We work with real-time data a fair bit at inoutput, so we’ve learnt a thing or two over the years. Here, we share some ways that real-time data has transformed the real world.
Real-time data refers to information that is delivered immediately after collection, and there are usually no delays in the distribution of the information. In most cases, real-time data is used for navigation or tracking to deliver up-to-the-minute information.
But why do we need real-time data and how does it help people and organisations?
Put simply, having access to real-time data is useful because it gives people the ability to access up-to-the-minute information which can be applied to a current situation.
For example, weather data can be collected by a meteorology company and instantly shared through a mobile app or website. The data may alert people to a fierce storm on its way or flash flooding taking place in an isolated region. People can then use that information to make an informed decision, such as securing areas of their house in preparation for the storm or avoiding the flood-affected area.
Think of real-time data like a conversation you are having with another person in the present moment. You immediately receive information from the other person and you are able to digest it and respond instantly.
However, real-time data doesn’t rely on a request/response model. Take transportation service Uber as an example of real-time location tracking – you can view the car on the map as it drives towards you in real time but there is no need for you to keep requesting or responding to that information. The data is simply streamed within the mobile app as it happens. As a user of this service, you can use the information to look out for your driver and ensure you are ready to be picked up on their arrival.
There are a number of ways real-time data is used every day.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries Office of Water carries out a range of water monitoring programs such as measuring surface water level and flow, groundwater levels, storage level and volumes, and surface and groundwater water quality and biological conditions. More than 5000 monitoring stations, including automatic digital sensors, logging devices and manual sampling, are used to monitor activity, which is then collected as information and stored within a central database system. This information is shared via a mobile app so that users can access updated information about water-related measurements in their local area.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia also offers real-time data streams via CommSecIRESS, a platform powered by IRESS market data which allows people to respond instantly to share market movements. The platform is useful for active traders and includes features like historical data, market maps, alerts and watchlists which can be integrated with personal portfolios for quick and easy order placement.
The US Geological Survey also collects real-time data to provide a current and continuous measurement of environment-related information such as earthquakes, water conditions, floods, landslides, volcanoes, drought, wildfire and more.
We built a custom software service for Melbourne tram network Yarra Trams that integrates historical and real-time tram information to provide a more efficient collection and analysis of tram data.
Yarra Trams had been using the Automatic Vehicle Monitoring system (AVM) to receive constantly-streaming tram data via radio transmissions which they used to analyse and monitor tram performance and produce reports.
The AVM system had to read data via a series of binary files it wrote to disk at predefined intervals, before running this information through a series of custom programs to convert them into readable files for Yarra Trams staff to use.
This process was mostly manual, time-consuming and very labour intensive as it required staff to locate and load large non-readable binary files – a process that could not be automated because the files were so large.
To solve this problem, inoutput built the AVMIS (AVM Integration Services) system for Yarra Trams. AVMIS provides a new method of reading real-time tram data by interpreting a constant stream of information (about 1.5 million packets per day). The AVMIS system stores this data in a data warehouse to make it available via an API for consumption by internal applications and other systems such as tramTRACKER.
The AVMIS system has been successful in meeting the demand of integrating data from a legacy system while providing real-time information to provide a more efficient way for Yarra Trams to access, analyse and report on their data.
We’ve learnt a lot in our years of working with real-time data, like understanding what data to capture and which data to store. It’s taught us about the importance of good data archiving and management.
Working with real-time data has also helped us to consider the kinds of features we’ll integrate in software systems and how these features will be useful to users.
While there’s a clear benefit from using the data internally within an organisation to monitor activity and guide future decisions, some of the biggest benefits, from a product and consumer perspective, is how people can receive and use this information. In a lot of cases, the data can assist people with informed decision making.
We’ve seen real-time data improve and automate workflows that involve multiple people such as project management, stock control, logistics and even through applications like Google Docs where a single document can be shared and updated instantly by multiple users.
Real-time data has also been used in visual representations so that the information is more appealing and easy to consume. Recent media coverage of the US presidential election showed vote count results represented on a visual map of states coloured in either red or blue to represent the respective parties. Other coverage showed a moving dial of Democrat vs Republication votes. This demonstrated a good use of real-time data being converted to a visual form for people to view and understand the information quickly and easily (and in a far more interesting way than just numbers on a screen).
At inoutput, we’ve worked with real-time data in a number of ways to help organisations with software systems and products.
If you’re interested to know more about how real-time data could work for your business, we’ve be happy to chat. Phone (03) 9016 3066 or send us details via our contact form.