How will location data help solve the challenges of 2023?    

Location data supports public services and helps cut costs – but changes can we expect to see this year?
Location analytics help with the planning of electric vehicle infrastructures. Photo: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By John Kimmance

11 Jan 2023

Location data is a vital tool that underpins public services and allows for the delivery of policy, critical infrastructure, and services across Britain. From supporting local authorities, police forces and fire services, to providing adaption and mitigation for national incidents such as flooding and the recent pandemic.    

Ordnance Survey data is accessible and easier to use than ever before, with our Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) offering almost 6,000 public sector bodies and organisations access to our high-quality data and services through the OS Data Hub. Our data and APIs underpin and support the delivery of key government services, with 1.1 billion transactions across all PSGA APIs last year.       

It is so important that we continue to increase access to location data to deliver greater efficiencies which could be replicated by other departments, local authorities and councils – especially when budgets across government are under increasing pressure.   

How will location data help solve the challenges of 2023?    

Given the current economic challenges, government is focused on stimulating GDP to drive economic growth. Location data can play an important role in enabling this and OS are leveraging our expertise and data capabilities by working across the public sector. We also have a key focus on commercial markets, working through the OS Channel and through our licensed partner programme to improve greater use of geospatial data, which helps governments and businesses implement change and improve operational effectiveness saving time and money.    

Location data is already being used to make savings and improve services across government. Harrow Council used OS data to save £300,000 every year by using route-optimisation techniques to save fuel and reduce the number of vehicles used; while Teignbridge District Council cut costs by £60,000 by using OS data to automate their local land charges search process. There are plenty more opportunities for greater use in streamlining procedures, helping local authorities deliver services more efficiently and ensuring taxes go further in serving the local community. Research suggests that location data has a potential economic benefit to the UK of up to £11bn per year.   

One area of focus which is increasing is sustainability, in particular the challenges created by climate change. Location data can help by not only identifying assets that are being or could be impacted, but also tracking mitigations being carried out on the ground. To support this, OS are constantly improving the quality, quantity and accessibility of our data, in ways that allow our customers to pick and choose their data as and when they need it.   

The war in Ukraine has thrown the fragility of global supply chains into sharp relief and accentuated the availability of scarce resources like energy and water. We need to be driving more efficient energy use, and location analytics can play a critical role in finding solutions now to meet the growing needs of the future, such as the planning of electric vehicle infrastructures.   

At OS, we are constantly looking at how to improve our own efficiencies, for example by investing in automatic change detection through artificial intelligence, which quickly identifies where things have changed, and capturing these changes automatically. This enables us to deliver more data and even faster.

OS manages huge amounts of location data, increasingly not all captured by us but by third parties. For the organisations that use it, being able to link real-world data together – be it population, environmental or any other data – for reporting and analytical purposes will be very valuable for public-sector organisations.     

Increasingly, we will see machine-to-machine technology becoming more pervasive, influencing methods of access and data formats and stimulating demands for new data. For example, to support our national journey to net zero there will be increased focus on solar panels, driving a requirement to understand building and land potential for solar panels and tracking the growth of these at a local, regional and national scale.     

Change will require sustained investment 

Looking ahead, the use of analytics and, in particular, location data will allow businesses and governments to make better decisions that tackle sustainability top down. The volume of data – from satellites to connected technology and devices, including sensors, vehicles, and phones – is increasing exponentially. Accessing and aggregating this data will be increasingly complex, leading organisations and governments to seek trusted location providers such as OS to solve big problems, such as sustainability and net zero.    

Through the National Geographic Database, OS are now able to improve the speed at which customers get access to our data. Data captured by one of our surveyors yesterday would be accessible today.       

Location data has the power to help achieve our 2030 Climate Target Plan and support efforts to address the net-zero challenge. Despite the short-term challenges of the economic and political environment, we must not take our eye off long-term goals such as sustainability and climate change. Working with people and organisations across the market will help solve these key global challenges, but complex solutions take time and there needs to be a concerted effort and sustained investment. You can’t just turn on funding and turn it off again; you need to be investing in those challenges consistently to succeed.  

John Kimmance is managing director of national mapping services at Ordnance Survey 

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