Satellite-derived analytics is rapidly gaining ground as an essential tool for monitoring and managing risks in the power, utility, and infrastructure industries. It has been recognised as a key tool to improve safety, reliability, and optimal performance of critical assets by providing insights into their health, risks, and other key operational parameters.
This technology has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, with new tools and techniques being developed all the time to improve its effectiveness.
Satellites are now able to collect more detailed and accurate information than ever before, including high-resolution imagery and data on elements like vegetation, land, precipitation, and more.
On the other hand, there is software being developed to help process and analyse the massive amounts of data that satellites collect. This includes machine learning algorithms that can help identify patterns or anomalies in the data and visualisation tools that make it easier to interpret and communicate the results.
In this blog, we will explore the criteria that companies should consider when choosing a satellite-derived analytics provider to monitor their assets.
The first question the company should ask is:
Do we want to buy satellite images of the area of our interest and analyse them internally
OR do we want to get completed analytics from external providers?
If your answer is “yes” to the first part of the question, the second question you need to ask is:
Does the company have the technical expertise to analyse satellite imagery?
The technical expertise required to analyse satellite images can be complex and multidisciplinary, and the company should have a team with a diverse set of skills to ensure that all aspects of the image analysis process are covered. These include but not limited to:
- Image processing: Satellite image processing involves the use of software and algorithms to analyse and manipulate digital images captured by satellite sensors. It is a specialised field within remote sensing and involves several stages, including image acquisition, pre-processing, enhancement, classification, and analysis. These stages may involve various techniques such as image registration, orthorectification, radiometric and geometric correction, image fusion, filtering, and segmentation.
- GIS: The company should have experience in working with geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial data analysis. This includes understanding how to import satellite images into the GIS software and integrate them with other spatial data sources so that they can be analysed and manipulated like any other GIS layer etc
- Data analysis: The company should have expertise in data analysis, including statistical methods and machine learning algorithms. This is important for extracting useful information from the satellite images, such as land use/land cover classification, vegetation indices, weather-related indices and other spatial data analysis.
- Programming: The company should have programming skills to automate processes, write scripts, and develop custom tools for image analysis. This includes proficiency in Python, MATLAB, R, or other relevant programming languages.
If you feel that you are well-positioned in terms of internal technical expertise,
the next step you need to do is to contact one of the satellite image providers.
Satellite Imagery Data Source Providers
There are many providers on the market offering satellite imagery with varying levels of resolution, frequency, and coverage area. Such as Maxar Technology, Planet Labs, Airbus Defence and Space, Sentinel Hub, BlackSky Global, Google Earth etc.
But the process of image acquisition can be a complex task, here are some factors to consider:
- Procurement process: Some satellite image providers may have complex procurement processes that involve lengthy negotiations and require numerous approvals. This can be time-consuming and may involve multiple stakeholders, making it difficult to communicate and coordinate with the provider.
- Complexity of the data: Satellite images contain a vast amount of data, and purchasing them requires an understanding of the data specifications, such as spatial resolution, spectral bands, and image format. To avoid miscommunications, companies need to make sure to communicate their needs to satellite image providers effectively.
- Timeline: How quickly does the company need the analysis? After you finally get the image (and made sure it is the exact image you needed for a specific project), analysing it internally may take longer than acquiring complete analytics from an external service provider.
- Resolution: Every commercial provider has their own characteristics. Make sure that the data you learn to work with, provide enough spatial resolution for your business needs, and that there’s sufficient availability of that data over time.
Okay, we’ve covered the main things to consider when a company decides to directly buy satellite imagery from a provider and process it internally for further analysis.
But what if a company decides to outsource the whole analytics process to an external vendor?
There are two main types of vendors on the market: those who sell a standalone product and those who sell analytics as a service.
When considering the first option, think carefully about its integration with your existing asset management, GIS and other systems. What in particular needs to be analysed:
- Technology compatibility: The external standalone platform may be built on different technology, programming languages, or database management systems that are incompatible with the existing system. This may require significant development effort to bridge the gap between the two systems or even a complete rebuild of the whole IT infrastructure. Internal storage capacity is another thing not to overlook.
- Data consistency: Ensuring that the data is consistent between the existing and the external system can be challenging, particularly if the two systems use different data formats or data models. This may require developing data translation layers or data mapping tools to make the data accurately translated between the two systems.
- Performance: Integrating external systems can impact the existing system’s performance, particularly if the external system generates a large amount of traffic or requires significant processing resources. This may require optimising the existing system or implementing load-balancing strategies.
- User adoption: It may require additional training and support to ensure proper adoption and usage of the new software by all types of users. Important that the software has to have a user-friendly interface that allows one to access, interpret and manipulate the data easily.
- Scalability: The solution should be flexible enough and be able to scale its solutions to meet the changing needs of companies. They should be able to provide solutions that can be easily scaled up or down as needed.
- Budget: Besides costs of the software or service itself, particular high can be initial setup costs. Make sure they really pay off.
Whatever option or vendor you would eventually choose, here are a few more criteria to consider:
- Data Quality: The data must be accurate, reliable, and up-to-date. There should be a possibility to obtain it from multiple sources to cover a wide range of key indicators important for your specific risk or asset management model. A provider should be able to supply data in real-time or near-real-time, allowing companies to respond quickly to any changes or risks.
- Industry Expertise: A provider should have expertise in the area you operate, be it renewable energy, utility or infrastructure. They should have a deep understanding of the equipment, processes, and risks associated with these industries. This will allow them to provide tailored solutions that meet the unique needs of your company. A provider should also have a team of experts who can provide guidance and support to companies, helping them to interpret the data correctly and make informed decisions.
- Cost: In a time, when many companies are budget sensitive, the cost of the satellite-derived analytics is, without doubt, an important consideration. A provider should be transparent about their fees. Companies should be able to easily understand the costs involved, how they are calculated and how they change if the needs change.
- Customer Support: A provider should offer excellent customer support. They should be responsive and able to provide timely support to their clients. They should also be able to provide training and guidance to help companies make the most of the data provided.
- Image Licensing: Satellite images are often subject to licensing and usage restrictions. The licensing agreements may limit the use of the images to specific applications or prohibit the distribution of the images to third parties. If it is important for you, make sure that you become an owner of the image after purchasing it, as it’s not always the case.
Satellite-derived analytics is an essential tool for power, utility, and infrastructure companies looking to reduce the risk of incidents and enhance their reliability and performance.
Basically, there are three ways to employ it:
- Buy imagery from providers directly and process it internally on your own
- Buy a standalone software that you need to integrate with your existing IT architecture
- Buy satellite-derived analytics as a service depending on your operational needs
When choosing the right option, companies should consider the criteria outlined in this blog, including technical and industry expertise, timeline, scalability, system flexibility, cost and more.
By doing so, they can ensure they have access to accurate, reliable, and up-to-date data and tailored solutions that meet their unique operation and business needs.