A Road Map for Spatial Information Systems within the Enterprise - Part 1

By David Sonnen

Editor's Note: In leading up to the Location Technology and Business Intelligence Conference on May 10 & 11, we've asked industry analyst and contributing organizer of the event, David Sonnen, to provide a synopsis of the "Road Map" for corporations that are looking to more capably utilize spatial information and location technology. In this two-part editorial, Mr.Sonnen discusses the issues and provides the future outlook, the basis of which forms the primary goals of the conference. The complete "Road Map" document, a 30-page IDC Report, "Spatial Information Technology: The Road to Enterprise Systems," will be distributed to all conference participants.Registration for the conference is still open; Click Here to Register.

What are the key factors that will move spatial information management (SIM) into enterprise systems? IDC believes that the SIM industry will have to address the following five issues to gain wide acceptance in enterprise IT.
  • Automate and integrate business processes rather than focus on traditional GIS workflows.
  • Take full advantage of spatially-enabled IT infrastructure.
  • Demonstrate business value of geospatial capabilities within enterprise systems.Business value will have to be expressed in tangible terms like ROI.
  • Manage spatial data quality as part of enterprise data quality strategies.
  • Develop event-based analytic capabilities in concert with business analytics vendors.
Additionally, the IT industry will have to develop standards for location-specific data generated by emerging sensor technologies. Over the longer term, educational institutions will have to include spatial analysis and data quality management within their business curricula so that business people will have the knowledge and skills to make best use of spatial technologies.

Finally, success on the road to enterprise systems will be more about having the right business models rather than the right technologies. Innovative geospatial technology will be available through IT infrastructure, open source, established vendors, and new players. But, there is no relationship between innovative technology and market success. Market success will depend on finding a way to be profitable in the enterprise IT environment.

Situation Overview
The geospatial industry faces strong pressure to integrate its technologies into enterprise IT for the following reasons.

  • Growth in the traditional GIS market is flat.Enterprise markets represent significant new growth opportunities.
  • Simple, inexpensive desktop products like Microsoft MapPoint are penetrating the business desktop space.These products have established a low per-unit ceiling price for desktop mapping and data.
  • Users want to automate business processes across information silos. This creates a number of opportunities for spatial vendors.These include event-based analytics, team collaboration, and decision-centric business intelligence.Specialized applications to manage projects, maintenance, inventory, and marketing as well as vertical applications in services, retail, and architectural/engineering and construction will all simplify automation and increase precision of business.To participate in these opportunities, geospatial data and technologies have to become an integral part of systems rather than a separate, special-purpose resource.
  • IT infrastructure is rapidly becoming spatially enabled. This means that geospatial data can be accessed and managed just like any other data. So, applications can access spatial data stored in standard databases through standard interfaces like SQL, XML, and XQuery. This evolution will occur with or without the participation of established geospatial vendors. So, there is some urgency for geospatial vendors to establish a position for their technologies within enterprise systems before the proverbial window closes.
Spatial Technology in Enterprise Information Systems
What are the potential roles for spatial technology in enterprise systems? To answer this question, we will start with a brief description of spatial data.
There are three basic types of spatial data: vector, raster, and location-specific tabular data. Vector data describes geometry like points, lines and polygons. Vector data often includes metadata, labels, annotation, and an identifier that relates the geometry to descriptive data.

Vector data is the basic currency of geographic information systems (GIS) and computer-aided design (CAD). Vector data is also used in a wide range of other disciplines like molecular biology, biometrics and proteomics.

Geospatial data uses a coordinate system like latitude and longitude to relate the geometry with a place on the Earth.Examples: street addresses, highways, and political boundaries.

Raster data can be a sophisticated image taken from a satellite or airborne sensor or a simple gif map on a Web site. At the sophisticated end of the raster spectrum, image analysts use specialized software to tease specific information from raster data. Examples: aerial photographs showing roads and cities; satellite imagery showing forest types or troop concentrations.Gif and jpeg maps that show driving directions are examples from the simple end.

Vector and raster data get the most attention from geospatial vendors. But, location-specific tabular data is far and away the most common kind of spatial data. Why? Most data about physical things is inherently location-specific -- everything has to be somewhere. Examples: data about customers, inventory, vehicles, cell phone users, houses, roads, rivers, weather, or any other physical thing.

When geospatial enthusiasts talk about 85 or 90 or 98 percent of all data having a geographic component, this is the data they are talking about. These same enthusiasts puzzle over the fact that the world hasn't beaten a path to their door for geospatial technology.

The problem is that people have established conventions that imply location: street addresses, place names, and postal codes are examples.These conventions are part of the invisible information infrastructure we use to order our lives. These same conventions let information systems manage location-specific data adequately in ordinary files or databases.

So, why would businesses want to do anything differently? After all, geospatial technology adds costs and complexity.

This is a crux issue for the geospatial industry. To gain acceptance in enterprise systems, the geospatial industry will have to demonstrate real value for their technologies - values that are significantly greater than established methods for managing location-specific tabular data. Otherwise, there is no reason for mainstream IT users to incur the added cost of geospatial technology.

Author's Note: Next week, I'll discuss the "Future Outlook" with respect to each Spatial Information Management market segment: GIS, Enterprise Location Software and Systems, and Location-Aware Transaction Services.Don't miss the conference.It will be a true, seminal event.

Published Tuesday, May 4th, 2004

Written by David Sonnen

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