‘Geospatial’ technology  has allowed for the gathering of accurate Covid-19 outbreak data,  but such applications are only the beginning

ONE of the outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has highlighted the importance of location technologies, with countless maps in the media highlighting specific areas of the UK that have suffered sporadic outbreaks of the virus.

Location-based data has certainly been essential in monitoring the spread of Covid-19 and such advances in data gathering are predicted to become even more important in how society is managed and governed in the years to come.

These ‘geospatial’ outcomes are already driving much of modern daily life and it is a growing market, estimated to be worth $30bn within the next seven years. And it seems that harnessing these technologies could now help the UK economy recover in the post-Covid landscape, according to David Pegg, director, consulting services at CGI UK.

The global technology company is already utilising what it calls the “power of where” to improve daily life, not just in Scotland but across the world. The company has developed and also supports the systems that deal with the agricultural payments for Scottish farmers which are based on the sizes of fields and the kind of crops that are grown.

CGI technology is also involved in the information gathering on weather systems by satellites that forms the basis for forecasts, as well as the remote monitoring of lift systems to make sure they are working properly. 

Location technology has even been used to monitor rail travel to find out if any parts of the journey are less comfortable than others.

“CGI is using this location element to drive better decision making and improve outcomes,” said Pegg. “About 80% of data has a location element to it and organisations, be they governments or in the private sector, could be using this to help them make better decisions and get better outcomes.”

He pointed out that most people’s phones are now location-enabled devices that individuals use for Google maps or to monitor their own physical activity – but these could be used to help deliver better services based on where they are in the world.

“For CGI, location-based services are all about driving better informed decision-making by using the ‘power of where’,” said Pegg. “To do this we are integrating location-based services into business and operational systems such as an application that helps preserve sensitive marine environments from illegal fishing, an application that helps connect more renewable energy sources to the electricity grid and a tool to map and make accessible data about common land.

“Much of what we do is helping to deliver a more sustainable future for Scotland and the world by preserving vital habitats and helping to fight climate change.”

All of this fits with the recently published UK Geospatial Strategy published by the Geospatial Commission which has a number of themes relevant to Scotland.

These include the promotion and safeguarding use of location data and highlighting the success of organisations that use such location data, as well as championing the UK’s geospatial interests overseas. 

“This is great news for CGI as we have a rich heritage in this area and an established overseas reach,” said Pegg.

The strategy also aims to identify how improved access to better location data can also be highly beneficial for the environment.

“That is very much our mission too and a lot of what we have done with location-based services has been in the environmental area,” Pegg said.

Another part of the strategy that fits with CGI’s philosophy is the aim of enhancing skills and awareness by working with employers and professional associations to draw together geospatial, data science, digital and sector expertise as well as developing geospatial apprenticeships for the public and private sectors by 2021.

Scotland is particularly well-placed here as Edinburgh University is a world leading centre of excellence for Geographic Information (GI) learning and CGI, which has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Borders and Aberdeen runs STEM camps in schools to encourage students into careers in technology.

The strategy also aims to enable innovation by supporting Scotland’s first Geospatial Network Integrator to accelerate the development of an emerging geospatial cluster, alongside the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, with a view to future rollout into other areas.

“Creating a hub for talent and capabilities in Scotland makes perfect sense as there is massive demand for these sorts of skills and with us having a strong presence here it also makes sense for us to be part of that,” said Pegg.

“The location data market is growing by around 15-20% per annum and we can use the “power of where” to help deliver better business and government outcomes.”



THE importance of the “power of where” was driven home as early as 1854 when a cholera epidemic ravaged London.

A breakthrough in containing the disease was made when one doctor began to see a pattern emerging, with the majority of the deaths concentrated round a well in the centre of the city. 

At the time it was believed that cholera was spread by a kind of miasma in the air but Dr John Snow produced a map of the cases to show it was coming from the well. His work not only saved many lives by transforming the understanding of the disease and how it could be prevented, but also showed the importance of location data.

This kind of data is now used widely across the world and global technology company CGI is at the forefront of its use, helping both businesses and the public sector to streamline processes.

An example of this can be seen from CGI’s work locating former mine workings which has simplified house buying as people can now find out quickly online if a house is at any risk from former mining activity.

“Every day, millions of people across the UK are touching our solutions without knowing they are,” said director, consulting expert Pascal Coulon of CGI. “Location technology is not always about showing you a fancy map with dots – sometimes it is a simple document which gives you answers to specific questions generated by interrogating data sets in a very different way. 

“We try to embed this sort of technology within business applications to streamline processes and increase return. In the example of the coal reports this has offloaded the procedure to members of the public who can easily find the information, freeing up the team who used to do this to work on something of higher value. It also benefits wider society by making the conveyancing process quicker.” 

Open data as well as innovation, believes Pascal, is a key driver in growing the economy and the company encourages the best possible use of data. “Innovation is part of CGI’s DNA,” he said. “We try to make sure that we don’t lock our customers into a specific product that means they can’t make the best use of their data in the longer term.

“We try to help them to disseminate the data across the organisation so that they can get a higher business return. 

“It’s all about keeping your options open. We want to really open out access to data and bring all the stakeholders round the table. Data might be your crown jewels but don’t keep it in the corner.  

“It helps if you can share it and you will get a better return.”


This article was brought to you in association with CGI as part of our STEM campaign