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Geospatial Analytics Will Eat The World, And You Won't Even Know It

Mike Mack

This was taken from the original article at Forbes:
Written by Will Cadell

In 2011 Marc Andreseen famously wrote that software was eating the world. Unsurprisingly, he was right. Software continues to provide enormous business value with a previously unheard of ability to scale quickly. The software revolution has created a virtuous cycle that supports the creation of more technology companies and companies that effectively leverage technology. Within this context, we have seen the rise of big data, cloud computing and pervasive connectivity as easier to access technologies.

In the geospatial business, we have been working with big data for some time. Commercially, those technologies have traditionally sat in truly enormous companies, but for the most part, massive data acquisition, analysis and management have been a government concern. A significant barrier to broader commercial adoption of geospatial technology has always been the movement of data around old infrastructures to make it available to new services. Without data transportability or accessibility, the opportunity to leverage data products in multiple ways was severely diminished. Thus, data was typically underutilized. It is hard to become a modern data-oriented company when you can’t use your data.

The rise of cloud-first technology provides an opportunity to address the old question of data access. Perhaps the opportunity for the geospatial sector is greater than most. The reason for this lays in the geospatial sector’s key problem: Though maps and images are fun, they make difficult products to sell.

Indeed, the debate still rages on as to what the geospatial/geographic information system (GIS)/mapping business even is. In essence, this underlines the fact that geo-products are at best awkward to manage.

Why Will Geospatial Analytics Eat The World?

It is simple, really. The cadence of data capture has increased markedly in concert with the cloud’s ability to store and distribute data. This means quite suddenly it has become possible to create products which describe our changing world in close to real-time. We can move data around, we can access it from multiple places, we can push it into manipulation pipelines and we can visualize it all on the cloud at scale.

But there is a caveat: We need to think deeply about creating products that actually support real business processes. As geospatial people, we have been obsessing over maps and images. It turns out that, though maps and images are valuable visualization products, in the end, business people need actual numbers to support their decision making processes. This is why geospatial technology has not moved wholesale into commercial-land. Thankfully, we are about to witness a drastic change.

What on Earth do I mean by data? Geospatial people care about data that in some way is linked to geography. Satellite imagery, crowd sourced traffic, addresses, weather events and crime stats are all examples of geospatial data points. Individually, all these data sources are interesting, but in combination they can become a “now-cast” of events occurring around us. Consider the following applications of geospatial data:

• When your Uber driver is directed around construction that was identified by another driver five minutes before, geospatial analytics are getting you to work faster.

• When your bank can quickly identify credit risk by looking at transaction histories of all other customers in demographically similar zip codes, geospatial analytics are getting you the credit you need.

• When your insurance company can determine that your house is a low-risk flood zone because of the surrounding topography and a recently planted forest, geospatial analytics are saving you money and helping the insurance company reduce their risk.

These example use cases do not result in a map or an image. They do, however, illustrate the opportunity that geospatial data provides to deliver amazing value. Interestingly, this revolution will likely happen quietly. You might not even notice that search results are more local, or that your Uber arrives faster or that parcels will get delivered to wherever you happen to be. All you will see is better service and better products.

The future of geospatial technology probably isn’t a map. The future of geospatial tech might be an email alert, a report, a graph or an ordered list. In fact, it will be all those things and likely more.

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