When Hurricane Irma hit, responders used interactive maps — to see and share a real-time image, record the storm’s impacts, direct responders to those in need, and chart recovery progress.
When foodborne diseases strike, farmers who map their supply chain from field to line out can pinpoint the exact part of the field that is causing the problem.
When increasing demand for high-speed internet requires fiber optic cables to be extended to homes, telcos use a map to prioritize construction, communicate with crews, and market to consumers.
In business or government, when operations require a “place” of rapidly changing circumstances, today’s smart maps enable fast and reliable communications.
Since ancient times, maps have provided a way to capture knowledge and share information with others in a simple and easy to understand way. Maps capture reality using visual language that conveys understanding, shares perspective, and encourages participation.
Maps are also the basic unit of information output from a Geographic Information System (GIS) – providing the canvas for the GIS data to be modeled and displayed. Technical advances and new capabilities of GIS are evident in the way we create and use maps, and how we apply them to problem-solving.
In business, maps create competitive advantage, drive growth, and improve efficiency:
- A nationwide real estate company maps changing markets to help its clients quickly seize opportunities in target areas.
- The global fast food chain decides where to introduce new products by mapping out customer segments and preferences.
- The technology manufacturer is eliminating overlaps in its sales channels by mapping consumer demand against retail availability.
In government, maps help cities promote operational efficiency, transparency, and constituent participation:
- The big city police department uses maps to coordinate response during large events, such as road races, and combines map and sensor inputs for real-time analytics that feed into rapid response.
- Maps that track the spread of influenza are used and shared by national public health officials.
- An average-sized American city has used a detailed city map and model to energize the community about its redevelopment plans, stimulating the economy.
In infrastructure-heavy organizations, smart maps help boost operations and productivity:
- One of the world’s busiest ports uses a map to chart the flow of trade.
- A global oil and gas company has centralized its map-based views across all operations – exploration, drilling and distribution.
- The state transportation department has mobilized an ambitious statewide infrastructure improvement project to address bottlenecks and support economic development.
basis for progress
In the same way that video games have evolved in their ability to transport us to imagined worlds due to advances in technology, GIS has advanced in their ability to guide our geographic understanding. Many of the technologies that support GIS have made leaps forward, resulting in huge improvements in the speed and capabilities of what and how we design and map maps.
- Data managementIn this age of big data, our ability to map growing volumes of data reveals patterns, trends, and relationships in ways that reports cannot.
- Analytical toolsWith the trend towards data science, more sophisticated tools are enabling spatial analytics across the organization using the common denominator of location.
- sensor inputWith the Internet of Things and the exponential expansion of sensors, coupled with the proliferation of drones and Earth observations via satellites, geographic data has become much more readily available, resulting in live content from sensors and measurement systems from across a city, country or even the globe.
- computing powerThe advent of distributed and cloud computing has increased the flexibility of GIS systems that can rapidly scale data storage capacity and processing power to answer previously insurmountable questions.
- Data collection: With smartphones and tablets becoming ubiquitous and more mobile, field workers can collect and visualize data with ease and clarity, creating a quick common view for everyone in the field and the office.
- automation: Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence have greatly accelerated the process of analyzing massive amounts of images.
With this framework of technological advancement, GIS users are analyzing larger amounts of data, adding more frequent inputs from sensors, and gaining insights into how the world works. It is no exaggeration to say that GIS now guarantees the discovery and delivery of a new level of understanding about cities, businesses, organizations and even complex Earth systems.
simple to complex
In the beginning, GIS cataloged and mapped what was there. Today’s GIS-powered smart maps provide dynamic displays of information, create ecosystems for interactions, aid real-time awareness and help plan and create the future.
Rather than a static display of information, GIS allows users to aggregate data about a place and dig deeper to unlock information about people, nature, and the built environment, as well as interactions and influences. Data warehouses are readily available for detailing companies, profiling people, assessing ecosystems, and unlocking the flow of things — including transportation, waterways, and even commerce. GIS provides a means of utilizing geographic knowledge and building evidence to support decision-making.
Maps at hand
Maps are only powerful when we put them in people’s hands. As GIS has moved to mobile devices and online, mapping applications have greatly increased the number of people using maps. The apps provide a means for discovery and personal input, and the data generated within the apps feed dashboard views that provide a single comprehensive view for decision makers to monitor interactions and events and evaluate day-to-day operations.
As those who draw maps understand, today’s maps are changing the way we communicate and collaborate. First responders have moved from a series of paper maps to interactive map-based solutions, greatly increasing their importance. Today, it is common for all screens in an EOC to display some aspect of the ongoing response across a map, and for each responder to have a map-based application open to record what they see and do. All organizations can benefit from a similar mission-critical approach—sharing individual perspectives and seeing the work of others—to work unified to solve the problem or crisis at hand.
Maps are becoming increasingly dynamic with more input from sensors and people, leading to better understanding in real time. Companies will benefit from empowering field workers who can make quick, evidence-based decisions in the field to improve outcomes thanks to increased information flow – decisions at the edge. Cities surrounding initiatives with maps and apps provide a common place to inform citizens while also recording their feedback – increasing voter participation. Infrastructure organizations that deploy applications linked with detailed 3D models improve workflow and help eliminate costly delays caused by poor coordination — closing gaps.
While spatial analytics provides the next level of map-based exploration, Dr. Michael F. Goodchild, the famous geography professor, sums it up well as to why this exploration always begins with a map:
“…the analysis does not have to involve complex mathematical operations, but rather begins in the human mind as soon as the map appears, because the eye and the brain are incredibly efficient at spotting patterns and finding anomalies in maps and other visual displays.
“GIS works best when the computer and brain combine forces, and when GIS is used to enhance human intuition by processing and presenting data in ways that reveal things that might otherwise be invisible.”
Learn how Smart Mapping makes mapping easier and more impactful.