by Matthew Zenus

How geospatial analytics can give your business a competitive edge

Mar 02, 2017
AnalyticsBig Data

What happens when you combine geographic information system (GIS) and internet of things/sensor data with data from operations, customers, finance and marketing? You get an unbeatable competitive edge for business.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Remember life before GPS? Having to purchase a paper map and pore over it to figure out how to get from A to B? Not being able to instantly see nearby service stations and coffee shops? It’s hard to imagine how we ever managed to find our way around.

A few years from now, businesses will be asking, “Remember business before geospatial analytics? When we had to pore over Excel charts without real-time location data, and try and glean insight from numbers on a sheet?’’

Because when you add location information to business information, you get an unbeatable competitive edge.

First, let’s take a step back and define terms. Geospatial analysis involves gathering, displaying, and manipulating geographic information system (GIS) data such as imagery, GPS, satellite photographs, historical info, and so on. It uses geographic coordinates (latitudes and longitudes), and also street addresses, postal codes, and other identifiers, to create geographical models.

These models can include maps, graphs, statistics, and cartograms – data visualizations that help making complex relationships more understandable. They can reveal historical changes, and shifts that are currently underway. They can even predict what’s about to happen.

The key is that geospatial analysis adds much more context with the addition of timing and location information. According to Deloitte, “Today, it is possible for organizations to add the context of timing and location to traditional data, creating maps that show changes over time and exactly where those changes are taking place. Maps make it easier for the eye to recognize patterns that were previously buried in spreadsheets, such as distance, proximity, contiguity, and affiliation.”

Bring today’s newest technologies into the mix – the internet of things (IoT), location sensors, mobile devices, and social media – and organizations are now able to collect time and place, or “geo-referenced,” data about almost any event or thing.

What can companies do with all this information?

So why does this matter? The key is that geospatial analysis brings GIS, the system of record for maps, and ERP, the system of record for business data, closer together. In other words, geospatial analysis can combine GIS data from imagery, GPS, satellite photographs, historical info, with data fromsensors, assets, and the Internet of Things with business data from operations, customers, finance, and marketing.

It’s a powerful combination that can uncover insights and opportunities simply not visible before. Imagine opening up a treasure map for your business that shows you where new business opportunities, cost savings, and partnerships are or could be. In business terminology, this treasure map is the “geo-enablement” of the digital enterprise.

Business applications can be enriched with geographic data from GIS, such as Esri ArcGIS. Business users can overlay business data on maps with detailed geographic information, like topography and satellite imagery. These maps can have multiple layers of different types of data, enabling business users to visualize information in various ways, such as a heat map layer to visualize data density and a map layer to highlight statistically significant geographic areas using shades or patterns.

Geospatial data takes digital businesses to new heights

Why is geo-enablement of such high interest to customers right now? It’s because the use cases are so compelling.

In many asset-intensive industries – such as energy, transportation, and the public sector – the ability to visualize business objects on maps is critical to improving efficiency and decision making. It can help organizations streamline the processing of both enterprise and spatial data for greater location awareness across business processes. Companies can track when devices enter, leave, or stay in defined regions.

Businesses can see what’s going on around the world and pinpoint location-based events – like extreme weather or political situations – enabling them to take decisive action. Being able to match the path of a hurricane to your company’s warehouse locations and trucking routes could save lives, as well as reduce costs.

Organizations can quickly resolve issues involving geographic boundaries, so they can instantly query, “Where should we dig?” or “Where are the county and district lines?” or “Where are the power poles, power lines, and underground pipes, and how close are they to buildings and people?”

They can instantly visualize routing scenarios, to see the best paths to get from A to B – information that’s critical for logistics and supply chain management in both the transportation and manufacturing sectors.

Roughly 80 percent of enterprises have some type of location data, even if it’s addresses or zip codes and addresses. With geospatial analysis, they can locate their customers on a map, see who is closest to them and to their competitors, and where they should put their next location.

Retail stores are already providing apps for their customers to download. When they’re browsing in the store, the app can sense where they are and trigger real time offers.

Essentially, geospatial analytics makes gaining insights from analytics easier and more intuitive. When you can pinpoint events and trends on a map, quite literally, it’s easier to understand critical information – and to take action.

How are some companies using geospatial capabilities to geo-enable their digital enterprise? How are they taking advantage of real-time situational awareness and decision-making?

  • Lufthansa Systems, an airline IT specialist with more than 300 airline customers,  has demoed a geospatial analytics application that shows how the impact of weather events can be easily analyzed and how impacted flights can be rerouted live, taking into account live and forecast weather data and cost-related parameters such as estimated fuel consumption and expected delays. Featured use cases include an eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland and a hurricane approaching the East Coast of the United States. The results will help to improve their flight planning and fuel optimization software “Lido/Flight.”
  • Munich RE, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, uses a cloud-based Earth Observation Analysis Service to analyze natural disaster data with its customer data to make more informed decisions about insurance risks. Its customers benefit as the company pushes down costs down based on accurate, timely, historical and real-time information. A video outlining the process can be viewed here.

Geospatial analysis is already opening up whole new worlds of opportunities. Location-based analysis for the enterprise has arrived, but we haven’t even scratched the surface. Companies who have yet to adopt geospatial may be missing out. How can your company benefit from geo-enablement?