When spatial data and business data meet up in an integrated platform, business apps gain consumer-app functionality, like heat maps, bubble charts, and location-based data that we all know and love.
In “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the Pevensie children walk through a wardrobe and find themselves in a magical land where a lion rules and animals speak. Literature is full of similar wormholes that liberate characters from their everyday lives and send them into places of wonder. Strangely enough, our employees have a parallel experience every day when they arrive at work, but not in a good way.
Once employees walk into the office, Google searches don’t bring up the exact fact they know is hidden in a business doc. Locating an infant incubator or a pneumatic drill that they need to care for a patient or finish a construction job is harder than finding a car share. What is most sorely missed is simple mapping tools.
Think about how often we depend on mapping apps every day. Even using a rough, conservative estimate, location-based tools save smart phone users more than 72 billion hours a year, and that’s based loosely on every smart phone owner saving merely one hour a day when they search for a restaurant or gas station nearby, get turn-by-turn directions from Google or Apple maps, or review the fastest route home based on current traffic congestion.
Bringing geospatial data into the business and presenting it on dynamic maps in real time across many devices promises to save untold numbers of hours for employees. These innovative business apps shrink the chasm between the technologies we depend on outside the workplace and those inside our office doors.
Seeing Is Believing
In the business world, geospatial, geolocation, or geographic information systems (GIS) apps solve business problems just as they do in our personal lives. The apps are built on digital platforms that merge enterprise business data with GIS so that when employees ask where, when, and how, they get answers. Why are they finally entering the business world? Because new technology collects spatial data from multiple sources and stores it with business data within a single integrated platform—instead of it being in separate platforms. And if that single platform leverages in-memory for advanced data processing, then organizations can reduce overall costs while speeding response times.
Proving that a picture is worth a thousand words, in-memory data management platforms can turn complex data into meaningful 2D and 3D maps and graphs that convey valuable information at a glance. Businesses can use the insight from these tools to act quickly and intelligently to provide higher business value.
In manufacturing, for example, a map shows everyone in the supply chain where materials are located anywhere in the world. The distributor can pinpoint a high-volume hotspot in Oakland, Calif., where 100,000 pairs of jeans are on a shipping container waiting to be unloaded at the port. The same holds true in transportation. A national rental car agency can track every vehicle in its fleet and view a timeline that forecasts which rental cars need maintenance and when. At a global theater company, an overlay of the performance venue will show exactly where all the props and costumes are for a 200-person production that travels the world. Businesses are just getting started building geospatial apps, and they are showing incredible imagination and real value.
Governments, Hospitals, Airlines, and Utilities Shape Geospatial Spectrum
City governments and agencies are especially interested in combining geospatial information with their city data, and it is affecting the quality of resident lives, at times even saving lives. The city of Buenos Aires, for example, recorded 101 deaths from flooding in 2013. City planners realized they could prevent water from rising and overflowing if they kept the storm drains working properly. By adding sensors to each drain that measure the direction, speed, and level of water, and mapping that information to show which drains are clogged or overflowing, maintenance crews can quickly respond when a drain is blocked or not working properly.
The effort paid off when Buenos Aires was hit with another wave of storms only the year after deploying the geolocation system. Even with heavy rainfall, 30,000 drains were cleared and Buenos Aires experienced no flooding while cities in nearby regions again suffered from the rising waters.
Combining flood, fire, and other natural disaster data with business data is recalculating risk outcomes at Munich RE, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. Accessing widespread weather data, once viewed as far beyond reach, is now readily available through a cloud-based Earth Observation Analysis Service powered by the SAP HANA platform. Munich RE is tapping into information from the European Copernicus satellites that are provided by the European Space Agency and analyzing natural disaster data with its customer data to make more informed decisions about insurance risks. A YouTube video outlining the solution can be viewed here.
Hospitals are also prescribing geolocation apps. In Seoul, South Korea, a healthcare provider added sensors to its equipment, instruments, and supplies. The staff was wasting time trying to locate equipment that is shared across floors. Now nurses and physicians can quickly find the medical instruments they need by checking an app that shows the location of all items tagged in the hospital, retrieve the required equipment, and bring it to the patient’s room.
In the travel industry, geolocation apps and data are the ticket for cost savings and improved operations. Lufthansa Systems, an airline IT specialist with more than 300 airline customers, piloted a system to track global flight operations more closely and accurately with spatial capabilities. Airport, meteorological, and fleet data is monitored in real time, and the operations crew will reroute flight paths to optimize fuel and staff costs. During the pilot program, thousands of flights were tracked each day on a 3D mapping interface that displays spatial and temporal coordinates. Featured use cases include an eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland and a hurricane approaching the East Coast of the United States. The insights from the program will help to improve the company’s flight planning solution, Lido/Flight.
Geospatial capabilities are turning up cost savings within energy companies across the globe. At one of the largest renewable energy producers in North America, sensors are capturing data at more than 100 wind and solar farms. The data is fed into an in-memory data platform that also stores and analyzes geospatial and ERP data. Business users and IT groups have access to the platform and can query it about operational activities. They can easily view the locations of the equipment and predict which turbines will need maintenance to prevent failures. A major benefit of that insight is avoiding costly emergency response scenarios where expensive maintenance technicians are called onsite for unscheduled maintenance.
A leading distribution system operator (DSO) company in the Netherlands is also using geospatial data to prevent energy network downtime. It placed sensors in its pipelines to better understand when pipes needed maintenance. Field technicians have real-time location-based incident reporting on their mobile devices so that they can easily locate and make repairs on any problem pipes.
Geospatial Apps Are Ready for Business
Thanks to an accurate map and spatial data, we have all avoided making a wrong turn while driving or walking to a concert or friend’s house. Another time saver, real-time heat maps, has kept us from sitting in traffic by showing us which roads have the most congestion. In other uses of spatial data, we’ve immediately seen which regions are more conservative and demographics around age, income, and education.
With so many examples of great uses for geospatial location data in our personal lives, businesses are ready to join in. Advanced in-memory database technologies that collect geospatial data from multiple sources, analyze it, and enrich it with business data in a single platform can open exciting new work lives for employees. Business apps don’t have to be dull and tedious; they can be as rich and inventive as the consumer apps we depend on every day.
Dr Carsten Linz is an entrepreneurial leader and expert on innovation-led business transformation. He successfully built up several €100 million businesses and led company-wide transformation programs affecting more than 60.000 employees. For SAP he leads the Center for Digital Leadership, a renowned C-suite think tank showcasing next-generation innovation and transformation approaches. He is an active business angel, serves on the investment committee of Europe’s largest seed stage fund, and holds various advisory board seats. Dr. Linz is adjunct faculty member and teaches in Executive Programs at Mannheim Business School, University of St. Gallen, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Stanford Graduate School. He is a sought-after keynote speaker and acts as an adviser to CxOs around the world.
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