The Benefits of Geocoding

Posted by Louis D'hondt on 02/10/2017

In todays smartphone society, knowing who is where is considered normal. Who hasn't got a mobile phone? Everybody is constantly mapped, tracked and traced. You "check in", share your location, let the world know where you are. All that location-information is captured quite easily through geographical coordinates. These geographical coordinates typically consist of a latitude and a longitude. For people to interpret that stored location-information, these latitudes and longitudes are depicted on a map or translated into addresses. The process of translating latitudes and longitudes into addresses is called 'reverse geocoding'. Addresses are more interpretable for people. It's what we are used to and what we know.
When we want to feed that information into a system, these addresses are usually translated into geographical coordinates. That process is called geocoding. As adresses can be vague at times, proper geocoding is crucial. Needless to say that this is an understatement for transport industry.

proper geocoding

In this blog, we'll illustrate the advantages of geocoordinates compared to addresses and why having a decent geocoding tool at your disposal is essential in transport industry.

Geocodes vs traditional addresses

Besides the strategic value that location data delivers, reliable coordinates are necessary in maintaining a reliable service. The costs of a transporter not being able to execute an order are not to be underestimated. When transporters are provided with unreliable specifications, the odds of that happening rise. For multiple reasons, geocoordinates mitigate that risk.

  1. Precision and accuracy
    As explained in a previous blog, addresses can be incorrect, inaccurate and unprecise. Incorrect because of a human mistake, inaccurate because a road network has changed, unprecise because an industrial area can be big and encompass multiple entrances. All these flaws can be fixed through geocoding.

  2. Universal
    Different countries work with different metric system. These differences can lead to conversion miscalculations. History has shown that we shoud be cautious not to make these mistakes. Remember the Mars probe that got lost due to a simple math error?

    • Countries, regions, languages
      Across countries, regions and languages, latitude-longitudes are equal. Addresses on the other hand may cause problems. F.e. Belgium has nearly 500 streets named 'Churchstreet'. Obviously these frequently recurring street names can lead to misconceptions. Another example is a person or application knowing the address in Dutch but not in French. With geocoordinates, these issues do not exist. 
    • Technology
      Likewise, different applications do not necessarly locate one address in exactly the same spot. Again, this inconvenience can be prevented by using latlons (latitudes, longitudes) instead of addresses.

  3. Consistency
    Road networks are evolving constantly. Since geocodes point to a physical fixed location on earth, they don't change. By pointing to a latlon, you make abstraction of the road map. Data is guaranteed to be consistent, straightforward and clear.

The geocoding tool

Even though we're trying to obtain geocoordinates, the tool performing the geocoding is equally important. Besides efficiently geocoding batches of adresses at once, good geocoders provide more than that. They will limit the administrative burden, eliminate the red tape. It's more than just converting an address into geocoordinates.

  1. Corrections

    • When an incorrect address is introduced, the application must determine if it can make something out of it. If a street, city or country is misspelled, the app should notice the spelling mistake and yet deliver a fitting result.

    • When the errors are more severe, a waterfall system must be applied to get a result. F.e. if street and a zip code don't match a city, the city should be ignored. If a street and a city don't match a zip code, the zip code is dropped. If an existing city and the associated zip code don't contain a given street, use the city centre.
      Of course, the end-users of the tool must be informed on the waterfall system that is used. 

    • The customers should be able to make corrections to inaccurate addresses themselves. When an address on a map points to a location that is 300m from the location the user has in mind, that user effortlessly makes a correction.

      geocoding tool preview

  2. Location Intelligence
    Well-developed geocoding tools foresee more than just geocoding. Extra features boost efficiency and take business intelligence to the next level. 

    • Self Learning
      Decent tools store customer information.
      Addresses that have been geocoded before will not be converted again, locations that were corrected before won't need to be corrected again.
      This is an important feature in eliminating the red tape.

    • Geofencing
      The concept of geofencing is virtually delimiting an area around a geocoordinate that is part of the same location.
      This is particularly useful for industrial sites containing companies with multiple entrances. When a driver enters the geofence, he is considered to be at a location. Whether he's waiting at entrance A, B or C, the system registers the driver as being at the company's location. Recognizing trends on when best to visit certain locations is valuable.

Conclusion

Geocoding is more than converting addresses into latitudes and longitudes. It's a crucial step towards operational stability and reliability. Through the use of a fitting tool, not only operational but also administrative advantages are obtained. The next step is using location intelligence for making strategic decisions and gaining a competitive edge.

Topics: Transport, track and trace, planning, data

Louis D'hondt

Written by Louis D'hondt