Watch any group of people walk into a bar and chances are, within five minutes at least one of them will be whipping out their smartphones and checking in on Facebook. The more enviable the bar, the shorter the time between walking in and checking in. If you're somewhere cutting edge - literally - like Aqua Shard in one of London's highest landmarks, it's only polite to share your amazing night out with your followers from the moment you arrive. For a double whammy of location envy, you can switch on your location when Tweeting or sharing a photo on Instagram, Foursquare or Google+, just to make sure your followers across every platform are left in no doubt of your sophisticated whereabouts.
Take a closer look at what goes on behind this check-in and you'll discover something pretty impressive. Powering your check-in is location intelligence technology, used by billions of people across the world. Dig a bit deeper into this location intelligence, and we have geocoding - adding geographic coordinates to a description of a location, such as adding street addresses or postcodes. Look at it from another angle and you'll find reverse geocoding, which enriches geographic coordinates with a description of the location. Here, locations are identified through longitude and latitude, or pinpointing a location from a signal from a GPS enabled device. This is exactly what happens when you use the check-in functionality on your social media sites to share your location, regardless of whether you use a smartphone, desktop, tablet or mobile.
The uses of geocoding and reverse geocoding go way beyond that of helping you incite envy in your social media feed. Like most great technologies, location intelligence technology has become so embedded in our lives that as consumers, we barely even know we're using it. We can choose to opt-in to allowing location-based services on our smartphones, and if this means optimal app functionality - measuring the performance, distance and duration of our latest run, for example, or having discounts for our favourite local shops sent to our smartphones - then generally, we choose to opt in. We can even locate our pets' whereabouts this way, if indeed we need to identify Rover's location in time for tea. And opt in, we do: research* has found that 74% of consumers with smartphones use location-based services.
Savvy businesses know this, and they know exactly where and how to use it. Some types of organisation such as insurance, financial services, retail and public sectors have been using geocoding for years, to drive strategy and decision making. Take for example the insurance business which uses geocoding to visualise data around a property being susceptible to flooding, and identify others in the same area; or a bank, which uses a customer's geographic profile to detect fraud, by looking at buying habits outside the customer's usual location. A retailer will use geospatial data to find out the demographics of a particular area when considering a new store opening, and in the public sector, police departments will use demographic information to help them with resource planning, or plot routes following emergency call-outs.
Now, many organisations outside these sectors are building location intelligence into their business plans to drive sales and improve the customer experience. Access to precise, accurate geospatial information is becoming the bedrock of business planning. It isn't just about identifying customers on a map. It's about exploring the context: looking at relationships between different sets of data to create relevancy and accuracy. Businesses are looking at customers' locations, buying histories, and time between transactions to forecast propensity to buy. This helps them understand their customers and avoid hit-and-miss marketing, with hyper targeted messages and offers, based on in-depth psychographic and demographic profiles.
Data is fluid, dynamic, in a constant state of flux. Integrating, linking and exploring connections between groups of geographic data to deliver a personalised, closely targeted approach is where location intelligence tools come into their own. Being able to visualise geospatial data is far more valuable than looking at spreadsheets - and, let's face it, far more fun.
* Pew Research Internet Project 2013 http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/Suggest a correction