When location became all about the data

These days, most organisations are catching on to the fact that geographic and demographic information allows precise targeting and marketing of services, meaning you can scientifically stretch every vital penny that bit further. However, most leaders still see the specialists in these fields as geeks who draw pretty maps; useful, but limited. This could well be the year all of this changes.
What’s happening now
Geographic sciences have changed immensely in the last ten years, with the big boys, such as Google and Microsoft, getting involved. Also, performance enhancements mean our standard laptops are capable of handling some very complex analyses, now taking seconds instead of days. Into this, throw in a very detailed database of everyone in the country and hand it out for free to data-hungry techies. Is it any wonder we are all currently in a state of glee?

If you think about it, you will see just how much you can do with the census alongside your service data: the type of people who are successfully quitting smoking and those who cannot. How many children with parents who speak a foreign language that may need extra child services, despite living in a seemingly affluent area. The types of short‑term residents you are getting, and what services they want that they might pay you for.
European Inspire Directive and the UK Location Programme
How come it’s so much easier to fill up your car or answer your phone abroad then it is to open some map data? The data is surely the easiest to standardise – or is it?

These new laws are to enable Europe-wide discovery and use of location-based data for public safety. What that boils down to is a massive amount of central and local government and health data slowly coming together in one place and all in one format 
for us to download and use.

This data can be everything from transport networks to geographic incidences of allergies and cancers, via protected nature sites and forward planning areas. There are services being set up to help do this without spending too much cash, but it’s going to take time.

It will be well worth it, though, when we  are considering cross-border issues or the impacts of major expansion plans. Money invested here will also bring local benefits when dealing with partner organisations’ data.

Time currently spent on crowbarring information into our systems can now be spent analysing and making better use of it.
Potential synergy
These together give us massive flexibility in our data offering. There could be new issues over staff spending too much time on the 
data, and not filtering fast enough. But for those staff who can find a quick path through, the evidence that can now be offered for change could prove comprehensive and decisive in short measure.

Google Maps changed the game and now the public are happy to share data geographically. For example, pictures tagged with a location could be used to help report faults or even graffiti. This means we can consider moving a large burden of data creation away from specialists and to other employees, and give them the time to really save you precious pennies.

Suddenly it’s not so much about a nicely produced map but about the data journey we take, and that has many more opportunities that we are only just starting to discover.
The AGI Awards Ceremony is held annually and is a set of industry awards to encourage best practice, innovation and maximum use of geographic information. This year’s event takes place on 6 December in London. The category entrants are from across central and local government, the private sector, research and education. For more details, email claire.gilmour@agi.org.uk
Kristin Warry is the geographic and demographic information manager at Swindon Borough Council, and is a member of both the AGI’s Local Public Services SIG and Inspire Action Working Group committees
Further information

Please register to comment on this article