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Business goes spatial



A diverse range of organisations are turning to geographical information systems (GIS) to solve many of their business issues such as vehicle tracking and incident management. The spatial view that GIS offers gives an entire new dimension on planning and decision making.
A diverse range of organisations are turning to geographical information systems (GIS) to solve many business issues, says Aspire Solutions’ Mike Steyn – and the potential is set to explode as real-time spatial information becomes more widely available.

“Taking a spatial view brings a new dimension to planning and decision-making,” says Steyn. “A single map can provide rapid insight into data that would otherwise take up many pages of tables and charts, and be much more difficult to understand.”

The Airports Company of South Africa, one of Aspire Solutions’ largest clients, uses GIS to tie together aspects of its operation as diverse as retail property management, emergency services planning, wildlife control and regulatory compliance.

For example, Airports Company SA is responsible for co-ordinating emergency services whenever an aircraft-related incident takes place within a certain radius of one of its airports. “Geographical info is critical to Airports Company SA’s incident management,” says Steyn. “They need to know the exact locations of every road, clinic, hospital, fire station and police station within 20km of their airports.”

In addition, adds Steyn, it is possible to overlay vehicle tracking and other real-time information on the map as well, supporting better co-ordination of response teams.
Airports Company SA is realising the benefits of GIS in many other areas of its business as well, including its retail property division where rents, turnover and customer movements can easily be added to maps, along with photographs, inputs from security cameras and more.

“Collecting spatial data in the first place involves a big investment, so we encourage our clients to lever it across all their business processes,” says Steyn. “It should never be locked into a single department or function.”

Once a base map has been created, he adds, “you can link it to anything from publicly available census, weather and economic data through to asset registers, internal incident management, security, ERP and many other systems. You want it to permeate all your business sites.”

Property developers can make extensive use of GIS to manage construction projects, sales, rentals and maintenance. “GIS is database-driven, which makes it an excellent complement to CAD systems which are used primarily in the design and construction process. Every point in a building can be linked to drawings, operations manuals, photographs, or information from sensors on fuel lines, water pipes, electrical and security installations. This kind of information is valuable for marketing as well as for project and operations management,” says Steyn.”

Once spatial information is available through the organisation it can be put to use to improve a wide range of business processes, notes Steyn. “We had one client, a national distributor of technical equipment, that was incurring heavy costs due to a poor-quality address database. Shipments were regularly delivered to the wrong premises, the wrong town, even the wrong province.

“With GIS this is a very simple problem to solve. Rather than just typing in a client address, which creates a lot of room for error, staff members now capture delivery addresses as points on a map, which can be stored as GPS co-ordinates. When the waybill includes the delivery co-ordinates, there is no room for error or argument by courier service providers.”
There are further benefits, says Steyn. “Once your clients are geo-coded it’s possible to view a lot of other information in a new light. Investigating the spatial patterns of turnover, purchase types, seasonal differences and so can reveal valuable new business intelligence.”

There are few problems to which GIS data is not relevant, adds Steyn. “The growth of location-based services is making people more aware of this, but not all spatially aware projects are delivering real business value,” he notes. “Organisations need to make this a part of their overall IT strategy, as a business tool that can be used across multiple levels of the organisation to deliver better decision making, greater cost savings and new ideas.”

“The increasing availability of real-time data feeds will dramatically increase the business value of GIS,” he adds. “Webcams, vehicle tracking, equipment telemetry and financial systems are just some examples of the sources that will become increasingly available in the next few years. As an assessment, planning and strategic tool GIS is coming into its own.”