The term ‘geocoding’ has become one of the latest buzzwords in the business space, and is touted for its ability to deliver a host of benefits. Geocodes provide a precise location, expressed as latitude and longitude co-ordinates, and as such have many applications across different industries. This data is not new but has typically been restricted to use in specialist Geographical Information System (GIS) applications. It becomes far more useful when linked to traditional location data, stored as addresses, and used to create spatial Business Intelligence (BI) insights that present business information on a map.
Geocodes can be beneficial to any business that uses or manages address information in any way, as it allows objects which have an address, such as customers, to be plotted on a map and compared to objects that do not have an address, such as the customer demographic of the area, or assets that do not have addresses, such as meters or billboards
Companies that can bridge the gap between these different ways of representing location can gain valuable insights that enable them to improve planning, reduce risk and improve operational efficiency.
A geocode identifies a address’ latitude and longitude co-ordinates
Insuring against risks
For example, within the insurance sector, geocoding is being used to complete various risk assessments – for floods, fire, burglary, etc – at an individual insured property level. A small variation in location can, for example, move an insured property from above to below the 100-year flood line. This provides the insurers with the key information to manage exposure to accumulated risks, to provide more competitive premiums, and to more accurately analyse capital and capacity requirements. Location data can be critical for disaster management, making it simpler to ensure that emergency services arrive as quickly as possible.
Spatial intelligence can also play a key role in planning, whether for a bank or retailer planning to place a new ATM or store, or for government planning where to build a school or place a clinic. Geocoding customer address data gives an accurate determination on the density of customers in specific areas, as well as the layout and distance of these customers or populations to existing stores or facilities. A visual plot of store coverage, for example, overlaid with customer locations allows retailers to place new stores that provide convenience to customers, or targeted markets, and are therefore more likely to generate foot traffic in the stores. For government, the service delivery of new facilities, such as hospitals, schools and social services can be planned for precisely where they are needed, and costs can be allocated to the correct service area.
There are currently no standards for addresses in South Africa and there are a number of variations and inconsistencies when address details are involved. Globally, more and more South African companies are doing business in emerging markets such as India, South America, Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa. Any geocoding solution must cater for semi-structured addresses, multiple languages, multiple locations, common mis-spelling and other address anomalies. It is important to understand what you need the geocodes for and what data you are going to use as the solution will need to handle the varying data.
For example, when planning for the placement of a new branch or store, it is not necessary to know precisely where individual clients live. In this case, it is sufficient to plot client information to the closest suburb. This will give the insight as to client density in the area, which can be plotted against the known location of existing branches, as well as those of competitors. At this point an informed decision can be made as to the importance of a new branch in the area.
For a freight company, on the other hand, the precise locations of delivery and collection addresses are valuable to enable accurate route planning. A freight companies needs house-level geocodes in order to properly map their routes, resulting in less fuel consumption and reduced travel time as the route can be mapped out accordingly to the parcels that need to be collected and delivered.
Any geocoding solution will be dependent on the accuracy of the address captured, as well as on the completeness of the reference data set used. However, even addresses that cannot be found exactly can still add value.
For example, an address may be captured as 243 West Street, Sandton. This address may not exist, and cannot be plotted exactly. However, a geocoding solution will be able to give you a location for West Street, allowing the person requiring directions to easily find West Street and continue on to number 243, if it exists, or to visually identify the correct premises if it does not.
Street centroids are calculated by finding the mid-point of a street based upon street end-points and street segments
One constant within geocodes is transparency. Geocodes can be used to add value to the organisation without disrupting current business practices. The relative information given through geocodes must be assessed with relative precision to ensure an informed business decision can be made.
Critical information needs to be evaluated before final decisions based on Geocodes can be made. Information such as crime statistics or area demographics can be obtained from various data providers. These spatial layers allow users to visualise the relationship of existing address data to area demographics, risk profiles, access to services and other key indicators.
Spatial data is available from various sources. However, it is often not a simple matter to add this data into existing address information, since lack of standardisation and poor quality address data can negatively impact the applicability of geocoding data.
For example, the spatial data, or data from the geocoding database, may recognise “CAPE TOWN” as a city. However, in a company’s records, the name may be misspelled, as CAPE TWON or CAPETOWN, or even be in another language, such as KAAPSTAD, or may be buried in the wrong field in the database. These are common issues which can cause a failure in the lookup of geocoding data, meaning that accurate locations cannot be added.
Example of city centroid
In order to reap the benefits of geocoding data, it is critical to apply sophisticated cleansing and matching to improve address quality before geocodes are applied. Data quality and standardisation tools, such as the Trillium Software System, find these common errors and correct them, as well as identifying the same address that may be represented in two different ways, based on its elements.
For example, data cleansing for geocoding should be able to recognise that KERKSTRAAT 11, Pretoria is the same address as 11 Church Street, Pretoria. By addressing data quality and standardisation issues, the probability of finding a match and being able to add an accurate location is vastly improved.
Geocoding data adds another dimension of information for businesses, and enables enhanced analytics to be conducted using geospatial information. Quality address data is a prerequisite for realising the benefits that geocoding can deliver!