It is a sad irony that Covid-19 is, in many ways, putting geospatial back under the microscope. Let’s not forget, it was first utilised in a mainstream way nearly two centuries ago to map out the French cholera epidemic of 1832.
At present, geospatial data and technologies, via apps and dashboard applications, are being utilised to fight the present global pandemic.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What exactly is geospatial? Simply put, it’s mapping the world with numerous amounts of data sets, which Tomlinson, half a century ago, formulated into GIS (Geographic Information System). This allows analysis and strategies to be pulled out of the data.
“A Geographic Information System (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analysing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS allows users to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.”
Then fifteen years ago Google Maps produced a public version, signalling a gold rush for new technologies. Timing also was a factor, with new cloud computing systems allowing big data to have meaning, and to be useful for a commercial purpose.
Today geospatial technologies are utilised across the real estate spectrum, from planning and the environment to asset management. The actual way data is presented using many of the tools from the burgeoning visual tech industry is reshaping the way we understand the physical world we live in.
Vector and raster are the two data formats used to store geospatial data. Vector data use X & Y coordinates to determine the locations of points, lines, and areas (polygons) that correspond to map features, the boundaries, and the centres of features. Raster data, on the other hand, uses a matrix of pixels to define where features are located.
Regarding application in the world of real estate, some agents have heavily invested in geospatial technology. Knight Frank developed SKYWARD, which utilised GIS software to establish that over 40,000 new properties could be built in areas of London, through building upwards without impinging on the existing skyline.
Utilising Ordnance Survey data in a 3D-spatial format, and other data sets such as Land Registry is a real case of commerce and technology coming together.
Geospatial has many applications. If you think about it, it’s the science of integrating physical geography with cartography and data and then digitally extrapolating the new ways to solve old and new problems.
What is most interesting to me is that its strongest manifestations are like relics from the computer gaming world of yesteryear. Where virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) seem to reign supreme, allowing a more youthful group of proptech visionaries to see and taste the world in a completely different way, strapped into a comfy chair with an electronic headset.
For me, aged 57 with over 30 years of front-line real estate experience before being a born again proptech prophet, I too perhaps see other large jewels that geospatial can deliver to the comfort of my armchair, with a beer in one hand and two-eyes on the future.
The quantum jump that the £6.5bn UK property industry can make is if geospatial proptech can be utilised to produce a digital logbook for every property.
This digital logbook would be a singular point of truth, a depositary not just for the paper lodged since 1832 at HM Land Registry, showing title, boundaries, etc, but includes all data both physical and paper generated that relates to a precise property.
At a stroke, all keyholders in the buying and selling of property would digitally be in the same room, with access to all the information; the buyer, vendor, agent, solicitors, surveyor, and mortgagee.
Digitise the paper led and archaic legacy-based conveyancing protocol with the automated processes the present 20-week white knuckle ride of uncertainty that is the precursor to most people buying a home (with 31% of them failing the first attempt) would be a thing of the past. An old man’s pipedream, maybe?
Until you spend a few hours in the company of proptech legends Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson and Craig Massey, co-founders of Yourkeys, who have got the conveyancing process for new homes on proptech digital roller-skates, with reservation to exchange in just seven days.
All they are waiting for is the rest of the industry to catch up.
Originally published on Unissu, 13th May 2020