What Is Geospatial Data and What Is It Used For?
While the term “geospatial data” sounds like it’s ripped from the dialogue of a science fiction movie, it’s actually an essential part of many services you rely on every day. Whether you’re looking for the best place to eat or trying to interpret zoning laws for a new construction project, you’re using geospatial data.
Let’s explore this type of data, how it’s used, and the different forms it can take.
What is geospatial data?
Geospatial data can be simply defined as data that’s related to a location somewhere on Earth — or even in near orbit! That means a lot of the location-based services you rely on in daily life, from driving directions to real estate listings, use geospatial data.
Geospatial data can come from a variety of sources, including databases, maps, and satellites. GPS coordinates and addresses are the most common examples of geospatial data, but timestamps, categorization, and other types of information can fit within this category, too — as long as they’re linked to a location.
Why is geospatial data so important?
Above all, geospatial data does something rather unique that not all types of data can: it provides context in a way humans understand intuitively.
Time and space are the two main metrics by which we understand and measure the physical world. Geospatial data is all about turning space into data points we can use for all kinds of needs, and that’s why it ends up feeding many types of technologies and projects.
What type of data do geospatial technologies provide?
Geospatial technologies — like geographic information systems (GIS) — can provide any kind of data that’s somehow linked to a location on Earth.
Likely the first example that comes to mind when you think of geospatial data, GPS coordinates represent specific locations as numeric data. That means everything from the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles (34.134117, -118.321495) to the top of Mount Everest (27.987850, 86.925026) has GPS coordinates.
Of course, local addresses are a common example of geospatial data. Whether you’re trying to find the nearest gas station or plan a route for a sales team, you’ll be using an app full of addresses.
Points of interest
Points of interest are defined as any physical location that someone might find interesting. For a tourist, a restaurant or hotel might be a point of interest, while a lawyer would consider a police station or courthouse a point of interest. Location data associated with these places is a type of geospatial data.
Property data attempts to represent the physical bounds of property as accurately as possible. Whether it’s for physical buildings or land, this data is often represented on a map, usually to help plan various projects or settle disputes.
Administrative, judicial, and national boundaries are all examples of geospatial data that represent imagined but generally agreed-upon location information rather than physical locations.
What is geospatial data used for?
Because geospatial data can cover a ton of information, it can be the backbone of a variety of projects, technologies, and business processes. Here are just a few examples of how geospatial data can be used.
This seems like the most obvious application, right? Since geospatial data deals with locations on Earth, it makes sense that you’d use it to make maps. You could use GPS information to create satellite imagery or addresses to draw neighborhood maps, for example.
Whether you’re dealing with real estate, municipal projects, or business strategy, site selection is essential. Otherwise, that new condo building might not get tenants, that community center might stay empty, or that new store could get shut down soon after opening. Geospatial data is essential for picking the best possible location for these projects.
Visit attribution is used by businesses to get more information about the people who visit their stores using mobile data. Because geospatial data can include GPS data from mobile phones, it’s used by marketers and sales teams to tailor their strategy as they figure out who their ideal customers are.
Despite what you might think, municipalities don’t just plop down construction sites on your morning commute to spite you. Whether they’re planning road maintenance, new urban projects, or new services, municipalities use geospatial data to isolate the needs of their population and plan the best way to meet those needs. That can mean finding the best location for a new building or using population data to determine where services are most urgently needed.
Telecommunications network planning
Telecommunication companies have some of the most massive infrastructure projects in the world, and keeping them running depends on a ton of geospatial data. Ever had to report an internet outage to your service provider? Then you’ve used geospatial data. But it doesn’t stop there. Everything from planning the construction of a new cell tower to sharing a coverage map with customers depends on geospatial data.
Hedge funds and private equity funds typically do a ton of research before adding an investment to their portfolio. While some of that research involves diving into publicly available financial information, geospatial data is important, too. Investors want to know where a company is located, what local market conditions are like, and any local risks that could influence its value.
Location-based information is critical for working out a business strategy. Business owners need to know where their potential customers live and where they spend their money. They need to know as much as possible about the local area and its competitors.
Risk assessment is a discipline that’s all about identifying, mitigating, and resolving the potential risks associated with all kinds of endeavors, from construction to business and government services. A foreman might use geospatial data to ensure that their crew won’t be drilling into a gas line, while a risk assessor working for an investment fund might use similar data to determine local risks to a new business.
Give it some space
Geospatial data is so essential to so many processes that it can go practically unnoticed by the uninitiated. But whether you’re using Google Maps to get around town or smappen to find the perfect location for your business, you’re relying on geospatial data to make better decisions. So might as well have the right tools for the job.