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GPS and GIS: On the Corporate Radar

Organizations are homing in on the potential impact of geospatial tracking and analysis technology.

By Suzanne Hildreth
April 2, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When crime strikes in Dover, N.H., police officers on the scene can get help more quickly than ever before. That’s because GPS equipment in squad cars pinpoints the location of each unit. “The dispatchers can see the cruisers moving around and the incidents they’re responding to,” says Michael Fenton, IT administrator for the department. “It has decreased our response times. The dispatcher now looks to the map displaying locations of all units and assigns the closest available unit.”

The department also uses a geographic information system to analyze crime trends and even to schedule officers’ beats.

Geographic information systems (GIS) and tools that make use of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology are not just for mapmakers, navigators and military analysts anymore. These technologies are becoming strategic components in a surprisingly diverse array of industries, from construction and trucking to marketing and health care.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth, with businesses and government agencies blending geospatial stuff in with other applications,” says Dave Sonnen, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Here are some examples of pioneering users of geospatial technologies:

Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) in Loma Linda, Calif., uses GPS devices and ArcGIS software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) to locate and dispatch ambulances and rescue helicopters, and to plot the fastest routes to area trauma centers — in some cases reducing response and transport time from a half-hour or more to a lifesaving few minutes. All emergency responders in Southern California can access LLUMC’s Advanced Emergency Geographic Information System (AEGIS) via the Web.

Caterpillar Inc., a maker of equipment for mining, construction and agriculture, offers its GPS AccuGrade technology, developed in-house, as a feature in its bulldozers, graders and other construction vehicles. AccuGrade tracks a machine’s blade location and tells it where to move next based on preprogrammed coordinates. In the past, an operator would base blade movements on measurements written on wooden stakes in the ground. The improved precision translates into higher productivity at construction sites, says Tom Bucklar, North American region manager for machine control and guidance at Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar. “GPS has increased productivity in construction [projects] by 40% or more,” says Bucklar, attributing much of that to the fact that operators now get accurate measurements more quickly.

At the Dover Police Department, GIS software from Queues Enforth Development Inc. and MapInfo Corp. is used to map crime trends and schedule beats. Incident reports appear in real time on a map viewed by dispatchers, along with the locations and status of police vehicles. Later, a graphical analysis of the calls — including the times, locations and nature of the incidents, as well as other details — is used to forecast criminal trends and schedule patrols to help prevent crime and respond to incidents more quickly.

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