Spatial sciences are transforming the way we do business and manage the world around us

FANS wanting to buy tickets at the new Adelaide oval before it was built were able to jump on the website and get a virtual tour of what the view from their new seat would look like.

Once at the game, they could ‘check-in’ on Facebook, and watch a midfielder run between 12 and 20km per game — stats we can now measure with pinpoint accuracy.

These are all examples of the new face of an industry many of us may previously have known through contact with surveying, or other elements of GIS, or geographic information systems.

In recent years, almost by stealth, the impact that GIS, or spatial sciences, have on our lives, has been increasing rapidly.

Perhaps the most obvious example is Google Maps, a transforming technology which has allowed other business to build applications on top of its free interface, and helps the rest of us to navigate around the globe, either virtually or in reality.

Local GIS innovators include companies such as Maptek, which develops and sells software and hardware used to accurately map mine sites and model mineral deposits.

Aerometrex is another a local success story, with offices in four states. The company has embraced cutting edge unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, technology to provide high-value photography and mapping to clients.

Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) South Australian chairman Gary Maguire said while the industry, through areas such as surveying and mapping, had always been an enabler for other businesses, it was becoming increasingly important in this role.

“We were doing big data before it was called big data,’’ Mr Maguire said.

Mr Maguire said the spatial sciences covered five key areas: land surveying, spatial information and cartography, remote sensing and photogrammetry, engineering and mining surveying, and hydrography.

“The industry’s really a forefront industry ... there’s a lot of convergence from different technology sectors coming together and finding new avenues to use the technologies.’’

Mr Maguire said an example was the evolution of drones, which could now carry heavier payloads, more advanced camera technologies, and could feedback real-time video to the operator.

In the remote sensing space, energy companies used technologies which allowed data from remote oil and gas wells to be beamed back to head offices in real time, alerting companies to key production and maintenance data.

“It changes the way organisations’ workflow runs because they have that flow of information,’’ Mr Maguire said.

The new uses of GIS presented an opportunity for the development of new small to medium enterprises, which could take advantage of the rapid advances in the sector.

“Our industry is right at the forefront of that sort of thinking, how do we use big data, and that makes it attractive to school leavers, to other professions who want to come into this industry,’’ he said.

Mr Maguire said a great example of the power of spatial sciences was UPS, the US delivery company which one general manager describes as a technology company rather than a logistics company.

The company has spent a lot of time on route optimisation for its drivers, and from 2004-2012 estimated it had saved about 38 million litres of fuel by making sure its drivers did not spend time idling while waiting to turn against the flow of traffic.

“Even if this meant travelling a greater distance, results showed that more packages could be delivered in less time with reduced emissions by driving in a series of right-hand loops,’’ the UPS website says.

“It helped the bottom line, met consumer demands and increased safety.’’

Mr Maguire said many applications were just starting to gain traction in the past five years, and the future was bright.

“You’re seeing a lot more agility through small to medium enterprises starting up, there’s a lot of integration between social sciences, gaming, decision making.’’

Mr Maguire said governments had long seen the benefit in GIS — with South Australia’s bank of resources-related data a good example — but there were increasingly opportunities in the private sector also.

A key focus for the Institute has been certification for the industry, allowing practitioners, or “spatial scientists’’ to get accreditation.

The industry has also developed a web portal, Destination Spatial, which explains the study and career pathways the industry offers.

The SSSI is hosting a conference in Adelaide on August 29.

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