Location – The Tie that Binds

As an executive, how hard is it for you to get a complete view of what is really happening in all parts of your enterprise?  Is the information you receive fragmented?  Out of date?  Do you have multiple versions of the “truth”?  Can you spot trends?  Would you like to wake up in the morning and use your iPad to review KPI’s?  Can you can make timely decisions about your business with confidence?

In other words, are you getting the information you need, in the format you need, when and where you need it?

Organizations have worked for years to tear down information silos, but challenges remain.  If this is the case for you, consider utilizing geography as an integrating platform to organize, analyze, visualize, and share your enterprise data assets.

Spatial, or location information is contained in much business data.  For example, wouldn’t it be great to integrate and visualize:

  • Customer addresses and disaster event data
  • Supply chain requirements with weather and traffic data
  • Point of sale and demographic data
  • Indoor customer mobility patterns with product placement and customer demographic data
  • Regulatory compliance requirements with housing loans history
  • Store location and crime data
  • Location of related Tweets to marketing campaign actions
  • Asset information and maintenance compliance performance
  • The list goes on.

My point…… It makes good sense to utilize geography as an integration strategy because location is often the common denominator across disparate data assets and systems.  Once these items are integrated and organized around location, the next logical step is to use spatial technology to analyze, visualize, and share the data.

Esri, a company who has been building Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since the late 60’s has developed an entire technology stack for utilizing geography as an enterprise platform.  Wiring-up CRM’s, ERP’s, Data Warehouses, and other operational business systems to a geographic platform is not as hard as you might think.  If you want, you can start with small investments in technology and services and quickly develop new and powerful ways of running your business.

The trends are clear.  It will be common place for organizations to have specialized spatial analytics divisions.  Interactive maps will be a standard part of the executive’s BI dashboard.  Geographic platforms are increasingly being recognized as good options for dealing with Big Data, predictive analytics, risk analysis, and data from mobile devices, to name a few.  Geography is also a great platform to use for providing value added services for your customers.  Put simply, maps serve as a common language for effectively communicating complex ideas.

Geography as a technology platform is a game-changer that delivers a distinct competitive advantage.

Don’t get left behind.

Keith is the General Manager for GISi’s Private Sector Group.  Please contact him at kking@gisinc.com or 205-941-0442 x159 with questions or comments.

GIS Day at Green Valley Elementary School (Hoover, AL)

Third grade in the Hoover school system is when children start to deep dive into geography. It’s a fun age to start getting them excited about maps.

I have two children in elementary school; one in first grade and one in the third grade. Each week the school sends home graded tests so I can see what they have been learning from week to week. I noticed early on this year that my son, who is the third grader, gets tested every week on geography. They cover basic elements of maps and answer questions using scale bars and legends. I knew when I saw this that I had to give his class a presentation on maps and how we make them.

One of the biggest challenges I thought I would face is the initial introduction explaining what GIS day is. I’ve got to say though that the students picked it up very quickly and were very excited to learn more about maps. The way I started my presentation was to ask the children to raise their hands if they have ever heard of Mother’s Day. Of course, every student raised their hand. I then asked if they have ever heard of Thanksgiving Day and again they all raised their hands. I followed this up by asking if they had ever heard of GIS day, and only one student raised their hand, but when asked what GIS was, they didn’t know. So with that I told them that GIS stood for Geographic Information Systems and asked when they heard geographic what they thought it meant. They all quickly associated it with their daily geography and told me it probably had to do with maps. “The Information Systems part of GIS”, I told them, “is just the equipment, people, and data that make maps”. I also explained that GIS day is a way for people that work with maps to share what they know with other people.

My presentation covered what maps are, what they can be used for, different parts of a map, different types of maps, and how we make maps. Since they have been learning about maps the first few sections of my presentation they all picked up on very quickly. They knew that maps were drawings of places, but were interested in the fact that it could be a drawing of any place, even small areas like their bedroom. I told them they could make a drawing of a room and draw where their bed is, their closet, toy box, etc. and people who had never been in their room could easily find everything. I also explained that maps don’t have to be just places where people could go, they could also be things like a map of a brain that doctors could use when doing surgery so that they know exactly what part of the brain to work on.

The next topic was what we can use maps for. I had a simple map to show the kids and explained that we could use maps to find where things are, find out how to go from one place to another, and to answer questions. We spent some time on the map and located things like where the campground was or where the lake was. We then used the map to figure out how to get to different places like from the campground to the mountains or lake. Finally we answered questions like how many different type of trees are there and how many different areas do the butterflies live in. Here is the map that I used to cover what maps can be used for:

Once the kids had a good understanding of what a map could be used for we covered the different parts of a map.  The parts of a map that I covered were legends, scale bar, north arrow, title, neatline, and color. From their daily geography they all knew what a legend, scale bar, north arrow and title were, but the last two they hadn’t learned yet. I have to say that of all of the parts of a map, the kids really liked the neatline. I think it was just the name that they liked, but we spent quite a bit of time talking about it. We also talked at length about color choices for maps. They are at the age where they are particular about how they color drawings. My son for example won’t color the sky anything other than blue and the grass anything other than green, so when I was asking the students what colors they would use for the ocean, or the ground, or roads, they all picked up that colors should be chosen that would be easy for the person reading the map to understand.

The next topic I covered was the three main types of maps; political, thematic, and physical. The kids really liked this section. I showed them a few examples of each type of map and we tried to answer questions about each one. The class has a number of different political maps and physical maps hanging on the walls so they were quick to point out various things on those maps, but the thematic maps we spent the most time on because they hadn’t seen maps like that before. The one that I showed them that was the most interesting to them was the map showing election results. They all had participated in mock elections the week prior, so they found it really interesting to see which states voted for each candidate.

The one topic I wasn’t sure if they would understand very well was the last one covering how we make maps. I wanted to show the kids some of the common tools used to make maps and keep it at a level that they could understand. We first covered making maps by hand. For this example I showed the same map I used earlier to answer questions about maps (above). The next thing covered was making maps using the Sun and stars. I showed them a map made by Amerigo Vespucci and explained that back when Christopher Columbus discovered North America people would navigate their ships by using stars and the position of the Sun and would follow the coast drawing what they saw on a map. I pointed to the map that Amerigo made and then to the world map the kids had in their classroom to show them the difference between accuracy from then to now. We then covered some of the newer methods like GPS, imagery, LIDAR, and RADAR. With GPS I showed them a picture of the satellites all around the world and explained that it is what cell phones and car navigation use to know where they are and that we use devices that look like cell phones where we can use GPS to actually collect information to use in maps. The imagery I showed them a picture of a plane with a camera on it and showed them some imagery. I also showed them an example of image resolution. Both LIDAR and RADAR I just briefly covered basically comparing LIDAR to using a laser pointer which gives accurate pictures of height and RADAR using radio signals which is used to map weather like rain and clouds.

The last part of my presentation I digitized some features for a map. I used an image of the school and showed them that if they like tracing pictures they would like making maps. We drew the roads, the school, the playground area, and the track. After we drew them we gave them good colors that made sense for the map, and labeled the features.  I ran out of time at the end so we couldn’t do as much with their school as I wanted to, but they really enjoyed the time we did spend on it.

I ended the day by handing out Birmingham area street maps that the local AAA donated for the kids. We didn’t have enough time to open them up and look at them, but they were all very excited to get their own map and the class is going to start using them as part of their daily geography lessons.

A couple of days later my son brought home a book that the class made with thank you notes from the kids. I want to share some of them here to show what they really enjoyed about the presentation.

“I really enjoyed the part about everything”

“I liked learning about the maps. Thank you for the maps.”

“Thanks for the map.”

“I really enjoyed the part about political maps, legend, physical maps, and neatline.”

“I liked the part when you talked about map color and the neatline.”

“I really enjoyed the part about political maps. It was really good.”

“Map legends are cool because it is a helper that helps you.”

“I really enjoyed the part about neatline, physical map, and color. Thank you for giving the map I loved it.”

“I really enjoyed the part about presidential map because I like to hear about how many votes they have and to see how many states they have.”

“I really enjoyed the part about GPSes.”

Overall I found that this GIS Day presentation was a great experience and it was fun to get young kids energized about maps. I plan on coming back to my son’s class again this year to teach them some more about maps and GIS and I’m planning on presenting to a larger crowed at Green Valley next year for GIS Day.

GIS Day at McKinley Elementary School (Iowa)

Biggest lesson learned: when talking about globes with second graders, stay away from discussions of the North Pole.  I almost ruined Christmas.

Honestly though, it was a challenge coming up with an explanation of GIS for all of the students in first through fifth grade.  When I began this endeavor, my goal was clear – I want to share my love of GIS with my daughter’s class.  She is a fifth grader and understands what I do, so I figured her classmates would as well, and it would score some “cool points” with her friends.  However, I did not expect her Social Studies teacher to get so excited and make an entire day of it with every grade.  The challenge was not being in front of all the kids – I used to be a teacher – but in figuring out how to explain to a seven-year-old what geographic information systems are when they barely grasp the concept of the earth.

To begin with, every kid seems to like a good interesting map, so I scoured the internet for maps that kids would like.  I even called in reinforcements from a few friends with youngsters.  Connecting the real earth with things on a map is how I started.  This is the earth, and this is a map, a map shows a picture of the earth with information on it.  I used an oblique poster from Virginia Beach and a basic map to show how the features in a picture can be drawn in GIS for a map full of information.  We looked at the great state of Iowa, and talked about how you can make more important things stand out by which color you choose and how big you make the label.  Every child in the school will tell you blue means water, I think it is ingrained in their memory for good.

Much of the lessons were based on question and answer, which engages their young minds to participate.  They love to give input!  I also found out that they love to learn about computers and satellites.  Even some first graders explained the satellites in the sky, but were blown away to hear that satellites can take pictures.  While the first graders mostly wiggled in their seats and raise their hand to ask just about anything if you call on them, I came to realize the fifth graders were a bit ahead of the lesson I had prepared for them.  A concept almost all the children could grasp was that a GPS in their parent’s car is a special kind of map that may or may not actually get you to where you want to go…there were mixed reviews on whether they are good or bad.

After explaining the notion of computers and information and the earth with the younger kids, I switched gears to the cool maps.  Animated movies do an excellent job of teaching kids about other places, especially the ones that star animals.  We spent a good portion of the time talking about a map of the world with animal pictures and no labels.  Thanks to “Madagascar” and “Finding Nemo” there were interesting discussions about Africa, Antarctica, and Australia.  For those of you with children, remember there is no land at the actual North Pole, it is more like the general location of Greenland because that is where they show the polar bears and the big guy in red has polar bears by his house.

One of the most compelled groups was the third graders.  They had just finished their mapping unit and learned about coordinates, continents, the Equator, etc.  I gave them a lesson in surveying and digitizing using an awesome rug at the front of the room.  It had a grid on it and I explained how I would take measurements and coordinates to draw their school on a map.  They also told me how the necessary map elements (legend, north arrow, Tropic of Cancer, Iowa…) give a map more information, and I was impressed when some of them brought their maps from Social Studies to me for approval.

The fifth graders and I dug into ArcGIS Online for a lesson in analysis with maps.  Beforehand, I created a spreadsheet with the concert dates and locations for Lady Gaga’s current tour.  I showed them all the underlying information you can view in Esri’s World Topographic Map, then did a quick geocode of the concert dates.  We created pop-ups with dates and used the measure tool to find the distance to the closest concerts from here in Iowa.  I even showed them how to symbolize based on desirable dates.  Once we had the top three, I asked them where they would rather be in February (the closest dates) based on weather – Minneapolis, Chicago, or St, Louis.  We all agreed we would prefer to go see her in St. Louis!  I do not know whether they all really like Lady Gaga and think I am cool, or if they were just excited about the huge cupcake cake my sister had made for the occasion, but they were a blast to share GIS with.

One other attention-grabbing subject for all grades was GIS and weather.  I included a section about different types of weather maps and explained how the weather man uses information from GIS to make educated predictions about tomorrow.  I found the live wind map of the United States and showed them how maps can be live.  IN addition, we looked at the current Doppler radar and talked about the difference between a tornado popping up suddenly and tracking a hurricane for days over the ocean before it hits land.

All in all, it was an extremely fun day.  After getting their sticker, the kids loved looking at the different globes I had on display and the themed maps that used to fill my daughter’s walls (Monster Map of the World, Fairy Tale Where Are They?, the Princess Map, etc…) The Esri Map Book had them dropping their jaws though I don’t think they quite understood all those colors and symbols, and the most common question was – do you make the GPS for the Navy ships?  To sum up the day, my pic for best question comes from a studious looking fourth grader – how do we really know the earth is round?  Future scholar indeed.

GIS Day 2012 at GSU

By: Christopher Bupp

For GIS Day, I celebrated by participating on a Jobs Panel at Georgia State University.  About 50 students came to the panel.

It was a great experience, and beneficial to hear the other panelists talk about how they use GIS and give their advice to the students.  Each panelist was given 7 minutes to give a quick presentation about their company and what we do.  Here is my presentation:

Five Ways Location Based Technology Can Support a Pipeline Integrity Management Program

For gas transmission companies, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 mandates a set of regulations to ensure the safety and integrity of the pipeline system. Central to the legislation is the requirement for operators to prepare and implement an integrity management program (IMP), which requires operators to perform tasks such as risk analysis, assessment of baseline integrity for each segment in the system, and inspection of the entire pipeline system according to a mandated schedule. Failure to adequately implement an effective integrity management program can lead to significant penalties in the best case, and significant loss of life and property in the worst.

Due to the spatial nature of a pipeline system and its relationship to potential threats along the system, location based technology (sometimes referred to as geographic information systems, or GIS) has a significant role to play in an integrity management program. While not an exhaustive list, the following five areas illustrate how location based technology can make pipeline integrity management more efficient and effective.

1)     Delineation of high consequence areas (HCA)

High consequence areas along a pipeline system are those areas characterized by a high population density or containing facilities that are difficult to evacuate in the event of an emergency, such as hospitals, schools, or prisons. While an accident is unwelcomed anywhere along the system, an accident in a high consequence area has the potential for much more damage, and therefore benefits from additional resources for assessment and remediation. The very idea of an HCA is spatial by nature, and practically demands to be displayed on a map.

The process of identifying HCAs illustrates some of the classic functionality of a location based information system. First, each pipeline segment is buffered by the required distance (200 meters, e.g.) to create polygons representing the areas within the critical proximity to a pipe. Next, the segment buffer polygons are intersected with population density and facility location data so critical information from the underlying datasets can be extracted for each segment area. Finally, the segment areas can be queried to find the features deemed as high consequence areas.

2)     Data integration

Making optimal use of pipeline integrity data requires compiling and maintaining datasets that describe a variety of pipeline characteristics and auxiliary information, such as maintenance records, aerial surveys, and construction documents. Since all of this information is tied directly to a pipe segment (or segments) in the system, a location based approach to managing these data is a logical choice. Once tied to the spatial component, such data can come to life and be used to evaluate relationships between the data that may not have been conceptualized earlier.

A linear referencing technique can be used to tie relevant tabular data to specific segments of the system using relative from/to positions along a pipe. Data models such as the Pipeline Open Data Standard (PODS) support the management of such data along the system and can be integrated with any location-based information system. In addition to describing the current state of the system, historical information can be integrated as well. The PODS ESRI Spatial Implementation is an example of the PODS data model implemented in an ArcGIS geodatabase.

3)     Risk assessment

For any situation, risk can be defined by determining 1) what can go wrong?, 2) how likely it is to go wrong?, and 3) what would be the consequences of a failure? As dictated by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, risk assessment analysis is required for all segments within high consequence areas. Pipeline operators employ a variety of modeling techniques to assess risk along the system, including hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP), fault-tree analysis, and scenario-based (“what if?”) analysis. Such techniques generally focus on specific factors that relate to the probability of a pipeline failure as well as to the severity of the consequences of such an event. Each segment is then assigned a number that indicates relative risk within the system or likelihood of a failure occurring at that location.

As mentioned above, location based systems facilitate the integration of the wide variety of data required to execute these types of analyses. Most such models also utilize a spatial component, especially when factoring the impact to the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants (consequences).

Modern location based information systems are for much more than maintaining and viewing spatial data. Most of them include a powerful suite of geostatistical analysis tools and the ability to implement custom analytical logic. The ESRI Model Builder application provides a good illustration of the flexibility and analytical power built in to a modern GIS.

4)     Pipeline inspection

Not all of the work involved in carrying out a pipeline integrity management program happens behind a desk. Pipes need to be inspected, they need to be hydro tested, and sometimes repaired. Fortunately, a good location based information system doesn’t need to stay on the desk either. Field crews can be equipped with a GIS that integrates global positioning systems (GPS), digital cameras, laser rangefinders, and a variety of other peripherals to make their job easier.

Crew personnel on the ground, for example, might receive GPS locations and a digital photo from an aerial patrol for an observation they need to investigate. Using a location aware application on a smart phone or tablet, the crew could get driving directions using the coordinates provided and verify the observation using the photograph.

5)     Documentation and reporting

In a dynamic environment, where data are changing quickly, it’s important to be able to pull meaningful information out of the system when it’s needed. In the context of pipeline safety, of course, the information desired almost always centers around a set of pipeline segments. Within a location based information system, where all data are integrated with their related segments, data may be retrieved spatially (show me all the segments within the selected county on the map), or by using an attribute query (show me all segments with a diameter less than 8), or even both (show me all the gathering lines in the current map extent). The flexibility that such a system provides allows custom reports to be generated effortlessly and quickly and ensures that the data in the system are being used effectively to answer a variety of questions.

In addition to the power and flexibility of information contained in a GIS, the impact of using a map to support information displayed in a table or chart shouldn’t be underestimated. Sometimes a map is worth a thousand words.

Effective pipeline integrity management requires the integration of a variety of data sources into a coherent system, powerful tools for performing analysis, and the ability to produce meaningful summaries of the results. Location based information systems provide an ideal framework for such a system.