Why You Should Smell Your Data

Did you know that smell is the most powerful of the senses for triggering memories? Apparently the offactory system is in the same part of our brain that effects emotions, memory, and creativity.  I thought about this recently as I mused on another phenomenon I have noticed. Location can be the most powerful way to search and discover your data.

Let me try and convince you.


If you are similar to me, you have a lot of photos taken on your phone. As of now, I have 6,733 on my iPhone, collected over the last 4 years. Like my email inbox, I choose not to sort these into folders (too time consuming, requires a rigid taxonomy) and they all sit in the ‘Recents’ folder. Whilst this system is easy when creating data and appeals to my keep it simple philosophy, it does mean that effective searching of the data becomes critical when looking for a specific photo. The default solution is to use chronology and search by date. But this means I must remember approximately when the shot was taken, then quickly scroll backwards from the latest photo, hoping to find the right time period. With a lot of data to search and a swipe-happy finger, it is surprisingly hard. I find it easier to remember where I took a photo – I can often pinpoint it to an exact spot on the ground. Apple has realised this too and provides location search within the photos app, making it surprisingly quick and easy to discover your data.

Can credit card statements show transaction location data?

It can be the same with business data. Consider bank statements. Have you ever stared blankly at a transaction on your bank statement, a mild panic developing as you try and remember making the purchase; starting to imagine fraud, hacks and other dire scenarios? If you have gone further and phoned your bank to query the transaction, you are not alone.

One of Mapcite’s customers, a global Retail Bank, estimated it cost them over $140K per month answering customer phone queries about transactions on their statements they didn’t remember making. In the vast majority of cases there was no fraud and a jog of the memory did the trick. The Bank sought a better way to give customers a ‘jog‘ without having to make a call. The solution was to enhance the Bank’s mobile app and pin every transaction to an accurate location on a map. Suddenly customers could see where they spent their money. As well as helping customers remember and reduce call centre volumes, it also helped with identifying transactions that really do need investigating. If I haven’t been to France, I know with reasonable certainty a supermarket transaction from there is going to be worth querying.

The solution may seem simple – challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling have been doing this for years in the U.K – but getting there was anything but simple for a large legacy Bank. Mapcite’s consulting team played a pivotal role in this project by undertaking transaction narrative renovation. This involved identifying the location of card payment terminals from the ‘transaction narrative’ – a short string of data produced by every card terminal – and repeating this for hundreds of thousands of merchants.  Often the card terminal data contained incomplete or ambiguous location information – a store name and a partial postcode – and renovation involved a mix of algorithms and desktop matching to turn this into a precise rooftop level location. Once the data was live in the Banking App, the project saw an immediate 60% reduction in call centre volumes from App users for transaction queries.


Another Mapcite customer uses the Mapcite SaaS platform to search by location and identify the right medical diagnostic centre to refer patients to.  In a few clicks, they filter clinics by type of diagnostic test and then select from a shortlist based on the best location for the patient, using either the inbuilt “find my nearest” tool or by simply looking at the map.


A specialist technical recruiter is using the Mapcite SaaS platform to quickly match vacancies to candidates based upon their technical and location fit.


And not forgetting Covid-19, for which location is everything. Lockdown means planning a hyper-local response and this relies on location data and the means to make sense and search the data. We have Mapcite users visualising the location of those in need of help and matching to the closest available volunteer in seconds.

So I hope you can see, location can be a powerful way to search and discover data. And a lot easier than giving 6,732 photos their own individual aroma!

Writer: Richard Crump

Editor: Claude Drulik