Spatial information is an integral
component of forward thinking organizations. Together with tool sets
that are capable of working with spatial information, these
organizations can more effectively understand their assets, operations,
customers as well as threats and uncertainties. In short, their
strategic foundations are stronger and their ability to adapt, respond
and re-organize quickly is more fully enabled. Without this
capability, organisations are hindered from participating at leadership
levels and their ability to compete is dramatically restricted.
Spatial data and geotechnologies
provide several benefits to organizations. While we often talk about
return-on-investment advantages, we seldom discuss how those
organizations that do not use them are more vulnerable, higher risks
and prone to higher levels of uncertainty.
Imagine operating in the flood, fire or crime insurance
industry today without knowing detailed information about the landscape
– a digital elevation model. These models provide accurate information
about land elevations, specifically, which areas are likely to flood
under varying circumstances. If your company is insuring property that
you are unaware that sits in flood zones, then it is at risk – high
risk. The entire emergency response sector would be severely impacted,
with higher risk, if digital mapping technologies were not available as
they are today. Such situations are not hard to imagine, many people
have seen both sides of this situation.
How well we understand environmental
parameters and landscape processes is highly related to geoinformation
and technologies like GIS. For example, forest management is dependent
upon the development of understanding wood supply over long periods of
time. This is often calculated for forest management units where
projections of growth are ascertained through modeling. Without
geoinformation input it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible
to begin such planning. Furthermore, forest operations would be
significantly impacted. The production of food is similarly related to
the collection and use of geoinformation. The varying rate of
application of fertilisers is not only based on more advantageous
economic gains, but is designed to decrease over-fertilisation, thereby
improving environmental impact. Without geoinformation and GIS along
with GPS, the risk for over supplying fertiliser is increased – land
pollution and contamination.
Whether it is a pipeline, oil refinery,
military operation, land use planning or transport project;
geoinformation and geotechnologies are the essential input devices for
generating and processing information that enables operations and
applications to proceed. They are often triggered when certain
geographic conditions are met, or they are initiated when processes
related to their locations are reached.
As we move along the pathway where digital technologies and
geodata become increasingly embedded into the processes driving daily
operations – land planning, transport, health etc. they rise higher
into the strategic management level.
Already we have satellite image generated 3D city models, and much
of the vector work generated for buildings is being calculated from
image sources. Field devices powered by GPS are gathering spatial
information as well as using GPS previously processed data for field
related work. Can you imagine starting a business that is excavating
soil in a large city and not having digital technologies that access
city digital data records that identify where pipelines, telcom and
water mains are located? In such examples geoinformation and
geotechnology are essential for participation and without them real
There are other risks associated with
business. Legislation for issues related to land use, noise, pollution
etc. – the where, when, why and how – directly impact operating. GIS
are able to work across these dynamics interchangeably.
Moving Beyond Risk
It would be incorrect to think that your small or medium size business
cannot benefit from considering spatial information and risk. Today,
web services are enabling small players to enter into larger markets
as they leverage these tools and data on an as-needed basis, without
actually owning them. Some folks choose to hire consultants, yet
others, depending upon their needs, can ‘break-off’ those pieces of the
services they need to know and become professional at handling them
well. In this way they enable their organizations and increase
efficiency through using web services.
Trends toward decreasing risk and
uncertainty are growing. It is reasonable to expect (more now than
previously) that anyone can participate through using high quality data
and high quality spatial analysis tools. It is reasonable that not only
large companies, but SME’s step back and reassess how they might engage
these tools and data to reduce risk and improve their bottom line.
There has never been a more important time than now to deal with
risk and uncertainty, by investing in geoinformation and geotechnology
to meet the challenges in the current business environment.
Organizations that don’t make use of
geoinformation are certainly less informed, and many disregard the
geographic perspective at their peril. Failure to understand the
application of geoinformation in business practice is largely due to a
lack of awareness or a feeling that the costs outweigh the benefits.
It’s up to the geospatial industry as a whole to continue to inform the
business community about the benefits, and to illustrate the lowered
entry cost that current tools offer (primarily through a web services
approach). Geoinformation has never been more robust or timely than it
is right now, and the cost/benefit ratio for investments in this
technology are exceedingly favorable.
With regard to risk for not using
geoinformation, risk may be too strong a word for many organizations.
Risk implies measurable negative impacts from not using geospatial
information. There are certainly a large number of organizations that
could greatly benefit from the use of geospatial information, but there
are few that face negative impacts that would affect their ongoing
operations if they do not use this technology. We must also keep in
mind that there are still a surprising number of businesses and even
whole industries that still get by with very little application of
computer technology, let alone sophisticated business intelligence
tools that factor in location.
There’s still a great opportunity for
further penetration of technology in business. Geoinformation provide
excellent returns because it can provide a valuable level of insight to
most organizations that will positively affect their bottom line.
Technology for Insight
Very few technologies provide the kind of
insight that geospatial information and spatial analysis can provide.
The beauty of geospatial tools is that they condense information in a
visual format that can quickly convey trends about business through the
application of a geographic approach. For many applications, this view
is much more powerful than charts, graphs and reports. The insight
gained from spatial analysis and visualization can also be quite
immediate, taking information represented in spreadsheets and other
tabular forms, combining it with other critical information, and
condensing this data into insight that can be acted upon.
For instance, the area of geodemographics
is a very valuable tool for insight into customer behavior. It’s been
demonstrated that individuals with similar incomes, values, and
activities tend to cluster together. By understanding the profile of
your customer base, and the neighborhoods where similar people live, a
business can expand in locations with a high degree of certainty for
success. Similarly, an advertising campaign can be tailored to have a
very strong response by knowing the profile of your customer and
targeting areas that match that profile.
We live in an era where many global trends
will impact businesses of all types. These trends of global change are
largely driven by an increase in population that results in a scarcity
of natural resources. The issues of scarcity are a huge problem for
business as it introduces a volatile instability that is hard to plan
for, and an escalation in commodity pricing that makes it terribly
difficult to make a profit.
Related to population and natural resource
scarcity is the issue of climate change. A warming climate comes with a
number of weather-related risks, and adds further instability to the
business environment. The increasing ferocity of hurricanes, the
growing issue of floods, and pending sea-level rise that will impact
all coastlines puts a great many businesses at high risk for loss of
property and loss of customer base.
Geospatial information is a valuable tool to assess the risks of
global change. While many of these risks can not be entirely mitigated,
a business can take a strong look at their exposure to risk and insure
against devastating losses.
Geoinformation for Efficiency
Geoinformation and technology can be very
easily applied to operational efficiency in a number of areas. With the
high price of fuel, there a large number of geospatial applications
that can assist fleet managers and those that travel to decrease the
distance traveled, and the time that vehicles idle. One excellent
example of this cost savings is UPS,
who have determined that left turns across traffic take more time,
increase emissions, burn fuel and involve safety risks. UPS has
automated their routing technology to eliminate and minimize left
turns, and have estimated a savings of 30 million miles and 3 million
gallons of gas. Geoinformation is at the heart of this innovative
routing and at the heart of the calculation to estimate the cost
Another fuel-related case study that uses
highly-accurate geoinformation for great efficiency gains is the
research that is being done by Intermap.
Intermap’s highly accurate elevation data sets are being used in
research in the heavy trucking industry to determine if intelligent
transmissions that can anticipate the hills ahead, and gear down
accordingly, can save significant fuel costs. The preliminary research
by Auburn University indicates that there’s a potential 3 percent fuel
savings, which across the industry translates to a fuel cost savings of
more than $3 Billion. Geoinformation has become an integral technology
for reigning in costs, particularly in organizations dependent upon
transportation and for those that are distributed across broad
In areas that are highly susceptible to
natural disasters, or those that depend heavily on non-renewable
energy, the case can be made that those that don’t use geoinformation
are at higher risk than those that do. I think the stronger argument to
convince all companies to use this technology is that there are strong
bottom-line benefits that come from operating a much more efficient