Geospatial analytics gathers geographic information system (GIS) data from multiple types of technology to help you understand environmental, demographic, and topographic trends. But you may be surprised to learn that you use GIS technology in your daily life.

Let’s take a closer look at geospatial analysis, why it’s important, and how geospatial data can impact our society.

What is geospatial analysis?

Our world is complex and rapidly changing. Whether you’re interested in the natural world, sociology, epidemiology, health, or any other endeavor, you will be faced with space-time data that describes the “4W’s”: What, Where, When, and Why.  

  • What is it that you’re concerned with (e.g. cases of coronavirus)?
  • Where did it occur (e.g. that party at O’Leary’s pub)?
  • When did it happen (On Saturday night)?
  • Why is coronavirus spreading so rapidly?

The objective of geospatial analysis is to increase our understanding of the world around us through visualization, analysis, and modeling. It’s a powerful toolbox of techniques that rapidly advances our understanding of the processes underlying patterns in highly complex data.

When understanding geospatial analysis, it’s important to understand the distinction between “software” and “wetware”.

  • Software is that code that runs in computers, smartphones, cars, and just about every electronic device we interact with.  
  • Wetware is that stuff between our ears – about 3 pounds of brain matter comprised of 72% water.  

Our wetware is estimated by the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California, to generate about 48.6 thoughts per minute.  

We use our brains to make sense of where we are, when we are there, what is around us and all while keeping track of and estimating what is going to happen next. In essence, each of us is walking around with a highly refined geospatial analysis and information system between our ears.

Geospatial analysis software is used in much the same way — to make sense of the What, Where, When, and Why that is central to geospatial data. 

Who uses GIS?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related technologies are used daily by each of us. The apps on your phone can track where you are, and what you are doing while you are there. Your cell phone traces, regardless of whether or not you have tracking enabled, are readily available as your signal is handed off from one cell phone tower to another.  

Navigation on our cars and smartphones is another example that uses maps to show us where we are and what is around us. Geospatial technologies are widely used in the military to support activities such as navigation and targeting and to increase situational awareness—where a unit is located relative to the landscape and the enemy forces.  

See how GIS impacts public health, agriculture and land use planning, environmental disasters and risk assessment, retail, engineering and infrastructure, and weather & climate change industries in this blog post.

Why are geographic information systems important to businesses today?

In 2020 the GIS market as a whole generated $8,185.9 million in revenue worldwide and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.6% over the next decade (2020-30).  

There are two applications that are driving this enormous market. The first is to obtain an understanding of the “now”, the what, where, when and why. The second reason is forecasting—predicting what is going to happen next. Necessarily, such forecasts are built on an understanding of the now (the 4W’s). Forecasts are embodied in models, which is why at BioMedware we have tools such as Vesta, which stands for visualization and exploratory space-time analysis software.  

How Geospatial data can impact society 

Much of Biomedware’s work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health because of the important contributions space-time analysis software can make to our understanding of infectious and chronic diseases, and because of its essential role in exposure reconstruction. 

Exposure reconstruction may be conducted at both individual and population-level scales. For individuals we need to reconstruct health-related exposures over the life course, this is the idea of the exposome as described by Dr. Christopher Wild in 2005. For example, the path a cyclist follows as she bicycles to a destination will expose her to differing amounts of air pollutants from automobile exhaust, depending on the route she follows.

For populations, we need to understand those exposures that are related to population-level health outcomes. For example, the aggregate amount of automobile-related air pollutants in an urban area such as Chicago, and how that relates to diseases known to be caused by such pollutants.  

Conceptual models of the distinction between the individual-level (right) and population-level (left) views. Individual health is impacted by their genetics (genome), health-related behaviors (behavome), and exposures over the life course (exposome). Population health is impacted by the overall habitat where the population resides, the characteristics of the population, and behaviors that are the norms for that population.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one-quarter of the global disease burden is due to environmental causes. Here in the US, childhood cancers are increasing by 0.6% per year, and are now the second leading cause of death in ages 5-14 years. 

Although the causes are environmental, identifying the What, Where, When, and Why are required in order to put in place effective interventions to reduce the causal exposures. That is the realm of BioMedware’s space-time analysis solutions. 

Geospatial analysis impacts almost everything

Without Geospatial Information, our lives would be very different (it’s almost scary to think about). From GPS systems to public health to environmental disasters, geospatial data is critical to our world.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of GIS, take a look at some Biomedware’s available products.