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Q&A: Aerial Property Analysis Uses BI to Compare Images

A patented technology called Pictometry, coupled with a cloud-based analysis solution, allows the capture and comparison of aerial images of buildings.

High-resolution overhead images, captured at the same time using a patented technology, can be analyzed and used to determine changes in property -- something that is highly useful to both the government and private corporations. The merger of EagleView Technologies and Pictometry International in 2013 created a company able to provide just such a scalable and efficient analytical solution. Patented technology from Pictometry allows capturing images of objects on the ground from the air; software from EagleView then analyzes and compares it.

In this interview, Randall Ishikawa, VP of underwriting for EagleView, explains how the technology works, and how business intelligence can be used for change analysis of the images. Ishikawa, who has an extensive background in the property and casualty insurance industry, is responsible for EagleView’s underwriting solutions, including risk visualization solutions.

BI This Week: What exactly is Pictometry?

Randall Ishikawa: Pictometry Intelligent Imagery is a patented technology that captures images of objects on the ground from the air, producing imagery showing 45-degree angles of the sides and top of buildings and land-based locations. Pictometry International Corp. invented the technology behind “aerial oblique image capture,” which is the ability to capture objects on land at unique angles using low-flying aircraft.

The merger of EagleView Technologies and Pictometry International in 2013 created a company with technological solutions in the GIS, measurement, and analytical space. The combined company has more than 74 patented technologies to provide scalable, efficient, and accurate analytical solutions; it now goes by the corporate name of EagleView Technologies. Pictometry Intelligent Imagery is the technology behind the imagery and visualization tools.

Tell me about property change analysis and how that ties into this discussion.

Pictometry has been capturing terrain images throughout North America for over 12 years. These high-resolution angled and overhead images, which are captured at the same time, can then be used to determine changes in property. The change analysis is currently being used by both government agencies and private corporations. Using images in the Pictometry database, geographic information system (GIS) professionals and business intelligence experts are able to determine community and landscape changes for land use and development purposes, and changes to private property that affects assessment, appraisal, and risk management.

What’s the process for determining when a change to a structure has occurred?

The software creates GIS polygon building outlines, then evaluates these outlines and the surrounding area against a newer image set to detect changes in size and shape. The original property shape files are loaded into a change analysis viewer, allowing technicians to quickly step through those images that are flagged as changed. It is a combination of software and technician review that enables the analysis of the new and old imagery side by side.

How does Pictometry and property change analysis relate to business intelligence, which TDWI defines as “uniting data, technology, analytics and human knowledge to optimize business decisions” and drive success?

Government agencies and commercial businesses are using imagery, property measurements, and analytical tools to assess year-over-year change while analyzing trends. Using aerial imagery and extracted data to map and evaluate trends connects the data, technology, analysis, and human knowledge in a way that is changing how companies create valuations, evaluate risk, and plan ahead.

Pictometry technology also offers a strong ROI for customers because where large quantities of manual work were traditionally required to organize the data into usable formats for analysis, EagleView uses the imagery to automatically deliver the answers or data required for rapid analysis.

How are companies using property change analysis data? What kinds of analytics are being done on the data?

As one example, insurance companies are using the data to evaluate and assess risk for new policies and renewals. Through data derived from the imagery, including structural measurements, carriers can monitor changes to properties and help make accurate risk determinations year-over-year. Claim offices of the top 25 insurance carriers use the structural measurements for roofs and walls to determine size of the structure for accurate claim submission.

Government agencies are also using the imagery and subsequent data for assessing property values, for land planning, for public safety, and for overall GIS mapping and surveying. The image data is often incorporated in mapping software as layers, allowing all parts of local government to accurately maintain parcel information, valuations, and public works.

Utility companies are using the imagery and change analysis to maintain electric lines and pipelines. So-called “high consequence areas” for utilities are regularly captured to help maintain public safety, for maintenance purposes, and to monitor structural performance. The ability to inventory assets and view changes is critical for infrastructure customers. Clearly, there’s tremendous ROI in using aerial images rather than deploying personnel to physically visit each site.

How have cloud technologies helped make this kind of data storage and analysis possible?

Using Pictometry, government agencies and commercial enterprises alike can obtain images and data, then share them throughout their departments and agencies. On older desktop solutions, this sort of sharing was expensive and required cumbersome IT initiatives and security.

With the cloud, redundancy and security are part of the package. Access is easily obtained from all approved desktops or mobile devices. With emerging connected and disconnected solutions for mobile devices, the accessibility of multiple users has become the norm; it’s simply expected as part of day-to-day business.

Can you cite a few case studies that use property change analysis?

A large regional insurance provider had a legislative mandate to provide wind and hail insurance for coastal property owners in the event of catastrophic loss. Providing "basic wind and hail" coverage unavailable in traditional markets, this provider is focused on consumers who might otherwise be left uninsured.

Because accurate, current data is critical for assessing risk for both new and renewal policies, the insurance provider partnered with EagleView to develop a risk visualization solution. Using Pictometry, EagleView provided imagery, data, and technologies in conjunction with public record data, including annual flyovers with high-definition aerial imagery that enabled visual inspection for claims and underwriting.

One benefit of this data warehousing and BI project has been increased frequency of residential property inspections, which has lowered the average cost per policy. Other benefits included upfront additional accurate data, and high-resolution aerial imagery shared by multiple departments. That helps to determine insurability, the adequacy of insurance, and an accurate premium for each risk.

Are there examples of local and state governments using this technology to monitor development or building changes?

The regional municipality of Wood Buffalo, located in northeast Alberta, Canada, continues to experience strong growth that any city, county, state, or province would envy. Wood Buffalo sits atop oil deposits that are arguably as large as those found in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the formerly quiet area is undergoing massive growth and development and is issuing a thousand building permits per month.

Use of Pictometry imagery and analytical tools has allowed municipal officials to monitor every square mile of the region. Rapid growth has given the municipality the money to invest heavily in infrastructure to support its growing population, including more roads and sewage systems. This increased demand on the property tax base requires the department to have a robust property assessment and taxation system. Pictometry imagery and change analysis has allowed strong intelligence and visualization of land and property changes, ensuring that assessments are current, accurate, and truly reflective of a given parcel.

As another example, Circular Energy, a solar design and installation firm in Texas, has embraced aerial roof measurement reports and imagery. With the explosion of the rooftop solar market, solar design and installation companies are recognizing the value of online imagery tools and roof measurement reports.

Can the aerial information be made available to the public for viewing and analysis?

EagleView customers can use the Pictometry IPA solution, which provides a viewer embedded in partner or customer software, enabling third-party viewing. Several counties and jurisdictions make the IPA window available on their websites, allowing residents to view the most recent imagery. Third-party partners may make imagery available to the public through public safety programs, development or land use programs, and for overall tourism or public relations initiatives.

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