Let me introduce you to the ‘power of where’. This power isn’t some illusionary conjurer’s trick, it is a power grounded in the reality of today, embedded in location-based data, which is unlocked by technology and which can be used to transform not only our lives but also our economy.

It’s the name given to geospatial, and it is being harnessed in ways we could only dream about just 10 years ago. This is thanks to huge advances in location base data and services, called geospatial outcomes – a market that is predicted to be worth around £20 billion within the next seven years.

Location-based solutions – or ‘mapping’ to use another term – have been with us in some shape or form since our society has advanced and our knowledge of health and science grew.

One of the best historical examples is from 1854, involving a physician called John Snow and a major outbreak of cholera in Soho, London. At the time it was believed that cholera was transmitted by ‘bad air’ from filth. But thanks to mapping, Snow worked out that the source of the outbreak was in fact a contaminated water pump, and that the deaths were mostly from those who accessed ‘dirty’ water from that pump. This mapping led to the outbreak being contained, and the realisation that proper water treatment could eradicate the disease.

Fast forward nearly 170 years and a similar mapping of data -– the power of where – is having a transformative impact on our lives. For instance, as we recover from the effects of COVID-19, we are mapping those who catch COVID and how it spreads and how we build back better.

Currently, geospatial is underpinned by data and software that are fused to deliver location-based services. Increasingly these are powered by Open Standards to make systems more interoperable. But as we go forwards, geospatial is being revolutionised thanks to its fusion with rapidly developing technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Internet of Things, the cloud and Business Intelligence.

The challenge is now there for organisations across the world to reap the rewards of this revolution and develop a capability that has the breadth and depth to achieve the maximum benefits that geospatial outcomes can bring.

In Scotland, the utilisation of geospatial outcomes has seen CGI develop and support systems that deal with the agricultural payments for Scottish farmers which are based on the sizes of fields and the kind of crops that are grown. It has also been involved in the information gathering on weather systems by satellites that form the basis for forecasts, location technology to monitor rail travel comfort levels, and remote monitoring of lift systems so they work properly.

COP26 has concentrated minds as to how to use location-based technology more for the benefit of our society in a way that drives tangible benefits to our health and the environment. One example is in active travel. CGI believes the Scottish Government has an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Wales.

Active Travel promotes healthy and sustainable travel in Wales, with the aim of making walking and cycling the preferred ways of getting around over shorter distances. It is funded by the Welsh Government through grants to 22 local authorities, which helps pay for the development and upkeep of footpaths, cycle ways, signage and public toilets.

Active Travel in Wales is based around a service whose geospatial data sources include Ordnance Survey and Sustrans. Through it, travellers can plan ‘active’ journeys, with walking and cycling routes displayed on a map. This visual format provides an engaging way to communicate a lot of information at once.

Active Travel would not happen
without an Open Architecture, built on Open Standards, to securely share data from multiple partners across the Active Travel platform. As a result it is successfully bringing communities together through technology. It enables a rich, dynamic platform that serves the needs of the public while also helping the Welsh Government and local authorities promote healthier
and more sustainable methods of travelling around.

Beyond Active Travel, there are many opportunities to cement same capabilities across a wide range of areas in Scotland – from the environment to transport, emergency response, to housing and local planning as well as national infrastructure and finance (such as insurance).

To support the exploitation of geospatial in Scotland the UK Government Geospatial Commission, along with Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, is working to establish a new Scottish Geospatial Network Integrator, with a £200,000 joint investment.

But the benefits of geospatial are already there for all to see. It’s now time for businesses and organisations to grasp the nettle and use geospatial to help them make better decisions and get better outcomes.

For those in the public sector, including government, geospatial technology can be used to drive better informed decision-making, especially with regards to their location-based services. CGI is doing this by integrating location-based services into business and operational systems such as an application that helps connect more renewable energy sources to the electricity grid and a tool to map and make accessible data about common land. The technology could be harnessed by the Scottish Government to deliver a more sustainable future and help fight climate change.

Geospatial technology has the potential to transform everything about our lives. It’s time to let the ‘power of where’ point us in the right direction.

David Pegg is Director Consulting Services at CGI. He has more than 25 years’ experience delivering digital services in the public sector primarily focussed on the environment and energy. Prior to joining CGI, he worked for a leading environment and climate change consultancy as their Director of Digital Services.