Location, location, location – everyone knows how important it is. Many will remember when the first location-based apps, Foursquare, Google Maps and Yelp, were launched. The world was transformed with the use of this technology. Yet despite the continued development of these location-based apps, particularly for the consumer market, when it comes to using location technology and apps to truly unlock and maximise data, the business world isn’t using geographic information system (GIS) technology to its full potential.
It’s not that businesses aren’t using location technology. On the contrary. Many of today’s digital businesses have location technology at the heart of their service offerings, just think of app based business such as Uber, Tinder, Facebook. The list of location-centric services and products goes on. However, it is also fair to say that the majority of businesses have a significant and untapped opportunity when it comes to using GIS technology.
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It is sitting in the swathes of data they already have and gather about their services, products, customers, staff, competitors and marketplace. Although many use and analyse this data to an extent, very few are unlocking or even aware of the true value of their data if they bring it to life through GIS mapping technology.
Business data brought to live
Of course, some businesses are leading the way and using GIS to unlock data. Starbucks takes the location of its stores very seriously and making a data-driven decision on the planned location for every one of its cafés is critical to its success and profitability. GIS technology allows Starbucks to undertake in-depth analysis of each planned new store to understand factors such as the peaks and troughs of footfall numbers during the day, the demographic make-up of the local customer base, and the extent of competition in the area. All this and more is brought to life through GIS mapping to take guess work and gut feel out of critical business decisions for Starbucks and unlock the data it already has.
Businesses can take a similar approach when planning a relocation of offices. GIS technology enables businesses to understand how relocating will impact its workforce. For example, if a company is currently located in the centre of a major city but is considering a move to a business park on the outskirts instead, understanding how will this impact the commutes of their employees and their accessibility to clients should be central to the criteria and decision to move. GIS will ensure this information is available before a decision is made, rather than discovering the downsides after relocation has happened.
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And only a few weeks ago a bespoke computer programme using the ArcGIS platform acted as one of the key components to managing public safety during the Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, USA. In a unified command centre, roughly 80 local, state and federal agencies gained access to a 3D map showing all the areas impacted by the sporting event.
Equipped with real-time situational awareness, public safety bodies were ready to provide accurate information to first responders in case of an emergency. We may be used to seeing apps such as this on the latest Netflix crime series, and the most progressive organisations are now starting to make these apps a reality.
The role of GIS and the innovation of location applications in the B2B space are only limited by the developers’ imagination. GIS technology can and will act as a catalyst to improved business performance and growth simply by unlocking the data that already exists within the enterprise.
One disruptive technology which has started integrating with GIS is augmented reality (AR). Currently this technology is most prevalent in the gaming industry, but it is starting to bleed across and span a broad spectrum of business and vertical markets.
In the retail environment for example, we have already seen AR and GIS working in tandem to drive sales through a new app that recognises an interactive advert and instantly informs the customer of the closest store with the product in stock and offers directions on how to get there. It is this type of innovative application development that will see GIS continue to develop and drive the cutting edge of business processes.
Once any business starts to understand how GIS works, it is easy to envision how a whole range of applications will improve operational performance and efficiency. In the utility sector for example, using AR and GIS simultaneously, it is possible to create a digital representation of any area using satellite imagery.
A utility company needing to monitor and maintain pylons could see a digital map of exactly where each pylon is located and, using machine learning and neural networks, highlight those which require repair and attention perhaps as a result of storm damage.
Rather than sending teams to check each pylon, instead, the GIS mapping would allow the team to plan an accurate and efficient route which only takes in those pylons which need their attention. The time and cost savings would be significant to say the least, let alone the increase workforce productivity and safety.
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The role and use of GIS technology can be applied in almost every area of business. Whether in healthcare and defence sectors, for example, where diverse estate and asset management is a real challenge that can be solved by GIS mapping. Local government and town councils are another GIS use case example. Here GIS is being used to create and support smart communities whether in small rural towns or larger, urban cities.
The location technology is helping to bring citizens and government together and the mobile apps for example allow communication outside of opening times or waiting on switchboards. Citizens benefit from a better experience and councils benefit from real time data and information in powerful dashboards to improve and anticipate service delivery.
GIS – just one step away
From increasing security levels to analysing where to get the most footfall at conferences, developers have one of the most exciting career opportunities open to them now in form of GIS and location-based app development for business. There are vast commercial and operational benefits that can be applied to almost any app imaginable, whether customer facing or entirely internal.
>See also: An introduction to GIS use cases
Customer and employee expectations will continue to evolve to use this technology as a matter of course. The good news is that the adoption of this technology is not a big leap that could prove too difficult for businesses.
Today’s organisations have already grown used to collating the data that are needed and many are likely to be already using location technology to some degree. From here all it takes is one simple step to harness GIS and unlock the truly transformational potential of business data.
Sourced Sean McGee, developer evangelist at Esri UK