Back to the Future with the Map of the Future

26 years ago, in the movie “Back to the Future II,” Marty McFly flew into the future to save his children. As luck (or the script) would have it, the day he flew forward to was today, October 21, 2015. Hailed in various media outlets as “Back to the Future” Day, companies from Mattel to Pepsi are getting in on the celebration.

One of the things that astonished Marty in the 2015 of the movie was the vast amount of change he encountered. Even so, he was quickly able to assimilate himself into the future and find the patterns that formed the thread of society.

Humans are supremely powerful pattern recognizers. Whether it be discerning the tell-tale tweets of different bird calls or using the colors and location of petals to identify a rose, we love to put things into recognizable patterns. We can instantaneously look at the different light and dark patterns of square pixels and extrapolate an aircraft, or a car, or a shed. We look through columns of numbers and find the patterns that locate change.

We are so good at identifying patterns that we have invented different ways of looking at data to make those patterns more obvious. Pie charts, bar graphs, tables, matrices, histograms—all of these convey meaning through different visualization principles. And one of the really interesting things is that different people interpret data better through different methods. For one person, a bar chart might bring more meaning while someone else prefers a table. Sometimes, it is a matter of personal preference. And sometimes, it is a matter of the data being presented. For instance, stock charts are almost always presented as a line graph showing price fluctuations over time—this is the best way to show the data.

Or is it? I’m not so sure. I think that may be one reason we continually arrive at the same answers is because we keep looking at the data, the same way. We need to disrupt the way we look at the world, to look at it from fresh perspectives and delve deeper into the data to find less apparent patterns, which help us model the world better. Maybe a Radial graph instead of a pie chart. Maybe a stream graph  instead of a table. Changing the lens can completely change the meaning that emerges from the data.

As a matter of fact, the example of the stock price chart I cited earlier is a good example of how different analytical tools can help you. Anyone who has used an online stock ticker knows that the data is not just described in one way, there is an ever-expanding list of tools you can use to look at the data from different angles to better understand the patterns.

This is why the analytics that we use with the Hexagon Smart M.App® are so flexible. We don’t want you to build another way of looking at the same data, we want you to change the way people visualize the data. We want to empower you to look at the same data in new ways, to coax new dimensions of meaning from the data.

In addition to the analytics tools, you need a steady stream of data to give you the most comprehensive view of the world that you can build. To accomplish this, we are actively building content partnerships with companies like Blacksky Global, Airbus Defense and Space, as well as with our own sister company Hexagon Geosystems’s Hexagon Imagery Program. Each of these channels provide you with a never-ending stream of data to use to fuel your analytics.

When you combine this stream of data with the robust dashboard and visualization tools, you have what we have termed 360° analytics, or analytics that can truly encompass your data, allowing your data to coalesce into meaning.

This is what we strive to accomplish with the Hexagon Smart M.App—to fuse a steady stream of data with customizable 360° analytics in a map-driven dashboard environment. A Hexagon Smart M.App is not just a map, it is an interactive experience that delivers meaningful information about a specific problem. That is the Map of the Future.

And we are sure that if Doc Brown could see these Smart M.Apps, he’d give us a resounding “Great Scott!”

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