SpatialKey, visual thinking, and insurance

Posted on October 22, 2010 by admin


I recently came across an interesting video about journalism in the age of data that ties directly back to why we think SpatialKey is a game-changing tool.

Did you know that half of our brain is hard wired for vision? Well what wakes the SpatialKey team up at night is that we want to create an application that leverages this crucial sense to its fullest potential. Human beings are visual thinkers, yet how come, in the business world, do we need to make so many critical decisions based on data that is presented in flat/non visual ways?

Our premise is that just because business decision makers have massive amounts of data doesn’t mean they can easily access its essential truths- truths that can reveal critical threats or opportunities that make/brake businesses. We need to see data represented in visual ways to quickly recognize patterns and understand complex events. Seeing that data visually allows us to ask better questions, get better feedback from others and ultimately get to the truths that give us the upper hand in decision making.

As a basic example: which format allows you to understand patterns better.


Or this?

The answer is simple.

Spatialkey location intelligence software transforms static/flat row-and-column data into rich maps, reports, and visually interactive analytics that instantly reveal the truths business decision makers need. But instead of having to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and months on implementation, SpatialKey is a cost effective and easy to use SaaS.

An audience that has recently discovered the business benefits of SpatialKey is the insurance industry. SpatialKey enables insurance analysts, underwriters, and brokers to finally use their wealth of geographical information to its fullest potential.

They can now bring together and visualize data about policies, claims, weather, terrain, geographical boundaries, and demographics. They can understand historical trends, current risks, and future opportunities in a more visual and interactive format. And ultimately, they are using the truths they discover to make decisions that maximize their bottom-line profitability.

For more information or to request a free trial- please contact us.

Posted in Mapping, examples, Insurance, Visualization, solutions | Leave a reply

SpatialKey and Insurance Data Mapping and Analysis

Posted on September 27, 2010 by admin


The insurance industry has long relied on location intelligence to assess and manage regional exposure to risk. But until recently, the geospatial analysis technologies available to help to extract this intelligence have been less than ideal. They’ve had high price tags, and their deployment, management, and use have required the help of dedicated data specialists. They’ve also taken a long time to process data.


SpatialKey changes all of that. Designed for hands-on use by the decision makers in your organization, the SaaS application breaks through barriers by giving insurers quick, easy-to-use data mapping and analysis capabilities—no programming or specialists required. Since there is no software to install or maintain, SpatialKey deploys instantly and can be used for a fraction of the cost of traditional GIS and location intelligence systems. And it complements the systems you already have in place.

With SpatialKey, you can bring in data from many sources and instantly visualize it on a map. Then you can analyze and report on your data on the fly to better understand patterns and correlations between policies, perils, demographics, and other factors. Ultimately, you’ll make decisions about capital management, underwriting, pricing, sales, and marketing that immediately benefit the bottom line.


Available either out-of-the-box or customized to meet your company’s specific needs, SpatialKey helps you realize the full potential of your insurance data without substantial system investment.

Use Cases:

* Manage risk exposure: In order to remain profitable and comply with government regulations, you’re constantly managing and monitoring risk exposure. SpatialKey provides highly interactive analysis of geographic data, allowing you to properly assess reinsurance protection needs.

* Catastrophic and large-scale event management: SpatialKey enables you to better assess and respond to large claim events such as floods and hurricanes. For example, import hurricane path data to assess probabilistic loss estimates. See how the event will affect local portfolio-holding exposure, and manage response resources accordingly.

* Maximize sales and marketing opportunities: By providing deeper insight into local demographic and policy characteristics, SpatialKey helps you develop more targeted marketing campaigns that deliver higher returns than traditional, blanket campaigns.

For more information or to start a new trial, please contact us

Posted in data import, Mapping, examples, Insurance, Visualization, solutions | Leave a reply

Tracking tropical storm Alex's potential impact on insurance policies with SpatialKey

Posted on June 30, 2010 by admin


Insurers and reinsurers alike are always on the lookout for tools that can provide them better predictive analysis and modeling of risk exposure, for example when faced with upcoming hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters. How will their policy portfolio be affected by a hurricane? Where should they dispatch local agents after a natural disaster? What level of reinsurance should they get when faced with new risk? All these decisions can make or break a company's bottom line as well as their customer service. Insurers use sophisticated modeling and forecasting tools to make decisions, but these tools are usually only accessible by trained analysts and getting reports takes hours if not days to receive.

With SpatialKey's SaaS platform, insurers can now finally bring together and analyze *on-the-fly* - not in hours or days as with other tools- a variety of data coming from different sources, and make immediate business decisions accordingly.

Take tropical storm Alex, expected to turn into a hurricane (thankfully heading away from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill) this Wednesday as an example. Since some of the predictive hurricane models are proprietary, we decided to use publicly available datasets of the hurricane's path at, as well as a mock sample of insurance policy to showcase how easy it was to import and analyze information using SpatialKey.

After downloading a shapefile containing the Tropical Storm ALEX 5-Day Track here, we easily imported it into SpatialKey and created a new report showing the potential 72 and 120 hour paths of the storm.

Tropical Storm ALEX 5-Day Track, Uncertainty Cone

Next we added our fictitious insurance company's policy data and overlayed it with the predictive hurricane's path. This allowed us to see in minutes, not days or hours, which policies in which geographies might be affected by Alex. Minutes vs days make a big difference- the quicker the information gets in the hands of decision makers within the insurance company, the quicker they can adjust their plans- for example where to dispatch local agents after a natural disaster.

Tropical Storm ALEX 5-Day Track, Uncertainty Cone with Policy files

SpatialKey shines by making complex data analysis simple and available to the people who need it the most.

Tropical Storm ALEX 5-Day Track, Uncertainty Cone with Policy files filtered

Within just a few minutes, no programming or analysts required, we imported the insurance policy data from a spreadsheet, shape files from the NOAA site and used the capabilities of SpatialKey to filter which policies could potentially be affected by the path of the storm. We could take this analysis further and forecast the impact of the storm on commercial vs home policies or per construction type. We could even import additional datasets, for example local demographics, for further insight. The analysis capabilities are endless. And the other benefit of SpatialKey is that the information (for example which policies are at the highest risk) can easily then be exported out of SpatialKey and shared within the organization for follow up. Or interactive reports containing the information above can be shared so that others on the team can further slice and dice it according to their analysis needs.

To find out how SpatialKey can help your insurance company, please visit here or contact us.

Posted in data import, examples, Insurance, Visualization, risk assessment | Leave a reply

Where 2.0 and Crisis Mapping

Posted on March 29, 2010 by admin


Our own Doug McCune, SpatialKey engineer extraordinaire, will be presenting a session about Crisis Mapping at Where 2.0 in San Jose this Thursday, April 1st. If you are attending the event, please come to Ballroom III at 4:50pm.

Analyzing conflicts via maps is not new. For centuries generals and politicians have moved pushpins on maps to help guide troop movements, understand enemy positions, or help avert conflict altogether. What's new to conflict and crisis mapping are the tools now allowing military, politicians, and humanitarian groups better understand what drives political instability and violent conflict, and better address it.

One of the more rewarding uses of SpatialKey has been driven by a team led by Dr Clionadh Raleigh. Dr Raleigh and team members from the PRIO Center for the Study of Civil War created the ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data) database. The ACLED project team's objective was to provide a better read of conflicts by understanding the relationships between combatants, social groups, economies, and even natural phenomena such as droughts or floods. Ultimately their goal is to achieve a more stable, just, and peaceful world.

Thanks in part to funding from the World Bank, ACLED provides up-to-date, immediately accessible analytics and maps for over 50 countries in the developing world to help academics, the World Bank, NGOs, aid agencies and more gain insights on civil war dynamics. The database includes for example the date and location of conflict events, event types, rebel and other groups involved, as well as specifics on battles, killings, riots, and recruitment activities by rebels, governments, militias, armed groups, protesters and civilians, and much more.

The difficulty of creating a central database for crisis mapping is that it needs to bring together vast amounts of diverse information coming from a wide variety of sources. In technical terms: a data mess. Since neither Dr Raleigh nor the users of the ACLED database are trained GIS (Geographic Information System) professionals, they decided to use SpatialKey to centralize and analyze the data. SpatialKey is web-based and does not require special training or programming. All users need is an internet connection to immediately create highly visual maps and reports.

The benefit of using SpatialKey is that each agency using ACLED data can now create maps to help answer totally different questions, no data specialists required. Some groups need to better understand how to mitigate conflict in a specific area, others want to find the safest zone to place a refugee camp, and yet others want to understand the impact of possible floods and droughts on a conflict so they can arrange their resources accordingly.

This has allowed researchers to analyze data with more precision, as well as create a more collaborative environment to help the researcher community create predictive models of civil war. It has also helped challenge assumptions. For example Dr Raleigh says that many people considered civil wars to be primarily rural events, but SpatialKey has showed that these conflicts tend to happen close to larger cities, as rebel groups attempt to engage with the military. She considers that the combination of ACLED and SpatialKey goes a long way toward advancing the field- it provides the next generation in conflict analysis and crisis mapping.

If you cannot attend Doug's session, please read our case study on the use of SpatialKey by ACLED.

For more information on SpatialKey, or to start your free trial, please go to

Posted in data import, Mapping, examples, Visualization, solutions, crisis mapping | Leave a reply

We make it and use it too

Posted on March 26, 2010 by admin


Tom Link, Universal Mind CTO, presented the company's "state of the business" at a recent internal meeting. And of course, as SpatialKey's General Manager, he used SpatialKey to more visually highlight sales activities and trends, as well as answer employee questions on the fly.

SpatialKey as a visual dashboard is a great example to highlight since it's commonly used by our clients- but since our clients don't really want to share their company data with the world for us to use in demos, we thought we'd use ours! Of course, we changed employee names and client revenues for this video since we don't want to reveal our secrets either.

As a background, Universal Mind, SpatialKey's parent company, is a leader in the field of Rich Internet Applications (RIA) development using next generation Web 2.0 technologies. The company is comprised of employees, as well as a network of consultants, all spread throughout the US. Clients include companies as diverse as Adobe, Cisco, Behr, CVS, Ben&Jerry's, Visa, Children's Hospital Boston, Verizon and many more. Dispersed teams often don't get the big picture of how their work fits within the broader company or how they are performing compared to others. For Universal Mind, SpatialKey has helped bridge that gap.

Tom's presentation focused on sales activities and sales performance. How did we do last year? How did we grow geographically? Which clients generated the most aggregated revenue? What trends do we see for the year ahead? Are there any location trends we should capitalize on? Who were our top performing sales reps? Is there a correlation between the location of our reps and the success of our sales activities? Which consultants generated the most billable hours? Where are they located? What revenue did they generate across clients?

See the video above for a small example of the many visualizations and analysis capabilities SpatialKey offers for sales data. Notice how quickly Tom gets answers to any question he asks about the companies' sales activities. Universal Mind uses Salesforce to track and manage its sales pipeline, so the data you see highlighted comes from a direct import from Salesforce, but any CSV-type data would work just as well.

If you are interested in finding out more or need help setting up your free trial, do not hesitate to contact us.

Posted in Dashboard, Sales mapping, examples, Visualization, Sales intelligence, Sales & Marketing, solutions, Data visualization | Leave a reply

Visual mapping and analysis for "regular" business users?

Posted on February 1, 2010 by admin


We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. Images from Tiananmen Square, September 11th, or the recent devastation in Haiti are universally understood and move people to action more than words ever could. Visualizing vs. reading about events is becoming more and more prevalent, with an increasing number of people receiving their information from the web or cell phone. In parallel with the upsurge in use of images and multimedia content to communicate information, the advent of Google Earth, online maps, or car and phone navigation tools has created an explosion in the use of visual maps in every day life. Instead of reading text, we are now provided maps to more easily see how to get from point A to point B, or where to find open homes in a specific neighborhood. For most of us, seeing is understanding and believing.

Photo courtesy of Google maps.

On the business side, 80% of business data has a location component which provides a goldmine of untapped information for marketing, sales and operations. But current visual mapping and analysis tools are expensive, can only be accessed by trained specialists, and require heavy IT involvement to set up and maintain. This is a big barrier to entry for most businesses. They want to "see", understand and communicate data trends, but don't have the time nor means to invest in yet another expensive infrastructure.

The businesses that already do leverage visual mapping and analysis can more effectively and more quickly see geographic or time-based data and trends critical to sales and operations. This provides them a real competitive advantage. Many oil and gas companies for example have invested in sophisticated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and brought in GIS specialists to gain insight on their location intelligence via visual maps. This allows them not only to plot areas with the highest potential to drill in, but also better manage their pipelines, operations, retail facilities, and more.

.... or.... . ...and...


... and..

Thankfully, a revolution is taking place that allows "regular" business users -with no GIS training nor deep pockets- to leverage the power of visual mapping and analysis. Enter Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS is transforming mapping and data visualization in the business world the same way Google Maps revolutionized mapping for consumers. Using cost-effective, user friendly SaaS mapping and analysis applications, such as SpatialKey, organizations of all types and sizes can now import their business data, combine it with geographic or competitive information, and start visually analyzing trends critical to their business. Where are key customers located? How can they maximize results in their sales territories? How best to map their sales territories? Where should they open a new retail outlet? How does Q2 sales compare to Q1 on a geographic basis? What marketing campaign resulted in the highest ROI? And so much more.

Opportunities and threats previously hidden within row and column-based datasets are now clearly visible via interactive maps. Concepts difficult to explain in text or PowerPoint presentations can now also be shown and therefore easily understood resulting in better decision making. What’s more, since everyday decision makers can use these applications, “what if” questions can be answered on the fly versus having to wait for an analyst to do a new data query. Decision-making, communication, and collaboration are improved. After all, seeing is understanding and believing, even in the business world.

Note: we'll be adding blog posts around visual mapping for sales and marketing users over the next few weeks. In the meantime you can find out more at our sales and marketing and/or enterprise solutions pages.

Posted in sales territories, Mapping, Sales mapping, examples, Location intelligence, GIS, Sales & Marketing, solutions, Target marketing, Data visualization | Leave a reply

The easiest way to create thematic maps by state, county, or zip code

Posted on January 21, 2010 by Doug McCune


We've just launched new thematic mapping features in SpatialKey that let you create maps of your data by state, county, or zip code with a few simple mouse clicks. We think this is the easiest way to create thematic maps - ever. To show off these abilities I'll show an example of creating a thematic map of unemployment rate by US county. The end result will look like this:


Find some data

Your data must have location details down to the level of granularity that you are trying to map. For instance, if you want to show a map of states, all the records in your data should at least have US state (your data can be more granular too, you can map address-level data by state if you want). In this example I'll be mapping US unemployment rate. The data for unemployment is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and can be found here. I took the latest stats by US county and extracted only the data for October 2009.

After just a little massaging in a spreadsheet program my data looked like this:


You can download the CSV file that I used if you'd like to try it out for yourself.

Upload to SpatialKey

Once you have your data ready, you can upload it to SpatialKey. If you don't already have a SpatialKey account, you can sign up for the free 30-day trial to get access right away and start uploading. During the upload process you'll be asked to identify the location columns in your data, like street address, zip code, etc. We'll do our best to automatically identify these columns based on your data, but you might have to help us out.


Make your map

When you load your data onto a map you'll be asked what kind of map you want to create. We'll make a thematic shape map, and we'll choose to map the data by US geography (this includes state, county, or zip code).


Then we choose what the map should display. In this example we want to show the unemployment rate, so I'll pick average unemployment rate, which will start me off with a map of the US states with the average unemployment rate for all the counties in each state.


Now our thematic map shows the average unemployment rate for all the counties aggregated by state.


I can switch between this state view of the data and counties by changing the options in the layer's settings panel.


Now we have a map of all the counties in the US (including Puerto Rico) that shows the unemployment rate of each county.


Customize and Explore

You can easily customize the bin ranges if you want to tweak them, or you can control the colors used (all maps are the same, just with a different color scheme):



You can also use all the filtering options that SpatialKey offers to filter the data in your thematic maps. Here's an example of filtering to only show counties where the total labor force is over 100,000.


And here's another example to show only the counties where the unemployment rate is greater than 15%:


No Programming Required

To generate these maps you don't have to write a single line of code. It's as simple as uploading your data and stepping through a few guided steps. If you wanted to change the map to show the total labor force per county instead of the unemployment rate, it only takes 3 clicks. There are lots of ways to make these maps, like this great tutorial on FlowingData shows, but we think SpatialKey gives you the easiest way to create and analyze thematic maps.

Posted in examples, thematic, choropleth | Leave a reply

Building Permit Data from DataSF

Posted on November 11, 2009 by Doug McCune


Asf_permits_countnother dataset that the city of San Francisco makes publicly available is the Department of Building Inspection's monthly permit report. This report contains all the building permit activity within the city, from permits to add new condos to inspections of sprinkler systems. We took one full year of data, from September 2008 to August 2009, and brought it into SpatialKey. During the selected year-long time period there were over 25,000 permits issued. We can see the breakdown by the type of building on the right. Residential housing takes the top three spots (divided into Apartments, and one and two family homes).

We mapped the concentration of where these permits were issued. The different types of buildings, such as apartments versus office buildings, have very different distributions throughout the city. Some of these distributions are expected, such as the high concentration of permits for offices in the downtown area of San Francsico. But some of the distributions are more interesting and tell a story about the urban makeup of the city. Notice that apartments are much more concentrated closer to downtown in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and Hayes Valley, most heavily around the eastern and northern areas surrounding the financial district. Two-family homes (ie duplexes) have a different concentration that includes neighborhoods like Cow Hollow and the Mission. And one-family homes are in neighborhoods like Pacific Heights, Noe Valley, and Twin Peaks.

The maps here show the number of building permits by the type of building.




Here are some alternate screenshots that are at a more granular resolution, so you can see a bit more detail on the different areas of the city. Click each thumbnail for a much larger version:





Notes on the data

It's always important to remember what data we're looking at. This is the number of building permits issued between September 2008 and August 2009. A single building might have multiple permits issued, which could be everything from renovations or re-roofing to a change from residential to commercial, etc.

This is the third part of an ongoing exploration of publicly accessible San Francisco data from Please see the other posts in the series.

The images and reports in this post were created with publicly accessible data. We have no association with the city of San Francisco (but we’d love to, so contact us if you’re from the San Francisco government and want to use SpatialKey).

Posted in DataSF, San Francisco, examples | Leave a reply

The First International Crisis Mapping Conference - ACLED Demo

Posted on October 16, 2009 by Tom Link


We're excited to be at the first International Crisis Mapping Conference in Cleveland, OH for the weekend.

While at ICCM2009, we'll be discussing some of our work with ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset). The ACLED project was founded by Dr. Clionadh Raleigh and team members from the PRIO Centre for the Study of Civil War, who set out to create a conflict database that would help answer researchers’ questions. ACLED was subsequently funded by the World Bank with the aim of better understanding events in client states.

This video gives a brief overview of how SpatialKey is being used to investigate the relationship between this data and the location of refugee camps and environmental factors. What's significant is that SpatialKey is making it easier for ACLED researchers to collaboratively bring together vast amounts of information from a wide variety of sources in a meaningful way - all without having to involve programmers or GIS experts to get their work done.

A recent Reuters article about trends in crisis mapping highlights the very issue SpatialKey is helping researchers solve:

Researchers have used maps to visualise crises for many years.

But there are drawbacks in the the use of highly-sophisticated, computerised Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which are usually used in such work -- not least that they are expensive and difficult to operate.

Nor do these systems allow for much integration and collaboration, and due to their complexities they are not usually updated in real time.

For more details on our work with ACLED, read the ACLED crisis mapping case study.

Posted in Mapping, examples, Visualization, solutions, crisis mapping | Leave a reply