Monetizing the Spatial Mashup

Convergence innovations of next-gen mapping inherently challenge the conventional I/RS (imaging and remote sensing) business models. Next-gen mapping is evolving where spatial data, visualization tools and public/private data are aggregated in “mashups.” In our Fall column, we discussed early-adopter ProAm mashups. Like many things Web 2.0, monetizing the mashups has become the next step.

In this column we look at how two innovative companies have partnered to bring a new dimension of spatial imaging information to a set of users that have never touched a GIS. AWhere Inc., a mapping software company, and Planalytics, a weather analytics company, are providing a value chain link between I/RS and business users who never thought of I/RS as a source of business-critical data.

Figure 1 A common operating picture of a retail business across all of its locations incorporates retail census data and private actual sales data.

Weather Analytics as Risk Management

What do companies that span the spectrum of consumer products, retail, food and beverage, and utilities such as Campbell's Soup, Kaiser Aluminum, Sara Lee, Tractor Supply, and True Value have in common? Their business operations and decisions are impacted by weather, and they are using a new set of business weather intelligence tools marketed by Planalytics. For ten years, Planalytics has been using I/RS in their weather forecasting models (much as does Dr. Steve Lyons of The Weather Channel, as discussed in our last column) and has been delivering “actionable” weather data that helps businesses and organizations proactively address the impact that weather will have on business perform-ance–in particular the financial impacts.

Because weather impacts supply, demand, and prices for products and services, such information as proximity forecasts, real-time weather conditions, and a customized hierarchy of integrated and overlaid business-related data are critical to reducing costs, optimizing inventory, protecting agricultural investments and much more. A business can develop a common operating picture of its entire operation, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Enter Web 2.0 and a New Market

When Planalytics teams discovered the AWhere SIS (Spatial Information System) capabilities, they began to understand the power of new media I/RS. This realization led to a partnership between Planalytics and AWhere, Inc., and to the development of a web-based business connected to a desktop application business, enabling the user to visualize and then integrate a series of weather and business-related data into compelling presentations that improve business decisions. The ability of AWhere SIS to pull together a variety of information—whether census data, inventory data, store locations, free Internet information, scientific studies, geographic and spatial data, or weather data—into information-rich, visually appealing and meaningful maps, charts, and tables, was viewed by Planalytics as the missing piece in turning their weather impact products and services into a truly ubiquitous business application.

Figure 2 The Planalytics “WeatherPin”
application presents specific seasonal precipitation data.

What makes AWhere SIS such a powerful engine is its ability not only to create mission-critical information maps but to keep all of that information intact and share it with others across the organization. GIS is no longer relegated to use by the ‘experts.' It's now available to anyone. With the AWhere SIS software, “GIS lite—mapping for everyone—has become a reality,” said John Corbett, CEO of AWhere, Inc. Figure 2 presents WeatherPin, an application that shows location-based weather data. By clicking ‘download this map as an AWhere Exchange (aMap) file,' a business user can now “mashup” business data and discover seasonal supply and demand impacted, for example, by drought.

Planalytics has traditionally focused on serving the retail, manufacturing and energy industries. The company has recently launched a new Life Sciences solution that includes Malaria Mapper and Pest Monitor, which are direct results of these Web 2.0 applications.

The Spatial Data Mashup

The weather conditions that lead to turf disease and crop failure are critical to land-use managers and farmers in deploying preventative measures. Here's how Pest Monitor and WeatherPin, which are Web-based, and AWhere SIS desktop mashup tools work.

Scenario 1:

A golf course is concerned about the impact of turf diseases, and the supplier of turf chemicals wants a better understanding of the supply and demand issues associated with the golf course maintenance needs. Poa annua germination (PAG), for example, is of concern because poa annua is a bluegrass that overruns quality turfgrass. Many poa annua control strategies fail because they are applied before the poa annua germinates. Accurate determination of the germination period is therefore critical. Pest Monitor identifies the weather conditions (sourced from Planalytics business meteorologists) that lead to the emergence of pests based on predictive models that Planalytics has developed.

Figure 3 Planalytics Pest Monitor application presents poa annua germination data for the U.S.

Figure 4  Planalytics Pest Monitor application presents poa annua germination data for the Glenn Mills, Penn. golf course showing that the risk is high for PAG relative to the week prior.

With this application, the golf course superintendent can pick a location and drill into the maps, tables and charts that present the risk level for germination. Figure 3 presents a set of PAG data for the U.S., color-coded to indicate risk area conditions. Figure 4 presents PAG data for the Glenn Mills, Penn. golf course against a Microsoft Virtual Earth satellite image backdrop. As you can see, the PAG risk is high for the course relative to the prior week, as are the 5-year and 30-year averages for that time-frame, indicating that the manager should take action. Fortunately, the chemical supplier also monitors the situation and can begin to increase production and rearrange inventory to address the need. “This type of information has the potential to eliminate a billion dollars of excess inventory of crop and turf protection products,” said Jed Lafferty, Managing Director of Planalytics Life Sciences Group.

Scenario 2:

A hay broker who sells quality feed to horse owners needs to forecast inventory and determine how much hay can be sourced from local growers versus other suppliers. The cost of transporting hay is significant. Precipitation impacts the supply of hay, while the number of horses in the surrounding counties impacts the demand. WeatherPin enables the supplier to see the precipitation data and view it with the county horse population data. At this point, specific business decisions can to be made.

Both data are downloaded as AWhere SIS aMap files. Within AWhere SIS, a model of the supply and demand for hay is quickly built, as seen in Figures 5 and 6. This easily-made desktop map mashup is due to patent-pending software that enables data of all types, including I/RS, to be aggregated and analyzed as easily as putting together a PowerPoint or a spreadsheet. “The user can interact with the data and access specific geographical and time-specific data that are actionable,” said Jed Lafferty.

Figure 5 An AWhere SIS view presents a section of Eastern Kansas, some customer locations, and the precipitation data on a Microsoft Virtual Earth backdrop.

Figure 6 AWhere SIS presents an overlay of the county horse population data from the agricultural department, with a customer location selected showing Planalytics weather data.

The I/RS Value Chain

Next-gen mapping is about data integration to save lives, effectively use capital and resources, optimize supply and demand, and improve risk management and decision-making. As Dr. Corbett says, “I want to enable users to integrate the silos of data to create actionable decisions.”

Web 2.0 offers an excellent opportunity to begin to explore the new ways that this can happen. It also challenges the I/RS industry to become more than a backdrop on GIS presentations. These two companies represent the next-gen opportunities to monetize I/RS and put spatial tools in the hands of action-minded people. The Spatial Mashup is here, and clearly the ability to aggregate public and private data in new ways will drive a new set of I/RS opportunities.

Politics and Globalism

Global warming has led to erratic weather patterns that distort historical trends. Increased variability in weather makes access to specific or local weather data even more important. Dr. John Corbett, CEO of AWhere, Inc., told Imaging Notes, “preventative versus curative actions is a big issue because of the cost differential involved. Getting the weather wrong has a direct impact on everything from the cost of food to the risk of malaria.” He explained that, based on historical trends, farmers might think that a pest will arrive in late June. However, Planalytics real-time weather data and prediction models might indicate that the pest will emerge earlier in May. The uninformed farmer will incur the higher curative costs that will be passed on to the consumer if he doesn't end up with crop failure. Malaria Mapper, a forecasting tool jointly developed by AWhere and Planalytics, results in the ability to predict a day-by-day (and three-week forecast) risk assessment of this mosquito-borne disease. “This tool can help optimize the supply chain and health service infrastructure that are needed to address this risk.”

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