Don’t leave spatial data out of real-time business intelligence

How spatial data can help to solve business problems

May 31, 2012

How spatial data can help to solve business problems

Business can cut costs and operate more efficiently by using real-time data in decision making, says Mike Steyn of Aspire Solutions — especially now that more and more spatial data is becoming available.

“Spatial data is anything you can put on a map,” explains Steyn. “Weather, traffic information and vehicle tracking are some of the obvious examples, and the available data will only get more complex and sophisticated. But already, there are many business problems that can be solved with the help of spatial systems.”

Reducing transport costs is one area where spatial data is already beginning to prove its worth, says Steyn. “The price of petrol is at record highs and it’s not likely to come down in any significant way despite short-term fluctuations,” he says. “Global demand for oil is still increasing, and the supply is static — and sooner or later we’ll start to run out. In that context, it’s insane for any business to be burning cash by letting its vehicles sit idling in traffic. Using real-time data about road and traffic conditions to plan routes will soon be not just an advantage, but a necessity.”

Then there are the work hours lost to transport delays. “Traffic congestion and late busses and trains have a serious impact on South Africa’s productivity,” notes Steyn, “but using real-time information can minimise the damage. If you know where the congestion is, or which the worst potholed roads are, you can plan alternative routes. In the same way, if you can track weather systems in real time you can avoid storms, fog and other dangerous and slow driving conditions.”

Steyn says getting employees to work on time, and with less stress, is just the start.  “A lot of the traffic on our roads is delivery vehicles and maintenance crews,” he says. “The less time they waste in traffic, the better for everyone. If you know exactly where your trucks are, where they need to be and what obstacles are likely to get in the way, you have vastly improved control over your operations.”

Presenting all this data visually in map form is the key to its power, says Steyn.  “Information takes on whole new meanings when you add a spatial dimension and put it in on a map,” says Steyn. “Humans are profoundly visual thinkers and it’s much easier for us to spot patterns and trends when data is mapped compared to presenting it in tables. Spatial thinking is a powerful way to solve the disconnect between data collection and business intelligence.”