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The evolution of geospatial data and modernising our platform to meet customer demand

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Thoughtworks Live about PSMA, geospatial data and the project we undertook with Thoughtworks.

PSMA Australia specialises in providing national, authoritative location data to businesses and governments. In my opinion, location data is the new champion of analytics. Like time, it provides a framework for analysis and can reveal previously unseen links that drive competitive advantage and generate value for business.

The maturing of remote sensing capabilities and the growth in Internet of Things (IoT) mean more location data is being produced than ever before.

HP predicts that by 2020 we’ll be sitting on 44 zettabytes of data. This huge volume of data could be generated by 25 billion devices, all permanently connected to the internet and generating data about a location. Examples of where location data can deliver efficiencies and support decision making include:
  • Marketing and distribution analysis and planning
  • Risk analytics
  • Telecommunication networks planning and deployment
  • Smart cities planning and operation; and
  • Emergency services in the management of flood and fire risks.
We’ve produced Australia’s Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) for 15 years, which gives you an address and its position on Earth. Customers were using that as an indicator of where buildings were. It became obvious to us that we needed to know precisely what is at an address.

So, we continued to be disruptive and took our collection of location data even further – by capturing data on the built environment across the whole of Australia. In addition to geocoded addresses, we’ve captured building footprints, heights, elevation, roof construction, solar panels, swimming pools and trees. We ended up with the holy grail of location data for Australia’s built environment.   

We linked this with our other data, including address and property data, and built something really cool through the fusion of satellite imagery, crowdsourcing, machine learning and big data processing. The result challenged our view of what the future for location intelligence might look like and became the catalyst for future transformation.

What came next was a desire to better serve the changing needs of customers who want data that is fresh, accessible and scalable.

To do this, we had to think less about designing products and more about designing experiences. We developed strategies to help us respond to the new business environment. We looked to Agile software development to transform our business and create a platform that enables the continuous processing of data that can be delivered, on-demand, to customers through diverse channels, including Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs allow our customers to easily access the data they need, when they need it, through an experience tailored for them.

The approach enabled us to do two things: firstly, to speak in the language of our customers; and secondly, to deliver product improvements through neatly packaged self-service interfaces. Together, these capabilities helped us experiment in a faster feedback loop with our customers. As people started using our APIs, we began receiving requests for features we weren’t able to satisfy. It was time to modernise the technology platform we used to build our products.

At PSMA, we’d followed the Thoughtworks approach to digital platform transformation with great interest and reached out to them to leverage their expertise. We followed Thoughtworks’ Agile development model by building out our first idea, then the next and then harvesting the platform elements as we moved forward.
We see a future where anyone can be a location data supplier. We’re also identifying new and innovative ways to deliver a great customer experience to maximise the value customers obtain from access to national location data resources.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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