Location-based apps – taking advantage of untapped opportunities

Jan 30, 2018



Location, location, location – we all know how important it is. However, when it comes to using location technology and apps to truly unlock and maximise data, the business world simply isn’t using geographic information system (GIS) technology to its full potential.   

There’s a huge trick being missed every day and therefore there’s significant operational and commercial opportunity for almost every business large or small, and it’s sitting in data they already have and gather.   

It’s not that businesses aren’t using location technology. On the contrary. Many of today’s digital businesses have location technology at the heart of their service offerings, just think of app based business such as Uber, Tinder, Facebook. The list of location-centric services and products goes on. It’s fair to say location technology and specifically GIS technology is already proven in demand and performance up to a point. 

However, it is also fair to say that the majority of businesses have a significant and untapped opportunity when it comes to using GIS technology. Businesses and organisations, regardless of size, have and continue to amass swathes of data relating their business, services, products, customers, staff, competitors and marketplace. Although many use and analyse this data to an extent, very few are unlocking or even aware of the true value of their data if they bring it to life through GIS mapping technology.   

Business facing GIS

Of course, some businesses are leading the way and using GIS to unlock data. Starbucks takes the location of its stores very seriously and making a data-driven decision on the planned location for every one of its cafés is critical to its success and profitability. GIS technology allows Starbucks to undertake in-depth analysis of each planned new store to understand factors such as the peaks and troughs of footfall numbers during the day, the demographic make-up of the local customer base, and the extent of competition in the area. All this and more is brought to life through GIS mapping to take guess work and gut feel out of critical business decisions for Starbucks and unlock the data it already has.

Businesses can take a similar approach when planning a relocation of offices. GIS technology enables businesses to understand how relocating will impact its workforce. For example, if a company is currently located in the centre of a major city but is considering a move to a business park on the outskirts instead, understanding how will this impact the commutes of their employees and their accessibility to clients should be central to the criteria and decision to move. GIS will ensure this information is available before a decision is made, rather than discovering the downsides after relocation has happened. 

The possibilities are endless

The role of GIS and the innovation of location applications in the B2B space are only limited by the developers’ imagination. GIS technology can and will act as a catalyst to improved business performance and growth simply by unlocking the data that already exists within the enterprise.   

One disruptive technology which has started integrating with GIS is augmented reality (AR). Currently this technology is most prevalent in the gaming industry, but it is starting to bleed across and span a broad spectrum of business and vertical markets. In the retail environment for example, we have already seen AR and GIS working in tandem to drive sales through a new app that recognises an interactive advert and instantly informs the customer of the closest store with the product in stock and offers directions on how to get there. It is this type of innovative application development that will see GIS continue to develop and drive the cutting edge of business processes.   

Once any business starts to understand how GIS works, it is easy to envision how a whole range of applications will improve operational performance and efficiency. In the utility sector for example, using AR and GIS simultaneously, it is possible to create a digital representation of any area using satellite imagery. A utility company needing to monitor and maintain pylons could see a digital map of exactly where each pylon is located and, using machine learning and neural networks, highlight those which require repair and attention perhaps as a result of storm damage. Rather than sending teams to check each pylon, instead, the GIS mapping would allow the team to plan an accurate and efficient route which only takes in those pylons which need their attention. The time and cost savings would be significant to say the least, let alone the increase workforce productivity and safety. 

The role and use of GIS technology can be applied in almost every area of business. Whether in healthcare and defence sectors, for example, where diverse estate and asset management is a real challenge that can be solved by GIS mapping. Local government and town councils are another GIS use case example. Here GIS is being used to create and support smart communities whether in small rural towns or larger, urban cities. The location technology is helping to bring citizens and government together and the mobile apps for example allow communication outside of opening times or waiting on switchboards. Citizens benefit from a better experience and councils benefit from real time data and information in powerful dashboards to improve and anticipate service delivery.    

GIS – take one more step

Whether it is to analyse where to get the most footfall at conferences or to increase security levels within the office, developers have one of the most exciting career opportunities open to them now in form of GIS and location-based app development for business in 2018. The commercial and operational benefits of doing so are vast and can be applied to almost any app imaginable, whether customer facing or entirely internal.   

Businesses will continue find both customer and employee expectations evolving to use this technology as a matter of course. The good news for businesses and app developers is that the adoption and use of this technology is not a big leap. Businesses already have the data they need and will likely already be using location based technology up to a point.   

From here, the message is simple, take one more step with GIS and truly unlock business data to deliver transformational business results.      

Sean McGee, Developer Evangelist at Esri UK 

Image Credit Niekverlaan / Pixabay