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10:11 AM

Space: Next Big Data Frontier?

Relaxed regulations and greater affordability soon could fill the skies with satellites put there to collect images and other data for businesses hoping to get a leg up on the competition.

Steerage To The Stars: The Cheapsat Revolution
Steerage To The Stars: The Cheapsat Revolution
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If you made a list of recent and future catalysts of massive data growth, you'd probably jot down things like mobility, social media, machine data, the Internet of Things, and ... outer space?

What was once the purview of James Bond is increasingly accessible to private enterprises, which can now use satellite-generated information such as imaging and geospatial data for big data initiatives in market research and planning, supply chain and logistics, competitive intelligence, and other purposes.

Military and intelligence personnel have relied on satellite data for years to keep tabs on other nations and goings-on around the globe, but it was largely classified or otherwise restricted from the private sector. Now, looser regulations and lower costs are allowing companies to use that same kind of information for a variety of business reasons, such as near-real-time geospatial data visualizations of housing construction and other activity when planning new store locations.

"For years, this was all cut off [from the business world]," Thermopylae Sciences + Technology CEO A.J. Clark told us in an interview. For most people, the most obvious example of increased accessibility to high-quality space-based imaging is Google Maps or Google Earth. (Thermopylae was a 2013 Google enterprise global partner of the year for maps.) "The whole concept of having higher-resolution imagery is good when we just think about a user looking at a picture, but it's great, by an order of magnitude, when we start talking about running automated analytics against that imagery to develop answers to business questions," said Clark.

[Stop looking over your shoulder. Read Location Tracking: 6 Social App Settings To Check.]

Just as intelligence agencies have used such images to track, say, activity in and around a particular facility in another country -- the number of trucks that arrive and depart in a given time period for example -- private enterprises now can access similar information for monitoring, say, a competitor's manufacturing plant.

"[In] any manufacturing [business], there is now an ability to replicate that supply chain and every detail about how frequently components move as companies analyze their competitors," Clark said. "Being able to extract automatically the answers to questions about anything that can be visibly detected within a competitor's space -- it just represents a treasure trove of new information to make better business decisions off of."

It's not just industrial spy games, either. The same principle could be applied inward to a company's own operations. Although corporations might do asset tracking on a narrower scale today -- GPS tracking of truck fleets, for instance -- they can now do much more by mapping and tracking all components of an end product through final delivery.

"You [can] spatially map your factory so as the part departs transits [between] different locations, you are alerted in real time where it's at, if it's delayed, if it went to the wrong place -- then as it's six hours from final production, you're sending an alert to your truck that's going to ship it to your retailer or to your end buyer that 'it's about ready to go, you guys should be teed up,'" Clark said. "The amount of time that is wasted in that entire supply chain, manufacturing, and delivery process is immense and we can be much more efficient."

Market research and analysis is another clear use for space-based imaging and geospatial data. Although tracking information such as population growth or new housing construction when determining whether to enter a new market

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Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2014 | 2:44:49 AM
Re: Talk about unstructured data
That's one of the blocking point for this business, I think that it will be overtaken if the advantages of this solution will be more than the weaknesses.
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2014 | 3:53:15 PM
Talk about unstructured data
Obviously, I see some benefits to this for the organization with it's act together and capable of leveraging data effectively. But that is not the broad spectrum at this point.  According to a recent IDG SAS poll, unstructured data still has quite a ways to go before organizations are using it effectively.  Does this evolution make sense, absolutely, but most are no where near ready. 


Peter Fretty
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/3/2014 | 2:59:53 PM
Re: promising business
I also forsee a business opportunity in selling camouflage netting for companies that don't want to see their trucks coming and going, or activities at their factories.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2014 | 5:00:10 AM
promising business
The opportunity to communicate by mean of satellites for commercial purposes holds promises of a big development, the safety of data and the effectiveness of the real time communication will make the difference between the success or the failure of this business.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
9/2/2014 | 4:16:35 PM
Satellites: No deposit, no return
Can we put a "no deposit, no return" policy on all satellites, like we have on soft drink bottles. The manufacturer pays an upfront retrieval fee, and provides a recycling system, before they get launched into mainstream consumer use? Otherwise, space is going to end up litterred with junk. That would be a new phase of "no return," unfortuntely.
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