Geographic Information Systems and Big Data

Geographic information systems (GIS), applications that display different layers of geographical data on a single map, have entered their way into big data. Big data in GIS has the ability to identify patterns and develop strategies to create opportunities.

“Much of the discussion on big data is focusing on volume — the hours of video on the Web, social media interactions — but the challenge is to present the ocean of data as a pool of useful facts,” said Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions at GIS vendor ESRI. “GIS is a natural way to connect data, control its size and make it more relevant and usable.”

The conversion of geographic information into maps has attracted companies to GIS because of the ability to track and understand business trends. Businesses such as Shell, General Motors, Walmart, Starbucks and Nike can identify customer behavior, which in turn provides the information to create marketing campaigns in sync with buying patterns. “Geography is one of the most natural, logical and intuitive ways to discover, visualize, overlay, compare, slice, sort and apply big data to a problem,” said Thompson.

Paul Ramsey, vice president at Boundless, asserts that the location of mobile devices are in a constant state of change, requiring telecommunications companies to vigilantly track where consumers download information and make purchases. Telecommunications companies, therefore, have been the primary users of GIS, using geographic locations to analyze new data streams. “GIS used to be about the analysis of relatively static institutional data, but new data streams mean that today’s GIS problems look very much the same as today’s big data problems: extract meaningful information from a fire hose of inputs,” said Ramsey.

Lack of connection between data sets is a challenge with big data, for it causes disputes over data custodianship. With location as the common ground, GIS has the ability to unite resources functionally and analytically. Running a query across the customer data of and the business intelligence data of MicroStrategy from Microsoft Office is one way location analytics develops a data map in the cloud.