Read more about Geospatial Visualization
Senior Researcher, Distinguished Fellow
Institute for the Future
It’s easy to get excited about the growing stream of new developments that are bringing geospatial technology to life. From emerging standards in geodata management, to advances in asset intelligence, to an explosion of potential applications, the foundation for a geospatial future is being built today. At the center of that future lies the geospatial web – an integrated platform of GIS information, geocoded web data and sensor data. This holds the strong likelihood (and risk) of dramatic disruptions for markets and business models – in entertainment, transportation, public health, telecommunications, manufacturing, defense and more. Geospatial capabilities are certain to upend “business as usual” on almost every front you can imagine.
These capabilities rely on a world in which pieces of data are attached to physical places. Accessed through devices ranging from smartphones and tablets to specialized glasses and even contact lenses, data is made instantly available to those needing the information, at the moment it’s needed. A maintenance technician examining an aircraft engine with specialized glasses can see three-dimensional schematics showing the parts inside. As an epidemiologist drives through a neighborhood, her smartphone can deliver demographic profiles of the residents living there. Or, when a tractor salesman visits a farmer, his tablet can automatically download maintenance records for his equipment.
These kinds of opportunities for innovation are already in play. Location sensors in smartphones, for example, can trigger a host of communications, especially when it is integrated with personal profiles. The smartphone can deliver an intelligent presentation of information based on identity, agenda, itinerary, activities, roles and other relevant filters. Yet phones and tablets are but primitive forms of viewing technologies, which will likely give way to headsets, glasses, lenses and other display systems that operate fully synchronized with the physical world. That’s what augmented reality is about, with companies like Layar, Junaio and Aurasma already breaking new ground in enhancing real-world objects with digital information.
For businesses wanting to capitalize on the disruptive potential of geospatial visualization, one path to sustainable advantage lies in how locational data is captured, analyzed and stored. This is where the concept of “liquid data” comes into play – an approach to data management that allows information to flow wherever and whenever it’s needed.
To some, geospatial visualization and the geospatial web may sound like futuristic fantasy. But for many leaders in the industry, the future is already here. The blending of augmented reality with analytics – enabled by a shift toward liquid data – is driving us inexorably toward breakthroughs in visualization that would have been science fiction just a few years ago. The Internet we know and love is converging with the Internet of things to create a brave new world of people, places and things being annotated with ever-more-relevant data.
Where do you start?
Geospatial visualization should be built on a foundation of solid data management disciplines. Once master data management, stewardship and integration capabilities are in place, there are a few natural places to start.
- Answer the “so what.” Can geospatial visualization provide answers to the organization’s key questions? Can it help identify where money can be saved, customer satisfaction levels may be improved or where competitive advantage could be found? Would visual insights aid communicating decisions to stakeholders? Like most efforts, the more granular the business objectives and specific the metrics, the more powerful the argument will be. The allure of flashy new tools or broad-stroke generalities of abstract value will not cut it.
- Fish where there are fish. Each business has pain points; use those to guide early geospatial scoping. Logistics and supply chains across distributed organizations are ripe with opportunities. Ask questions that might lead to new insights. Where are your customers? Where are customers relative to your work force warehouses or service centers? Where have your customers been? Where are your next customers likely to be? Where are your suppliers? Where are your competitors? If these answers are not easily available, geospatial visualization may provide them.
- Know your baseline. Understand your current state relative to the state of the art. Many organizations have no idea what data sources and analysis they currently have available, much less the different tools and infrastructure under license across departments and individuals. Identify the organization’s current state, and compare it with the capabilities needed for modeling, rendering and interacting. If there’s a gap, consider experimenting with subscription-based models which have a low entry cost.
- Find new data, prep old data. Take a look at the new data sources, such as social analytics and geospatial analytics, and consider how they could augment your traditional models. This new information could present new questions – and additional insights. To get there, historical systems will probably need prep work – cleansing addresses, geocoding data or adding GPS sensors to assets. Don’t go overboard; limit efforts to those data which are relevant to the immediate questions and goals at hand.
- Democratize. Visualization can place the power of analytics in more hands across the organization – Business Intelligence (BI) dashboards in the boardroom, browsers in customer service centers, sales projections by region on field management’s mobile devices. Moving analytics to the front line can help shift insight to action. Seek experience in supporting broad decision making effectively. Not all drivers need to be automotive engineers, but someone should be making sure the car is safe to take on the road.
Location is not only ubiquitous, but a meaningful and interpretable attribute. Creating visual, interactive, location-based models of complex data can multiply the power of data analytics. Organizations that combine the explosion of location-aware data with the power of geospatial analysis and wide accessibility of geospatial visualization can provide game-changing support for business decision making at levels never considered before. Geocoded data and fancy presentation layers are not enough, however, to make good on this potential. Underneath seemingly simple renderings lay complex analytical models and sound data management disciplines. Visualization, like many business efforts, should be supported by concrete objectives and well-defined questions that can benefit from geospatial analysis, and tested by those with specific experience in both analyzing and communicating location-aware data.
Leading organizations that follow these principles to provide geospatial visualization tools to employees, business partners and even customers that allow them to explore, manipulate and act on the insights they gain, will be putting Tobler’s law to use for competitive advantage.
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