Vehicle fleet sensors are being used by logistics companies to track vehicles, monitor vehicle and driver performance, and gauge route effectiveness. Sensors can detect areas of high traffic and/or traffic slowdowns based upon vehicle performance. They can even collect outside weather statistics from the vehicles themselves.

These capabilities have improved fleet on-time performance, fuel efficiency and driver safety levels. They are now being leveraged into smart city initiatives as another source of geospatial information that can enrich GIS systems.

“In the Toronto metro area, we have thousands of vehicles that are equipped with sensors that can tell us where slowdowns are, based upon vehicle travel speeds, as well as the dwell times at intersections at different times of day,” says Mike Branch, vice president business intelligence, Geotab, which provides fleet tracking solutions.

Accelerometers on vehicles can measure rates of vibration. They help the city identify potholes and other areas of roads that need maintenance.

“Because we can monitor and transmit this data to the municipalities, they can use it for road maintenance planning purposes,” Branch says. “In the past, cities had to send crews out to physically inspect roads.”

Laura Schewel, CEO of StreetLight Data, which collects mobile data and provides analytics services, is working with the Ohio Department of Transportation on the department’s smart traffic management initiatives. “Organizations can take their GIS mapping and zoning data, and upload it into our cloud-based system,” Schewel says. “From there, we normalize the data so it can interact with other data sources to give a more complete picture. Geospatial mapping is at the core of the application. From here, we add mobile data that comes in from sensors, along with land use data, census data and so on.”

GIS professionals can query this amalgamated data. The data can be worked with interactively in either map or text form.

“The goal is improved efficiency in planning because you can integrate many different data sources into a composite of what you want to analyze,” Schewel says. “It enables government agencies to see what is on the ground without having to dispense crews to investigate first-hand, and this saves time and money.”

At the Ohio DOT, more than 100 employees are already using the system. “People in the organization want to be able to manage the impact of their decisions, and they can do that with the analytics,” Schewel says. “But there is also a hurdle to overcome because many GIS professionals are used to using their systems their own way, and this is a change.”

One of the areas that Schewel says her company focuses on is finding the right balance between delivering a robust system that enables data scientists to drill down as deeply as they desire into data, and a system that allows more casual users to use the system with dashboards and easy-to-use system interfaces.

Geotab’s Jean Pilon-Bignell, manager, strategic market development, acknowledges the same challenge.

“There is a big change happening now with government agencies,” he says. “It has to do with moving more Internet of Things (IoT) and other forms of big data from the outside world into internal GIS systems. In the past, these systems might have been updated on a monthly or even on a yearly basis, but now they are beginning to get updated in near real time as IoT and other types of data stream in. In this more real time environment, GIS professionals need to be able to work with near real time data streams. Our goal is to make this data easy for both systems and people to digest.”

Although there are learning curves and even pockets of resistance, real time GIS systems and analytics portend the future. This is what makes it critical for companies to provide ways of importing real-world data into GIS systems, and for GIS organizations to adopt them.