Nora Parker (NP): You wrote in the company newsletter that "VFS [Visual Fusion Server 3.0] is visual composite application software that consolidates information in the context of location and time." Can you explain what the product does?
Scott Caulk (SC): A composite application combines multiple existing functions and data into a new application, and tends to include enterprise sources by leveraging a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).
What differentiates Visual Fusion from other composite apps is the ability to focus the display of data around its "where" and "when" elements, and then display this in a rich, highly interactive user environment. Our visual composite applications combine data sources, and plot data in the framework of a map and timeline, with conditional formatting of the data based on underlying values to enhance communication about the data to the end user.
Think pictures rather than words, interactive paintings rather than spreadsheets. Visual Fusion consolidates data from across the enterprise (and if desired from the Internet) into a holistic view that users can then interact with and even contribute to. Because it's implemented within SharePoint, collaboration is encouraged, and site and data management is simplified. This site and data management piece, combined with the user contribution pieces, is critical to understanding our value proposition.
Our visual composite applications can be rapidly stood up and the data being visualized can be organized and re-organized over and over again without any GIS, DBA [database administration] or programming expertise. We've really created a rich, living ecosystem of information, contribution, collaboration and action that can easily evolve as the needs and questions of the users evolve.
NP: What kinds of organizations are using VFS?
SC: Our product usage is extremely horizontal. All different types of Global 2000 companies and government organizations are using Visual Fusion Suite to solve their business problems. Some of the user organizations include the Reuters Foundation, Michigan State University, the United Nations, International Telecommunications Union, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), to name a few.
NP: You also state, "It's a platform for users to explore new opportunities, reveal hidden value, and share original discoveries." Can you give an example?
SC: BP is using an IDV-developed custom application (case study here (pdf)). This was a custom application for BP. However, we are working with BP on a number of other projects where they are implementing VFS on their own. Brian Autio, who is the principal mapping lead of the Crisis Team at BP, said, "Data visualization is the future at BP. It has totally freed us to look at the data and process the data, rather than spend time locating the data. And that means we can do a better job of protecting our people."
NP: Are managers or technologists more receptive to VFS and IDV's work?
SC: We've found that showing examples of what we do tends to resonate very quickly with whomever we talk to, whether it's a CEO, an information worker, or a GIS expert. Demonstration is much more powerful than explanation. So, once they see examples, they get it very, very quickly, and immediately begin to visualize the many different ways it could be applied in their own organization.
NP: The description of VFS almost sounds like a "dashboard" kind of BI application. Is that a valid comparison?
SC: Our "visual composite applications" (VCA) go beyond dashboards in some key areas. (Note that visual composite application is a term that we have slightly coined ourselves. Our product is a composite application, but with so many more elements. That is why the "visual" got attached to the beginning of the phrase.) Similar to VCAs, dashboards organize and present information in a way that is easy to understand and allow users to drill down into lower levels of detail. However, our VCAs all focus on:
- leveraging the location and time elements of data (some dashboards do and some don't)
- allowing the end user to contribute to, and augment, the composite view
- providing advanced tools to interact with the data (spatial queries, interactive timelines, etc.)
- providing a geospatial content management system which:
- connects to both enterprise and external resources
- collects free flowing files circulating around workgroups (like Excel files, KML files, etc.)
- provides a mechanism to quickly bring in new data sources and/or re-organize the data to display infinite combinations
- leverages advantages of SharePoint, such as security, search, alerting, workflow, etc.