good care offer for the patients, in order to optimise the regional offer in health care acts and services", explains Franck Ghitalla. To carry out the cartographic work and define typical care protocols, as a function of the various pathologies present, or the patients' age, etc., we must now compile the data covering the health care establishments and the anonymous data of the patients themselves. Final objective: to define the locations for future "smart hospitals" which is a project defended by François Langevin (lecturer research scientist at UTC-EHESP, cf. p.7). Franck Ghitalla also foresees possibilities for applications of cartographic techniques and skills to personalised health care and to the field of gerontechnology.

Breaking down barriers between worlds

If we consider the diversity and possible value-adding features of the applications, cartography based on digital data should grow in scale and scope. "Today we have access to tools that can handle big data, including cartographic procedures. What is missing is a culture of design that allow us to develop interfaces that are more oriented to the needs of the end user. This evolution will surely transit via interface designs for smartphones and pad computer devices. I am very interested in combining the skills and knowledge of designers and those of computer scientists" says Franck Ghitalla, who, consequently, works with Charles Lenay and Anne Guénand, with the UTC's TSH Laboratory (technology and social sciences) in the framework of a joint programme 'UX Design'. "This is a master's level course that breaks down barriers. UTC supports this kind of initiative, which brings a real added value to UTC and offers an extraordinary degree of freedom to the lecturers-research scientists. I do not think I would have had the opportunity to teach this way anywhere else".