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Six steps to Big Data heaven

By [email protected] - 28th October 2015 - 19:47

You might not think it, but mapping impacts our lives in increasingly diverse ways. We see it in transport; where Google Maps is using US railroad crossing data1 to help avoid accidents and where Uber recently announced its acquisition of Microsoftâs mapping data2 to improve the journey experience for customers. We also see it being used in disaster zones â UK charity, MapAction3, for example, uses it to support the effective deployment of humanitarian operations world-wide. â©

As a result, the geospatial market is growing rapidly, with 2013 global revenues of $270 billion according to one industry source4. That growth is being fuelled by the demand for advanced analytics tools, including Big Data. It presents both enormous opportunities and challenges for the geospatial industry, for just as the market for ever more accurate mapping data solutions increases, the technology required to process data sets gets ever more complex. â©

The fact that most data includes or refers to âlocationâ means that any underlying geospatial data must be accurate and up-to-date. It also means that there is almost certainly extra value to be extracted from such records. It opens up the market to those who are willing to invest time and resource into processing and managing it effectively. Geospatial organisations can make the most of their mapping data by following these six core principles.â©


The first stage involves extracting the location element of the data from the organisationâs records through processes such as automated feature or character recognition. Two types of record are involved here: firstly, physical assets, such as buildings, land or infrastructure that have typically been captured from imagery via 2D or 3D scans. And secondly, non-spatial information, such as finance, customer or logistical records, that are coded against existing geospatial data sets. To ensure records are as up to date as possible, geospatial providers are constantly expanding their databases. For example, Tom Tom has recently announced the addition of navigable maps for 13 additional countries5, bringing the total to 134 countries and the coverage of its global map database to more than 45.6 million kilometres.â©


Outdated or inaccurate spatial data could impact the informationâs potential value. It would be incredibly difficult, for example, to sell data to an automotive company that was looking to integrate satellite navigation systems into its vehicles that didnât include recent upgrades to the road network or new area speed restrictions. â©

One organisation that is constantly looking to refresh its data is Ordnance Survey (OS). Its Urban Content Improvement (UCI) programme6 picks up minor changes to urban areas and improves the detail and accuracy of its maps as a result. To do this, existing urban map detail is compared side by side with aerial imagery. Any new features are plotted and existing features that fail the set quality standards are moved. This work is supplemented by the work of surveyors in the field where detail is obscured or unclear.â©

While constantly refreshing data can be costly and time-consuming, it can be achieved by implementing a programmed update cycle. The best data refresh programmes are those that include elements of automated change detection and management. â©


Managing Geospatial information requires much more work than simply updating the data sets. Itâs also about being able to store that data effectively and securely. Therefore, an organisation will have to consider whether its data is better suited to a hosted or on-premise storage environment. On top of this, they may also need to integrate their data sets with other applications or migrate them on to new systems ⦠a step that might entail a change in format. In response to these types of challenges, SAPâs latest HANA platform update7 incorporated new capabilities to help break down silos between enterprise and GIS systems. Companies using the platform will be able to get more value from their corporate data and uncover trends and patterns.â©


Analysis of data only works when the information is interrogated to derive value from it. By doing this, organisations may be able to find new value in spatial data that was previously ignored or overlooked. In doing so, they should be open to manipulating it beyond their traditional instincts. Bank of America for instance, is analysing its mapping data to save money â using location as a basis to make informed decisions on where investment should be prioritised.8 â©


The realisation of value will come from having a successful delivery strategy that defines how the organisation intends to distribute, publish and share its data. It is important to be mindful of the intended audience and ensure that the data is delivered in a way that can be used and understood by each and every stakeholder. Ordnance Survey is demonstrating how this can be done in practice, recently releasing a new online mapping system9 in which a digital map is provided alongside paper downloads. â©

Organisations should also consider compliance to industry or legislative standards, such as the Open Geospatatial Consortium (OGC) that looks to âgeo-enableâ the Web, wireless and location-based services and mainstream IT10, or the INSPIRE Directive that aims to create a European Union (EU) Spatial Data Infrastructure.11â©


Finally, as the old adage goes, two heads are better than one. When looking to improve the accuracy of their spatial data, organisations should be open to working with third parties who can provide consultancy on how to maximise the informationâs value. The partner should act as a natural extension of the organisationâs own team to ensure consistency and a seamless working relationship. â©

At a time when there has never been so much interest in and demand for accurate and easily-available mapping data, both from a business and consumer perspective, there are huge opportunities for geospatial providers to increase their revenues. By following these six core principles, organisations will be able to make the most of their mapping data and provide their customers with an accurate, timely, added-value service. â©


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Gareth Bathers is Senior Project Manager with Cyient (

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