Smart maps | whitepaper
The why, how and what of smart maps and how they can add value to your business
Organisations are using and generating more data than ever before. At first glance, this is great, because it promises improved factual decision-making. By offering realtime comprehensive insights into pressing situations. quantified and validated by data, decision-makers are enabled to formulate and execute informed actions.
At least, in theory….
Whilst the way we generate data has evolved massively over the last decade, the way we process information has hardly changed in the last forty years. Think about it. For most of our daily work, we still use the same basic tools - like Word and Excel - that businesses have been using since the late ‘80s. In essence, these tools are not equipped to deal with the much larger information load.
This discrepancy makes data generation very easy, but the full use of it actually very hard. The effects are everywhere and results in clear risks. This isn’t a problem of the data itself, but of the process around data. Slow processing speed seriously affects people’s ability to take informed decisions. Taking uninformed decisions, without a clear situational understanding and overall analysis, will lead to undesired outcomes that directly affect a company’s performance, e.g. money lost, time spent or growth stunted.
The cure? We change the way people collect, organize, and share information.
How data processing affects decision-making
To repeat: the problem is not generating and collecting data. The problem is in processing this data to enable informed decision-making. In effect, this mismatch makes information inaccessible and inactionable. Let’s take a look at how data processing affects decision-making. After that, we take a look at how we can overcome this issue.
The problem is not generating and collecting data. The problem is in processing this data to enable informed decision-making.
Let’s take a look at the decision loop
When making decisions, every individual or organisation goes through a decision loop, see figure A. It starts with gathering all relevant information and forming a clear picture (a situation overview). Subsequently, one analyses the information in order to develop possible solutions and courses of actions. This forms the basis for a decision which, hopefully results in a relevant action. This process is continuous.
In an ideal world, an organisation goes through this loop with every decision. But as we’ll see, the mismatch between data generation and processing throws a spoke in the wheel.
Houston, we have a problem!
There is a simple formula that causes the spoke. If data processing is not able to keep up with data generating, we get Information overload (IO). Let’s look at data generation first.
Vast data generation...
In the last 10 years big data has become a reality. Everything seems to generate data. E-mails, tweets, smart thermostats, fitness trackers, newsfeeds, are just some examples of how people are getting information at a 24/7 ratio. Add to this the endless stream of spreadsheets, presentations, datasets, and papers, employees have to cope with at work.
Like we said in the introduction, this data has enormous potential for organisations. Harness it to the fullest and you can potentially outstrip your competition. But to do this, you need to have the next part in order.
and slow processing speed..
The means we use for processing information (data) for decision-making purposes have hardly evolved over the last 20 years. Software solutions such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, are ill-equipped for dealing with big data, others require a high-level of user proficiency.
What’s more, the problem is that most software tools ignore the fact that employees are still essential to the effective use of the information. Teams and employees are continuously challenged to interpret events in their environment and take time-sensitive decisions. This becomes harder with each databyte generated.
results in Information overload
This mismatch between vast data generation and slow processing speed results in information overload (IO).
Information overload directly influences the performance of organizations, as time and money are being spent on decisions based on often incomplete or even incorrect data. Putting a number on the exact amount of money wasted as a result of such decisions is a difficult task. However, researchers have estimated that in the United States alone these numbers are into the billions.
Let’s see how IO affects the decision loop. Instead of making an informed decision, IO forces an organisation or individual to make a decision not on facts, but on an incomplete analysis or a gut feeling. There simply is too much data and too little time to process this data and come to a full analysis.
Sounds problematic, is there a fix?
This poses an interesting situation: being competitive in a digital world is no longer about generating as much data as possible. It is about using that data to its maximum potential.
So, are companies doomed to be burdened with information overload? Is it possible to enhance processing speeds? How can we help teams, employees and decision-makers make the most of their data? What’s the solution?
The broad answer is to automate data collection and ensure that using that data is intuitive and user-friendly. Crucially, any solution should make data more accessible and usable in decision-making. Hence, we are convinced such solutions need to be visual and people-centric.
Being competitive in a digital world is no longer about generating as much data as possible. It is about using that data to its maximum potential.
We believe that smart maps are essential tools to combat information overload. They can automatically gather your data and present it in a clear and intuitive way. By using the visual power of smart maps, we can help organisations go through the decision loop quicker and make better business decisions. In doing so, it is possible to minimize the threat of information overload, whilst maximising the potential of your data.
Let’s find out why. First of all, humans are visually inclined. Second, using geography creates a shared reality and common understanding. Let’s take a more detailed look at both..
Research shows that 90% of the information that our brains analyze is visual. 50% of our brain is wired to process visual information. Our brains are able to process images in just 13 milliseconds. Most importantly, our brains process visual information 60.000 times faster than plain text or numbers. It is good to know that written information combined with visuals makes that content up to 70% more memorable.
This is the exact reason why infographics have been so successful. They are also a method to help users process more information in less time.
Since the dawn of time, people have used maps to understand their surroundings and take decisions. Whether it is to navigate the high seas, plan military tactics or explain the world, over the centuries maps have been instrumental in decision-making.
Research shows that data expressed on a map is found to be more convincing and more easily navigable. It greatly improves our ability to process such information. Using a map tells you in one blink of an eye the “what” and the “where”. By depicting the environment (geography), it gives context to data (information), as long as it has a specific location-related aspect. This in turn provides the user the ability to filter data, set course and take decisions relevant to the destination (objective) he or she wants to achieve.
All this sounds nice, but how can this help us?
Now that we’ve laid out the problem and how to solve it, let’s see our product in action. Our smart maps are interactive map-based dashboards that help organisations unlock the full potential of their data.
They provide users with crucial insights based on automated data gathering and visualisation. In effect, it makes your data more accessible, useable and actionable. Within a blink of an eye, users attain a situational understanding. In IO terms, our smart maps enable decision-makers to process information faster and make timely decisions based on actual, validated data.
When we look at decision-making, as illustrated in the decision loop, our map enables users to focus on solutions instead of wasting time on gathering and filtering data.
Show us some examples of smart maps in action
Theory is one thing, so let’s see how our smart maps add value to your organisation through five use-cases.
Use-case 1. Imagine you’re a hotel room rental agency in California and suddenly you start seeing messages on the news about wildfires in an area where you have a lot of booked rooms. You start to gather data: where are your booked rooms? Which rooms will be booked in the next couple of days? Where is the fire exactly? How is it developing? What is the fire department saying? What are the right crisis protocols for this situation? Which rooms should you cancel? Which are fine? Etcetera. This is a race against the clock, the faster you understand what is going on, the better your decision will be. A wrong decision could results in loss of revenue or worse.
Doing all this manually or through multiple systems is hard and time consuming. With our software you can display all relevant internal and external data in a single spot, receiving realtime updates. What’s more, we develop algorithms that make the various layers interact. This way, you have a continuous situational overview.
Added value: Continuous situational awareness to make validated decisions in less time, essential in time-sensitive situations.
Use-case 2. Our first customer, a big pharmaceutical company, was generating a lot of sales-related data across multiple platforms. Since information was dispersed. It was hard to get a clear picture and make decisions. It was even harder to discover opportunities for growth. Our dashboard combines all this data into one overview, and made the various layers interact.
Added value: Make available data more actionable and intelligent to help drive growth and discover new business opportunities.
Use-case 3. Sometimes an organisation relies on lots of external data for business decisions. Take a big real estate developer. They need to find, buy, develop and sell real estate. But what area to pick? This depends on many factors, like land use, surrounding areas, etc. Sifting through all relevant data is time consuming, especially if it isn’t in a single spot. Our smart maps combine relevant data layers, make them interact and help you locate prime real estate.
Added value: Make the relevant external data easily accessible, searchable and actionable.
Using smart maps for other purposes
Ok sounds great but are smart maps only used for internal decision-making? Most certainly not. Our smart maps can be used for stakeholder engagement, cross-agency collaboration and decision-making.
They can also be used for external purposes, like public relations. After all, in a world where individuals are just as overloaded with information as organisations are, how do you explain all your wide-ranging activities in a clear and concise manner? The answer might surprise you..! Just joking. It’s smart maps.
Use-case 4 Imagine being an NGO operating in various conflict zones, helping to deliver goods and services to those in need. We can make a smart map that explains what you do, where. Viewers can click through the map and discover. Instead of having them read through entire manuscripts,
Added value: Make it easier to explain what you do, for better communication, PR and transparency.
Use-case 5 When faced with a public crisis, e.g. a terrorist attack or a national disaster, a smart map can support cross-agency decision-making by providing a shared understanding of the situation. Faced with a particular crisis, decision-makers gain insight into what is going and who is present on-site. This is crucial when decision-making is time sensitive.
Added value: continuous situational awareness and succinct cross-agency decision-making.
How does a smart map work?
Without getting too much into the technical details, how do we make our smart maps a reality? There are two main aspects of our solution: an intuitive interactive map-based user interface and a smart backend.
Our user interface is designed to be simple and intuitive. We have created a clean and neat map-based interface in which end-users can select layers of information and specific data points to gain insights. These can be simple, such as “where am I selling to whom and what?”, to complex “how does soil erosion affect my reforestation efforts and what costs are involved?.” As most people know how to read maps and use simple map-based tools, such as a route planner, using our user interface should feel intuitive.
Second, we’ve designed a flexible software backend that acts as a layer on top of your current systems. Through the use of API’s and coding wizardry, we can display data from various sources on a single map. By giving different datasets a common denominator, geography, it creates a higher level of understanding.
So, what data can we use?
In short: whatever data you have and want to use. Data can be from internal or external sources, public or private. Some examples of internal sources are your CRM system or google analytics. With external sources, you can think of Twitter, weather data or Land registry data. The possibilities are endless. However, there is one caveat; the data that you want to use needs to include a geographic signifier (coordinates).
Displaying data in a clear and concise manner is the first step. Making them interact is the second. This is where things get really interesting, because the map will enable you to discover new opportunities or shortages before they’ve happened (like use-case 1).
Developing a user centric smart map is an exact science. One of the most difficult parts of developing these kind of solutions is translating the wishes of the customer into code. Hence, it requires customer focused agile software development and project management. Luckily, we have all the capabilities in-house. We support you from design to development, from a prototype to organisation-wide implementation.
With our product, we can help you make better use of your data, cut down on repetitive and tedious tasks through automation, and help you make important time sensitive decisions faster and more.
Interested or just want to have a talk? Give us a call or sign up for our newsletter!