Geographic and geospatial musings

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For a variety of reasons geographic and geospatial considerations have been in my mind recently. To begin with, Natalie Newman will, provided all things go smoothly, shortly be joining the Information Management group here at Bloor Research, specialising in exactly these areas. She has 25 years of experience of working in this space, especially in government (local and national), defence and in the telecommunications sector, both here and in her native South Africa. Most recently she was working with BT Global Services. So Natalie is welcome addition to our team.

Then, earlier this week, I received an email from Capscan, announcing its support for CACI’s ACORN. ACORN (a classification of residential neighbourhoods) enriches UK address data with a whole load of demographic data. If you go to the CACI site you can try it for yourself. Put simply, you put in a postcode and then the software classifies that post code as being in one of a number of categories, groups and types. For example, my post code comes into category 1: “wealthy achievers”, group A: “wealthy executives” and type 3: “villages with wealthy commuters”. Not that I’m a commuter. Or very wealthy for that matter. You can then analyse this type by a variety of lifestyle and demographic attributes to see how type 3 communities compare. For example, the average household in a type 3 community is 1.76 times more likely to have 2 or more cars compared to the country as a whole. It’s really quite cool. Capscan is suggesting using ACORN in conjunction with name and address cleansing and you can see how this would make sense or even, for that matter, using it independently of data quality.

Now, this demographic data is based on locations and we’ve all heard a lot about location-based services and the like, which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for a while, which is why GIS (geographic information systems), in particular, is not as popular as it might be?

What I have been wondering is whether it’s because of the name. It seems to me that GIS systems are not really about geography at all: they are really about locations. And, for that matter, spatial analytics is not really about spaces but about topography. Perhaps if they actually said on the tin what they are about then people might use them more.

Here are some examples:

  • GIS systems are often used to help decide where to put new store or depot locations. Yes, locations.
  • GIS systems can be used to identify hotspots for benefit fraud. That is, where (locations) this is happening.
  • I remember a particularly neat example from Information Builders: one of its clients had done a location-based analysis of its suppliers and found that 90% of them were on the other side of a major river, meaning that if the bridge was out for some reason, then their whole JIT (just in time) manufacturing would go out the window.
  • The most common application of spatial analytics is in the insurance sector, for determining things like flood risk. This is essentially worked by how close you are to a flood plain or coast and how high your property is relative to the water source. Which sounds to me like topography.

Long-time readers know that I like to call a spade a spade and this is no exception. Normally, I would say that we are stuck with these terms but that may not be the case with GIS. With the huge growth in location-based services and location analytics there is the possibility that GIS could re-brand itself and finally prove as successful and as widespread as it ought to be. Hopefully, Natalie will help to make that happen.