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Transforming risk management and our world through maps: Thoughts from Esri's user conference

ESRI international user conferenceI recently had the good fortune to attend the Esri Business Summit and User Conference  in San Diego. Esri is the leading global provider of geographic information systems (GIS) and provides the software behind Aon’s Intelligent Risk Mapping application. The conference drew some 15,000 attendees from all parts of the globe who use Esri’'s software. At the Business Summit I was honored to present two papers on how Aon eSolutions has implemented Esri’s GIS software within our RiskConsole risk management information system and the value it is providing to our customers.

There were many great insights shared at this conference, and I’'m grateful that the sessions were recorded, since I was unable to attend all of the sessions of interest and so need to follow up on some of them using the recorded videos.

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”Answering your risk and safety questions with risk mapping” by Mark LeVeque

The theme of the conference was "GIS – Transforming our World." In the plenary session, Esri President Jack Dangermond made an interesting observation about the power of technology to transform the world, using GPS as an example. He commented that just a few years ago no one would have thought that it would be impossible to ever get lost, but now due to the ubiquity of GPS, it’'s literally true that no one can get lost anymore (assuming they're carrying a GPS-enabled device, of course). The theme of the conference was that GIS can have the same transformative power over our lives and the world around us.

What are some of the ways GIS can have this transformative power?

  1. The increasingly widespread adoption of GIS across the enterprise. Esri is leading the way in this trend by webifying its ArcGIS application and integrating its mapping tools into enterprise business systems. Map making and map analytics are no longer the province of a few experts in a GIS department using desktop applications (though there will probably always be a place for this type of specialist). Maps are now being brought into the tools used on a daily basis in the business enterprise, whether it’'s the CRM, ERP or BI applications; maps are being brought into risk management software by extension through the business intelligence application built on top of the RMIS. Now with Esri map making and map analytic tools built into applications such as Microsoft Office, IBM Cognos, and MicroStrategy and with Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform, any user within an enterprise, without need for any specialized skills, can perform sophisticated analyses on location-based data.
  2. The power of merging big data analysis with location analytics. Big data, in the form of social media postings from applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, has location built into it intrinsically, with almost every posting geo-tagged. New tools (such as Esri’'s GeoEvent Processor) that apply filters and processing steps to these massive streams of data, or to any other type of data stream that includes a geographic component, can compare incoming data against a company'’s property portfolio and provide almost an almost near-real-time warning system that can alert users of impending natural or man-made disasters and allow for proactive responses.  
  3. The coming together of content from multiple sources into one common platform, like Esri's ArcGIS Online. Content can then be deployed into any of the applications built around this common platform, such as the tools that integrate GIS into enterprise applications. What is included in this content library? Beyond the basic base maps are richer sources of content such as near-real-time pre- and post-event digital imagery that can allow users to see the extent of damage from natural or man-made disasters, landscape data including datasets such as flood plains that can allow customers to visualize whether any part of their properties fall in areas prone to floods, and premium content from vendors such as AccuWeather that provide more than 200 types of detailed weather observation for any point in the U.S.

Those businesses that are positioned to take advantage of these trends have the potential to leapfrog beyond their peers and gain competitive advantage through use of these location-based analytics. How are companies using this type of analysis to improve results? Of course, the classic example of the use of location analytics is by real estate departments concerned with optimizing new site locations. Beyond this, though, the potential applications are countless, including many of particular interest to the risk, insurance and safety communities:

  • Heat map analysis to show high- and low-performing regions, and then expanding the heat map analysis to show outliers within each region, such as a high-performing location in a poor-performing region. Drilling into the components of the good and poor performance can yield lessons for improving performance in lagging locations.
  • Overlay of natural hazard data, not just for a company'’s locations, but also for its suppliers, can lead a company to take proactive steps to mitigate potential supply-chain disruptions when suppliers may be concentrated in high-risk areas.
  • Weather-triggered marketing is used by some firms to forecast demand for certain seasonal items in specific geographies, but the same type of analysis can be used to assist in loss-prevention efforts targeting injuries that are caused by weather conditions.

One speaker sketched out what he called the "spatial maturity" curve as a classification scheme for defining where organizations stand in their use of location analytics. The curve begins with the "geographically blind," who use only charts and tables to analyze their operations. As companies move up this curve they become “location entrenched,” using maps and location analytics throughout the organization. By moving up this curve through the use of technology, businesses stand to significantly improve operations and results and gain competitive advantage. A “location entrenched” firm will see the benefit of incorporating location analytics through tools such as Aon’s Intelligent Mapping Application into their risk management information system.

Mark LeVeque is a Product Consultant with Aon eSolutions, based in the Atlanta office. Contact Mark at RMIS Guide mark.leveque@aon.com

Jul 17, 2013

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