Global positioning technology is most often associated with GPS navigation in vehicles and locational services on mobile devices. But with the growth of big data initiatives, which combine data from many different sources and then analyze and draw actionable conclusions from it, more companies are innovating new business contexts in which to deploy GPS.

The goal is to take GPS information, and to then combine it with other types of data that give a more complete picture of a specific situation.

For instance, let’s say a company is transporting cargo from one country to another and suddenly encounters a delay at the border of nearly three hours.  As a consequence, route connections are missed, shipments are delayed and revenues are lost.

A creative combination of GPS with other context-relevant data has the ability to avoid this situation.

It can do this by using GPS to track where the transporting vehicle is, and to then combine this information with other data such as the condition of roads near a border crossing that the vehicle is approaching, or even the condition of the weather or other complicating factors that pertain to that particular border crossing. When the information is transmitted, gathered and collectively assessed in advance, it is possible to intercept and to reroute a vehicle. Even if a situation cannot be avoided, at least there is a clear “on the ground” view of what is occurring.

GPS combined with tracking and data collection at various points of transit is also making significant inroads in countries where road infrastructures are poor and where nearly 50 percent of goods en route from ports to their final interior destinations come up missing. With the help of GPS tracking and sensor-based information, areas of high risk can be identified and avoided. It can also be determined when a truck is stationary for an excessive period of time in a particular location. Using this combination of GPS and transport contextual information, one major transporter was able to reduce its goods theft rate from port to final destination from 50 percent to four percent.

Similar logistics applications of GPS are surfacing in emergency medical services (EMS), where the U.S. experiences over 6,000 ambulance crashes a year that account for 74 percent of the deaths in service of EMS personnel.

To combat the problem, the city of Fort Worth, Texas, is deploying Mobile Area Routing and Vehicle Location Information System (MARVLIS) technology that combines GPS positioning with traffic modeling to help ambulance crews better navigate typically heavily-trafficked roads. In the Boulder/Longmont area in Colorado, GPS data is being combined with historical maps of high demand EMS “hot spots” to assist the cities in best positioning their EMS vehicles.

"For the general public, GPS is just a way to get from point A to point B," said Christine Larson, a professor in aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado. "For earth scientists, it's mostly used to measure how the ground moves. But you can extract an amazing amount of information from GPS signals. You just need to think about it.”

Larson unconventionally applied GPS one morning to see seismic waves that had traveled more than 500 miles from the rupture of the 7.8 magnitude Denali fault earthquake.    "No one had ever seen that before," said Larson. She was thinking outside the box.

It is the ability of GPS data to enlarge the realm of data combinations and inquiries that makes it such an exciting addition to the big data initiatives that virtually every enterprise and academic institution is engaged in today. GPS is expanding what we can do with land, ocean and vegetation mapping. It is expanding possibilities for retailers who want to sell to mobile consumers. And there are virtually no limits for new business use cases where GPS is likely to play a pivotal role.