Where Matters: Maps Emerge as Critical Business Tool for Finance and Public Safety

By Patrick Ladisa

When I walked into the main hall for the annual Expedition Conference held in Toronto this past April 8-9, I admit that I was surprised to find a packed room of energetic attendees. Many blame a difficult economic climate for taking a serious chunk out of conference attendance in 2009. But a strong turnout at this DMTI Spatial-hosted conference revealed how the idea of leveraging location information to unlock business value can literally move people.

People from organizations across a variety of industries gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities of better spatial analysis. If there was a rallying cry on the lips of attendees, it was: "Where matters."

If "where matters," better address management, unsurprisingly, remains the foundation for forward-thinking companies looking to improve spatial analysis. Addresses, both those linked to clients and those linked to potential customers, are often wrong. Addresses coming into company databases aren’t standardized, and even within an organization’s infrastructure, address data can be scattered in multiple formats throughout various databases.

Keynote Speaker Peter Vukanovich, president and CEO of Genworth Financial Canada, understands the value of improved address matching. Genworth is one of Canada’s leading suppliers of mortgage insurance. With $4.5 billion in assets and $500 million in revenue, the company works with lenders, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and builders to provide mortgage insurance to over 650,000 families and counting.

For Genworth, getting the address right is the difference between profit and loss. "If we insure a $300,000 mortgage with 5% down based on an incorrect address, it’s an expensive proposition for us," Vukanovich said. "And the risk to the business is long-term. The average default happens in the third and fourth years. Accuracy matters."

Genworth Canada turned to DMTI for help in improving address matching. DMTI supplied rich location content and worked with Genworth to clean addresses and enrich its existing processes. The result? "In the past, we used to match only 42% of addresses that came into our system for approval. That means increased time to match addresses or send out appraisers, and increased risk and cost for us to be able to tell a lender whether we will insure a property or not. Working with DMTI, we now match 72% of addresses," explained Vukanovich. The impact, he spelled out, is nothing short of improved competitiveness. "We reduce operating costs, lower risk and provide better customer service to our clients."

For Vukanovich, improving address accuracy was just the first step. Genworth is breaking new ground in the use of location intelligence to improve competitiveness in the mortgage insurance industry. The company recently went live with DMTI Spatial’s Location Hub, analytics software that helps companies leverage location content to improve business outcomes. Using real-time geospatial adjudication rules, Genworth not only expedites the approval process, it also improves the outcome of lending decisions.

In the past, Genworth assessed mortgage risk by neighborhood. But with DMTI’s help, Genworth now uses “heat maps” to visually represent risk down to the street level, across traditional neighborhood boundaries. Genworth uses other elements of location to further increase the accuracy of its assessments such as proximity to schools, major roadways, residential parks and railways, all of which impact property value. "Heat maps are a much more precise way to understand our market, and the associated risk with each property," he said, adding, "Maps, for that matter, are much easier to understand than reports."

Keynote speaker Michael Underwood, senior vice president of Enterprise Management Solutions at CH2M HILL, echoed those thoughts. He shared some of the company’s extensive experience in helping clients improve spatial information management. CH2M HILL worked with the city of San Diego to create a solar map available through a free public portal. The solar map considers roof pitch, surrounding buildings, even the sun’s path throughout the year to give residents a quick understanding of the solar potential of their roof, accelerating the adoption of solar panels in the city.

"Location relevance has enormous applicability to a number of industries," Underwood stated. "Traditionally, GIS systems have been used to track sensitive things: toxic materials or weapons. But businesses are increasingly asking themselves not just how much money do I have, but where’s my money? Where’s my inventory? Where are my employees, customers, revenue and margin? Maps consolidate this kind of detailed information much more effectively than reports typically do. They’re visual and get to the heart of business issues easily." Underwood explained that the company’s CEO is working to answer these very questions about CH2M HILL’s global business by using a map. Certainly Microsoft’s Virtual Earth maps, Google Maps and the proliferation of devices like the Blackberry and iPhone have made society much more map-centric. As I write, the Apple iPhone commercial running on my television depicts a user shaking the phone for a restaurant recommendation and then immediately seeing a map with the restaurant location and other points of interest. But now, senior executives are talking not only about using location information to solve core operational issues, but using the map as a central tool for business insight.

The point was underscored in a session led by Cameron Bouchard from Public Safety Canada. Cameron showed how his team provides geomatics products – data rich maps – to support various governmental agencies in the delivery of essential services, particularly in times of crisis.

That federal government department combines DMTI’s location content with governmentally-procured spatial information to create maps that aggregate multiple dimensions of data to explain everything from probable flooding scenarios to vulnerable infrastructure surrounding a disaster site. The government even tracks the trajectory of the shuttle, 400 kilometers above the earth, in case of an emergency. But perhaps what was most striking was the assertion that senior officials often reach for the maps before the briefing documents to get an understanding of issues at hand.

Microsoft’s vice president of the Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) Group in Canada, Mark Relph, went a step further, emphasizing the importance of the map to future Gen Y workers.

Relph made attendees think about the growing role of location and mapping in consumer devices: new digital cameras that geocode pictures automatically; Photosynth software, which recently used geocoded photography to create 3D models of President Obama’s inauguration. He demoed the new Microsoft-developed MLS realtor website, which is used to find properties for sale. It displays data on relevant property matches, and puts the locations on a map, dynamically updating it as users drill-down. “People today want this kind of information experience and workers tomorrow won’t accept anything less."

As DMTI Spatial CEO Alex MacKay pointed out, companies are already sitting on a gold mine of location information that can be exploited right now. "Location content can be leveraged to deliver key business value; whether it's lowering costs, managing risk or developing new revenue streams," he said. "And the reality is, location data is already sitting latent inside most organizations. All they need is the right expertise to unlock its potential and get better results." As he ended his presentation, Relph reminded us that the activity of mapping typically makes us look down. Then he reminded attendees to keep looking up, as he demonstrated the worldwide telescope, the popular website that uses telescope images to create a multimedia-enriched, awe-inspiring 3D map of the sky that can be explored by moving a mouse. “These spatial technologies are changing the way we understand the world around us. And maps are at the center of all that."

Published Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Written by Patrick Ladisa

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