Maps define ‘The Power of Where’

Maps define ‘The Power of Where’

gis based mapping
SERVIR, a joint initiative of NASA and USAID, uses maps for indicating percentage of moisture in soil for suitable crop production

Common problems cannot be solved without intervention and intervention is impossible without visualization offered by ‘Maps’.   A table of data may present facts & figures, but it doesn’t tell a story. A static table of data can help us realize there is a problem, but it cannot tell us accurately ‘where’. Only maps can accurately point out which are the most affected areas, enabling us to know why those areas have got most affected, what can be done to reduce the impact etc. GIS-based mapping is the answer to all. Maps define The Power of Where.

As Jim Herries, Product Engineer and Cartographer, Esri conveys, “Digital maps are pushed into our digital lives regularly. Our fundamental desire to know where things are, how to get there, what the weather is like … these are joined today by a desire to understand where problems or needs exist, and compare alternatives to solving them.”

Maps are becoming an indispensable part of our lives. They are becoming all pervasive. From better governance to more profitable businesses to enable the communities to live happier lives, maps are enabling people to make more informed decisions and achieve more efficient outcomes.

As Guruprasad S, Director, Market Screening Solutions, Bosch rightly puts it, “Map as a service is of utopian help, to public health and payers to look at population health management, seasonal diseases heat map and strengthens the focus of social determinants of health, for better healthcare delivery planning, focussed campaigns, targeted outreach programmes etc.”

The trend is not new

Maps are not new to mankind. Though the concept of ‘democratization of maps’ has picked up recently, maps have been an integral part of the human history for thousands of years. From cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia, through the Age of Exploration, and on into the 21st century, people have created and used maps as essential tools to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world.

It is interesting to discover that the earliest maps were actually ‘story’ maps. Cartographers acted as artists, as they painted pictures based on knowledge, memories, and fears of travelers. The maps so created, not only described the landscape, but also the events that had taken place within it. These beautiful pieces of work allowed travelers to identify routes while experiencing a story.

As human intelligence evolved, the power of visualizing location became clearer. With advancements in technology, maps took the form of digital roadmaps and permeated every household through smartphones.

Mapping is a central function of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which provide a visual interpretation of data. GIS analysts and specialists have emerged as the new gurus of cartographic science. Factors such as extensive use of GPS or Remote Sensing, globalization of data, use of internet, web mapping services, new software applications, have contributed greatly to the use of GIS and cartography for more and more applications every day.

gis & mappingThe world is realizing that common problems cannot be solved unless intervention is made and intervention is impossible without visualization, and thus without ‘maps’.

Maps in Governance

GIS-based mapping helps the governments achieve better governance as they are able to solve problems more quickly and efficiently.  Governments use GIS and maps to improve their workflows and services to citizens. Visualizations through maps are used to accomplish better land-use planning, road and utility maintenance, emergency management, infrastructure assessment and development and property management. Local, state and federal governments have found maps particularly useful in urban planning, including classification of land uses, zoning and subdivision planning, land acquisition, assessing the urban growth, environmental impact policy, and water quality management. Mapping can be of great help when it comes to managing urban growth and solving housing issues associated with the increasing population.

In the words of Herries, “Maps help governments assess the needs of citizens, look for any spatial components of those needs or issues, and compare different plans of action to address those needs. For instance, consider the “Clean Streets LA” initiative. The city of Los Angeles put maps to use, assessing every single street in the city with regard to how much trash or even dumping was present. The resulting data might have been kept out of the public’s eye, but instead, the city chose to address the issue of trash and illegal dumping in a very public way. Citizens can see maps of the entire city, and of course go look around their neighborhood, to see how clean or dirty their neighborhood is, schedule a pickup, or engage in other ways. The map helps create that engagement with citizens, to improve their lives specifically and the city overall.”

GIS-based mapping helps the governments achieve better governance as they are able to solve problems more quickly and efficiently.

Maps in businesses

Organizations today are collecting data at every level of their business and in volumes that in the past was unimaginable. It is an accepted fact now that about 80% of all data has a spatial component.

According to Guruprasad, Bosh, “It is estimated that roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated per day. With this huge volume of data being churned out, business intelligence solutions have become a necessity rather than a luxury. In this highly data-intensive scenario, spatial analysis provides powerful “where” perspectives and contextual insights. Being able to visualize the “where” is invaluable for planning and enhances many business intelligence applications. As better insights deliver a better impetus for decision making, spatial analysis acts as a key differentiator for businesses today, enabling them to grow faster and smarter.”

Traditionally, data would get presented to the user in the form of long reports, either with graphs and pie charts or in a spreadsheet format. Now, given the complex interrelationships of multidimensional data, visualization technology has become ineluctable for offering an accurate, high impact insight to business intelligence users.

Humans think visually, therefore spatially. Data gains immediate visual impact with the help of maps. This is more emphatically true for data with a spatial dimension. Maps best represent spatial phenomena or relationships such as flow or proximity, while also facilitating visualization of statistical measures for an area or region. In addition, maps allow multi-measure displays.

The importance of visualization in business can be better gauged from Peter Hawkins, Regional Director Digital Content, Asia Pacific, HERE, Singapore’s words, “Visualisation on maps or any sort of special platform is critical. I think the old adage applies here that one picture can tell a thousand words. It is critical how people visualize and interact with maps. The maps and special data is going to get more complex, fast pace and near real time. And the way people consume and interact with it has to change. We have announced a stringent visualization strategy. It is going to become an important element in resolving a number of interface problems and challenges faced by the industry.”

Spatial analysis is helping the industry to gain invaluable insights in stock delivery, store management, inventory management, marketing and sales.

As per Santiago Giraldo, Director, Product Marketing, Carto, “Historically, location data was only available to highly trained specialists and used to produce static GIS maps depicting the past or current status, however, today location data and insights have become more accessible by turning the map into an interactive model, where all types of professionals can do sophisticated analysis on their own.”

Today more people are using spatial data presented on maps to make faster, smarter
decisions to improve business operations. “While many early adopters have been
in the financial sector, verticals like retail, telecommunications and real estate are also
experimenting with and receiving benefits from spatial analysis based on maps today,”
adds Giraldo.

‘Customer mapping’ enables organizations to identify the markets where they can find the highest concentration of the best potential customers. GIS allows efficient mapping and color-coded maps lead to easy identification of customer concentrations. These maps help in site-selection, which involves considering factors like income, community growth rate, available workers, the physical features of the area such as roads, water, etc. and by using GIS, each of these factors can be layered on top of each other to identify the best possible location for a business.

For example, while considering relocation, a children’s clothing store could map the population of people with children in the targeted age group throughout the area under consideration. The data, once put into a GIS can generate maps wherein the highest concentration families with children are depicted using dark colors and those without using lighter colors. The final map so generated will highlight the ideal areas for the clothing store to be relocated.

Maps for citizens

Community development scales new heights when the power of maps is put to use. Maps are playing an increasingly important role in helping us create a safer, happier world. Be it leading a healthier life or producing higher quality food for feeding more mouths or having better preparedness for disasters, maps help in identifying threats and taking corrective actions on time.

Both public and private sectors are developing innovative ways to harness data integration and spatial visualization power of GIS to provide enhanced healthcare services. Maps play a critical role in determining where and when to intervene, improving the quality of care, increasing accessibility of service and finding more cost-effective delivery modes.

Mapping allows healthcare professionals to identify health-related trends and target healing efforts based on those results more thoroughly. For instance, by integrating visualization in a Cancer Surveillance Program, healthcare professionals can visualize the locations of patients and determine if clusters of specific types of cancer are associated with similar working conditions or residential areas. Such studies often reveal important correlations, such as the association between people residing near heavily sprayed fields and higher incidences of prostate cancer among them.  For years, healthcare professionals have relied on hand-drawn maps for identifying affected areas; things have become more systematic and accurate with maps generated by GIS.

With rising incidents of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes etc., mapping enables healthcare professionals to identify where certain diseases are more likely to or already have become prevalent and proactively begin implementing preventative strategies.

Using geography and other inputs, GIS can also help in identifying where the diseases are most likely to spread next. This kind of information can help in saving lives as it enables healthcare professionals to prepare in advance for the disease. Maps such as these play a significant role in the management of disease outbreaks as they help visualize where infected people live and the potential spread of the disease. Mapping can also be used to gain a better understanding of vaccination rates in different areas to determine which locations could be hit the hardest in case of a serious outbreak.

Use of maps can enable community leaders and developers to work more closely with hospitals to take larger steps in addressing national healthcare needs. The system can help identify which neighborhoods are in greater need of specific health services such as more rehab centers or senior care facilities. Analysis of patient demographic data can help answer these questions.

Maps for disaster management

gis & mappingBe it modeling through early warning systems or using decision support systems to understand which disaster is going to affect or is affecting which region the most, visualization achieved through GIS can help in mitigating the risks of a disaster to a great extent. As maps help in identifying disaster-prone areas, preparations can be better, efforts can be more directed and response can be faster.

For instance, landslides are one of the major disasters that occur in the hilly region. The disaster risks can be mitigated using maps. A “Landslide Hazard Map” includes “zonation showing the annual probability of landslide occurring throughout an area” (USGS).  A landslide susceptibility map is a basic concept of landslide susceptibility and it includes the spatial distribution of factors related to the instability processes in order to determine zones of landslide-prone areas without any temporal implication.

This approach is useful for areas where it is difficult to secure enough information concerning the historical record of landslide events ranks the slope stability of an area in categories that range from stable to unstable. Susceptibility maps show where landslides may occur. This identification leads to better preparedness and thus lesser or no loss of lives.

Maps can be used to indicate vulnerability to different extents under different conditions. Areas likely to remain unaffected or remain comparatively safe could be identified and even alternate routes to shelters, camps, and important locations could be worked out.

Identification of vulnerable areas leads to smooth rescue and evacuation operations. Mapping of affected areas lead to better organization of rehabilitation and post-disaster reconstruction works could be properly organized.

More food to eat with maps

Use of GIS-based visualization to achieve higher quality food production is not a new phenomenon anymore.

Agricultural mapping is day by day becoming crucial for monitoring and management of soil and irrigation of farmlands.  It is facilitating agricultural development and rural development. Accurate mapping of geographic and geologic features of farmlands is enabling scientists and farmers to create more effective and efficient farming techniques. As farmers are able to take more corrective actions in the form of better utilization of fertilizers, treating pest and weed infestations, protecting the natural resources etc., we are bestowed with more and higher quality food production.

While natural inputs in farming cannot be controlled, they can be better understood and managed with GIS applications. GIS can substantially help in effective crop yield estimates, soil amendment analyses and erosion identification and remediation. More accurate and reliable crop estimates help reduce uncertainty.

Mapping in agriculture helps farmers to achieve increased production and reduced costs by enabling better management of land resources. The risk of marginalization and vulnerability of small and marginal farmers, who constitute about 85% of farmers globally, also gets reduced.

Undoubtedly, the insight gleaned from the dimension of ‘place’ opens doors to new
learnings and potential patterns that enable the decision-makers to take better decisions
and achieve more productive outcomes.

Also Read

How GIS is enabling the agricultural sector

Benefits are limitless

Gartner predicts that the number of organizations using spatial analysis is expected to quadruple from 9% to 36% by 2021. Additionally, the number of people using spatial analysis within those organizations is also expected to quadruple from 5% to 20% during that time.

According to Herries, “Every business needs to understand its customers, whether it sells directly to people, indirectly to other businesses. If only those customers would stay the same, the businessperson’s life would be easier. But people keep changing, aging, and moving. Their tastes and preferences change. Sometimes their world changes underneath them, such as during the Great Recession or when a big company in town lays off (or hires) thousands. C-Level executives need clear visualizations of their company’s assets, competitors, and customers. Maps reveal what tables and charts can hide: the “where” in their business. Where are the customers? What challenges are they facing? Where are the suppliers? Where is our competition?”

Maps help in creating sound marketing plans. As maps enable identification of target markets, marketing plans become more efficient. By using GIS and mapping as an area’s market and the customers within it are identified, businesses focus on offering the products that can best match the demands specific to that market area. This approach ensures higher sales and more satisfied customers.

Mapping also helps in determining if a location is apt for a service or not. For instance, mapping can enable a senior center to identify where there is the highest proportion of senior citizens in a city. This knowledge allows it to get established at the most suitable place instead of a random location. Mapping prevents a business from taking a wrong decision. For instance, a restaurant serving Chinese cuisine can identify beforehand whether a similar one exists in the area. Unless there are enough customers to support both, the new one may decide to choose a new location.

Maps help in analyzing sales and identifying geographic patterns that enable the businesses to take more informed decisions.  For instance, peaks through the sale of different items at several coffee houses in a chain can help the manager of the chain to determine which items are preferred in which location. As he accordingly makes the items available in different locations, business for the chain is likely to become more efficient.

According to Sanjay Dhakar, VP – Engineering, Jugnoo, “Visualization is extremely important for businesses. There are multiple aspects to it. One is on the customer side,  so when a customer is taking a ride or ordering food, it is critical to display all the data in front of him. Like exactly where the biker or the driver is. So this is one area where we are using visualization of maps in showing real-time location of drivers. On backend side, our team uses visualization to see which areas the drivers are. Lastly, the analytics team uses visualization to make sense out of the data that is collected.”

Map usage is getting democratized with the creation and usage is not limited
to the privileged few. As more and more people are realizing the significance of maps
in making the world a better place, more and more map-based solutions are cropping up.
Taking things further, many organizations are taking advantage of location intelligence,
gaining additional business intelligence.

They are enabling their data locationally, visualizing it on maps, and then doing analytics on that data to gain further insight.

Also Read

Adopt GIS, Be healthier