Q&A with spatial specialist, Inga Playle

By on 27 September, 2021

“I have a soft spot for any environmental, sustainability or safety-related projects,” says Inga Playle.

Making a positive contribution to society and the environment is what drives Inga Playle’s work philosophy.

Hydro Tasmania is the nation’s leading renewable energy generator, in charge of numerous critical assets that span the entire state, covering land and water. For such an operation, knowing where everything is and how it is performing is crucial. Which is why the company’s Inga Playle, a spatial specialist, so enjoys the contributions she is able to make.

In this interview, Playle describes her background, education and employment, and the philosophy that has informed her career.

POSITION: Please tell us about Hydro Tasmania and your role there.

Inga Playle: We have a large portfolio of assets, manage approximately 2% of Tasmania’s land and we are also Australia’s largest water manager. So you can imagine that we have a significant geographic footprint across the state.

My job as Spatial Information Specialist is to identify and champion ways in which we can use spatial across our business. This helps us to make better decisions, enables our teams to collaborate and get their work done faster and smarter. We have more than 600 spatial data users in the organisation and we also use spatial to deliver information to our community, customers and stakeholders.

It is great to be able to help people and to know that we are really making a positive contribution to Australia’s clean energy future.

Outside of my paid employment, I am a Non-Executive Director of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) and Chair of the Tasmanian Regional Committee. I’m also a mum to my two beautiful kids and a volunteer on the school soccer committee. It is a juggle, but I get a lot of value out of each of these different roles.

POSITION: How did you get into this line of work?

IP: I completed a Bachelor of Geomatics with First Class Honours at the University of Tasmania. I chose this degree as it combined my favourite subjects at school: geography, maths and IT. The prospect of working out in the field or in the office, or in any country around the world appealed to me. I also love that I get to use a bit of creativity as well as technical skills.

It has been a steady progression to get to where I am now, and I would say volunteering with the SSSI has opened a set of new career opportunities. I recently won a Women in Leadership Scholarship (an initiative of the Tasmanian Government) which allowed me to enrol in the Australian Institute of Company Director’s Foundations of Directorship course, with full fees covered. I look forward to developing my corporate governance skills through both this and my participation on the SSSI board.

POSITION: Have you worked outside of Tasmania?

IP: Straight out of Uni I wanted to travel, so I went to North America and got a field job validating the roads of western Canada for a company that provided data to navigation systems. I was based in Vancouver and got to drive a large portion of the roads in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

One of reasons I chose to study geomatics at Uni was that it would provide different opportunities and I have certainly had that in my career. I have enjoyed working for different types of organisations and in different teams. I love a challenge and early on in my career I moved through a few different positions to get new challenges. Now I am very lucky to be constantly challenged within my organisation. We are always looking to improve the way we work and think about how we can use spatial better.

The Gordon River Dam is the tallest in Tasmania. Image courtesy Hydro Tasmania.

POSITION: Have you been involved in any particularly fulfilling projects?

IP: I have a soft spot for any environmental, sustainability or safety-related projects. Often the most fulfilling ones are the simplest. For example, saving someone a lot of time by simply enabling them to use maps and spatial apps, instead of juggling spreadsheets and databases.

The Battery of the Nation project at Hydro Tasmania is a key user of spatial data within our organisation and a very exciting project to be involved with. Tasmania has significant potential in the future development of wind and hydropower, coupled with more transmission and interconnection. Through this project, we have the potential to generate even more green power and help Australia to transition towards a clean energy future.

POSITION: Is there a lot of variety in your work?

IP: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the many reasons I love my job. I work on lots of different areas, such as our spatial strategy and project management, spatial systems administration and design, web maps and apps, and of course data management and governance. I also work with many different groups of customers within our business.

POSITION: What sort of technological changes have you seen?

IP: Technology may change, but I think core spatial foundations and principles stay the same. I don’t think technology makes the job easier, but it does enable us to achieve more and be more efficient. I’m really excited for the next few years as technology is changing rapidly, but some skillsets will remain vital. For example, foundation data principles such as governance, standards, accuracy and documentation are always key and I don’t see that changing.

POSITION: What’s coming next in geospatial that you can’t wait to see?

IP: Geospatial is only getting bigger. I think we are on the verge of another disruptive phase where consumer-grade positioning gets more accurate, and spatial apps and maps become more immersive, realistic, integrated and user-friendly as the gaming and spatial industries collide.

Penstocks aim downhill at the Tarraleah Power Station, which has been in operation since the 1930s. Image courtesy Hydro Tasmania.

POSITION: You recently took part in a SSSI Women in Surveying webinar. What important points came out of it?

IP: Having diversity and inclusion (D&I) on the agenda is important. It has been shown in recent research that diverse perspectives and thought patterns lead to more innovation and creative solutions. Valuing D&I means that people in under-represented groups feel welcome and valued, instead of feeling like they are the odd one out, or that they must bring a different version of themselves to fit in.

We have come a long way in the past 50 years. For example. We’ve gone from women having to resign once they married, to now having their superannuation paid while on parental leave (at my organisation anyway). This is great progress, but there is still work to do.

I believe gender equity starts at home. Workplaces need to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to work flexibly. All parents need to be able to share parental leave and work flexibly without feeling this will somehow damage their career. This will enable everyone to share the load of caring for children, elderly parents and other family members who need it.

A friend from another company who became a new dad once told me that taking his parental leave entitlement would be “career suicide,” which is sad to hear. We need to work to change these perceptions. I am proud of the way SSSI and Hydro Tasmania value D&I. We have a lot of people working flexibly for different reasons, which is fantastic.

And COVID-19 has taught us how to use technology to collaborate more effectively when we can’t all be in the same physical location, which is one good outcome from the pandemic.

POSITION: Finally, are there any other points or observations you’d like to make?

IP: One thing I get a lot of value from is championing for and helping others get recognised for the work they do. This could be through nominating peers for awards, participating in mentoring programs, championing for early career talent and acknowledging great work when you see it.

I also love learning. I think we all need to be constantly learning or we will get left behind in our careers. We need to be curious, have open minds and continually challenge the status quo, so we can improve and innovate. We are lucky to be part of such an exciting industry and I am very excited as to where the next five years will take us.

This article was first published in Issue 114 (Aug/Sep 2021) of Position magazine.

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