Expert's Opinion

An Easy Button for Spatial Data Management


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Is the management of spatial data as seamless and intuitive as its non-spatial counterparts? Just for some context, compare it to the ease with which you drag, drop and share documents via Google Drive, or browse through videos on Youtube, or create some quick analytics on your tabular data in PowerBI. The answer to the above question is pretty unanimous; no. Spatial data and non-spatial data are worlds apart in terms of how easily they can be managed.

Moving on to the next set of questions. Do you believe that the management of spatial data ought to be seamless and intuitive? And is it possible to create an ‘easy button’ for this? 

We believe it is!

On the latest episode of the Ellipsis Drive podcast, our CEO Rosalie van der Maas spoke with Neil Pearson, Founder of UiSEE, and someone with decades worth of experience in the various aspects of the geospatial ecosystem and insurance domain. Their dialogue focussed on understanding the (urgent) need of an easy button for spatial data management. In this article, we’re going to share the essence of that dialogue and hopefully leave you with something to ponder on.

The Status Quo: Rise of Spatial Data Silos

It’s only after acknowledging the status quo for what it really is, that steps can be taken to change it (if change is needed). So let’s take stock of the current situation: 

We find that spatial datasets are managed and used in disparate systems. Period. But why is this such an inevitability?

Neil said, “I’ve seen this pattern cut across industries. Telco and insurance, to name a couple that come to mind. It’s mainly because different business objectives give rise to different data sets. There’s little to no obligation to think about duplication, how to share such data, or the needs of the other teams or business groups that are likely to use it. This happens even while they are all part of one organization.”

Smart organizations have already grown more mindful of this, which is why you see a rise in the number of data governance policies and practices that are being instated. These practices have brought a much needed sense of standardization to geospatial data workflows

The Urgent Need for Centralization

One of the main causes that has spurred this growth in mindfulness amongst certain organizations and business leaders is climate change. As is always the case, desperation is forcing a revolution. “As we’re seeing the ravages of climate change, we require greater data governance to address some of those challenges. Think about the fusion of raster data sets that are run by one group with vector data sets run by others. It’s about how you bring them together quickly in response to what’s going on.” said Neil. 

The need for a robust and cohesive spatial data workflow has been further propelled by technological advancements; specifically in the Earth Observation (EO) domain. EO companies are constantly challenging the entire data chain by coming up with newer, sleeker ways of remote sensing the planet. Just to paint a picture, there are 9,900 satellite constellations orbiting the Earth as of 4th May, 2024. Roughly 6000 of those have been launched from 2020 and onwards. This volume of data, and the resulting volume of intelligence, that is created with it, needs to be ingested into business processes somehow. 

The quality of data being transferred and the rate at which it is being transmitted from these satellites demands a special mention. The revisits and refreshes of these new satellites improves with each new launch, with some constellations boasting a revisit rate of over 10 times a day. This has redefined the concept of change detection. And naturally, makes a strong case for the need for smarter spatial data workflows. 

Neil didn’t hesitate to point out the progress that has been made so far though, “There are new geospatial workflows that are available for this new wave of spatial offerings, that are challenging the classic ways of handling geospatial data. There is a need for greater responsiveness of sharing data, and organizations all around the world are slowly embracing that. Hopefully we’ll get that easy button for sharing spatial data very soon.”

The Way Forward

Better data governance inevitably implies data standardization. Neil drew upon his past experience in the UK to briefly describe what the next step should be for the governance of geospatial data. “While working for the municipal governments of the UK, we heavily relied upon the Ordnance Survey. And they came out with a standard - 7666. It was the georeferencing bible of geospatial data. That hasn’t ever been replicated anywhere in the world. It could solve a lot of problems around property ID and georeferencing. Think of the potential upside of turning a bland text based address into a standardized geolocation on the map.”

This transformation would open up a broad set of options and use cases for industries such as Insurance underwriting. 

Another consequence of deploying sound data governance practices is that it paves the way for data fusion – between spatial and non-spatial datasets. Neil elevated this notion by saying, “Insurance companies are taking time to understand what they have at their disposal (the data specifications that currently exist), and what they don’t. They’re trying to make data resources more accessible to all relevant parts of their organization, and they’re looking to overlay this data with other datasets. They’re going the extra mile to join the dots between the available data resources and how it ties into the actual use cases. It might take them 9 to 12 months to do this work and lay the foundation, but in the long run, their reaction time to external situations increases tremendously.”

Closing Thoughts

Not all companies have the appetite to take up this data challenge and turn it into a competitive edge. That’s where the power of collaboration comes into the equation. New age spatial data analytics companies, spatial data management solutions and platforms can be used to divide the labor to great effect. 

Neil said, “In the process of leveraging these companies to solve the data governance challenge, you build an ecosystem that is primed to tackle climate risks and the like. People are waking up to this capability. They have to now.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

No technological advancement, revolution or anything in this universe, happens in isolation. It is a symphony, an act of co-creation. And together, we can co-create a better way to manage spatial data. And use that to create a better future!

We would like to thank Neil for taking the time to share his valuable viewpoints on the matter. We are confident that these insights and opinions, when heard and acted upon by other thought leaders, will create synergy and growth. Be sure to watch the full podcast here.

Until next time!

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