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Location intelligence – the missing link

Each day, we create enough data to fill 10 million Blu-Ray disks, which if they were stacked on top of each other, would reach the height of four Eiffel Towers. Every interaction, connection and conversation we have, generates data. This data is a foundation for many businesses who extract the ‘who, what and when?’ from information which they use to derive insight on their prospects and customers. The real value to a business, though, lies in the ability to add the ‘where?’. This location or geospatial information adds place, depth and context to information. It takes data to a new dimension, generating insight and fuelling opportunity.

Chances are, you’ve benefitted from this yourself: have you ever checked-in on Facebook, or used Strava to map or share your cycling route? Have you visited a local council’s website to find your nearest leisure centre, or looked online to check your town’s crime hotspots before buying a house? Possibly without knowing it, you’re experiencing, and creating, location intelligence.

Valuable, meaningful insight

Organisations are incorporating location intelligence into their business models in the following ways:

  • Telecoms companies use location intelligence to forecast network outages, enabling them to respond quickly, reduce downtime and minimise customer service and engineering costs
  • Mobile companies can identify areas of low signal but high customer numbers, to help them plan investment
  • Banks and retailers identify optimum sites for investment by understanding potential spend per head within a target demographic analysis.
  • Insurance firms use location intelligence to help them identify high-risk areas such as those prone to flooding, and drive accurate underwriting
  • Local governments use location intelligence to move citizen services online with digital tools such as ‘Where’s my nearest…?’ to identify car parks, leisure facilities and other community services
  • Police are identifying crime hotspots to help them allocate resource and plan policing in the most appropriate areas

Striking visual representations

For many organisations, the beauty of location intelligence and geographic information systems lies in their ability to create striking visual representations of data to present clear, precise viewpoints. This can unearth patterns and trends which might otherwise remain unseen to the naked eye. Painstakingly sifting through spreadsheets of data is no match for the power of GIS. Follow LinkedIn or Twitter groups and you’ll come across captivating insight and stunning images, where physical and digital worlds integrate. From aerial photography to heat maps, raster graphics to hyperreal LIDAR images, the digital visual representations of data are nothing short of works of art.

For mining company Cominco, these detailed visuals formed the foundation of a strategic, high-profile exploration. On the west coast of equatorial Africa, between the rainforests and the Congo River Basin, sits the Hinda Phosphate Deposit. At more than 20 kilometres long and 400 to 700 metres wide, the area contains at least 580 million metric tons of high quality phosphate, a fertiliser in increasing demand as the world population grows. Cominco was looking to explore the region, so precise mapping of the deposit itself, of the region's topography and of the distance from mine to port was integral to planning an efficient, ecologically responsible mining, processing and export operation. Geographic information also needed to be presented in a manner useful to everyone, from technical professionals to board members, government relations managers and administrators. The problem lay in the fact that there were no existing maps or models of the area to be explored – they just didn’t exist.

Unearthing hidden business values

Location services, geospatial data

To effectively map the Hinda Phosphate Deposit and surrounding regions, Cominco used location intelligence software to help determine where to place more than 900 exploratory bore holes. Information gleaned from those bore holes was imported into the system, helping the company develop cross-section views of the deposit's geology. Importing this information provided Cominco with multi-dimensional views of this geology, stratum by stratum, as if looking at a slice of layer cake. The solution also allowed Cominco to integrate previously-captured aerial LIDAR images to complete the view of the area.

The resulting maps and topography fulfil a variety of organisational needs: they help Cominco manage fieldwork more efficiently and cost-effectively - for example, the software can help engineers determine the presence of water and locate activities that require water near those sites. They can also present geographical information in a way that is understandable to Cominco executives, leading to better business decisions.

Location intelligence software helps organisations such as Cominco capitalise on the hidden business value of every location. The ‘where?’ of data has never been so important, or had so much potential.

Tim Barber