Editorial: Becoming New Again

By Hal Reid

Last week I attended a Webinar titled "Improving Business Decisions through Location Intelligence" which was presented by BusinessWeek Research Services and MapInfo. Presenters included Kevin Hopkins, analyst and writer for BusinessWeek and an expert on location intelligence; Tara Pottebaum, a consultant from the Yankee Group, who focuses on integration technologies and business intelligence; Mark LaRow, vice president of products at Microstrategy; and Richard Celio, vice president of franchise business development for IHOP, who recently installed MapInfo

I couldn't help but notice the gushing undertone about "this great new stuff" that pervaded the presentation. There was a fresher and stronger type of enthusiasm for location intelligence technology than I usually find in these types of presentations. Also, some of the panelists were particularly excited about stuff that many of us take for granted, because we've been around it for 25 or more years - drivetimes, network optimization, trade area assessments and site evaluation. There was even the classic unattributed saw: Did you know that "80% of enterprise data contains a spatial element?!"

I think the enthusiasm was refreshing because it was coming from people who are somewhat new to the capabilities of location technology for business applications. Sometimes these Webinars tend to be, shall we say, a knowledge reinforcement exercise by a group of professionals from within the IT industry.

Richard Celio had recently acquired a comprehensive MapInfo solution. He was very enthusiastic about the fact that IHOP is doing a much better job of trade area, market and site evaluation, especially now that it is doing a lot of franchise development. He reminded me how useful LI is and how pumped up people can be when it is working for them.

It's got to be a lot of fun for vendors to get to demonstrate how this technology can not only make you more money and reduce your risk, but also how clearly you can understand the dynamic world of facility placement, whom your customer really is, and how well you are doing in any given market.

Image from the "Improving Business Decisions through Location Intelligence" webinar. (Click for larger image)

So it seems as if some things that we thought were old are actually new again! I recently read this article in Franchise Update by Jeffrey Davis, president of IntelleVue, which explains LI technology to a new audience. The article explains the scope of LI to franchisers and expresses this same new enthusiasm that I heard during the Webinar.

This sense of newness and freshness … where is it coming from? We have been doing this stuff for at least 25 years. Isn't this a mature technology?

As I thought more about it, I realized that there were three elements that might contribute to this new enthusiasm: improved technology, improved people and broader scope. I'll spend just a few sentences on each.

Perhaps the most important factor is that the technology has come a long way. No longer are LI installations the science projects of 25 years ago, with wobbly platforms, semi-CAD software and data that were pretty general. Almost everything works today and the "slightly better than average bear" can make it go. Data that we could have only dreamed about back in the day are now available; computers and output capabilities have developed immeasurably.

The second element is the new crop of people who are the candidates for using LI tools. In the late '90s, CoreNET Global realized that there weren't new people coming into the world of retail development. Everybody who was an existing player in network expansion/management was middle-aged, and they were being forced out as more companies cut back on expansion. These people were either finding new vocations or, if possible, retiring.

But now we're back in a period of expansion, and primarily with many new individuals running the show. These new knowledge workers are just now acquiring the expertise in retail network management and perhaps have a better understanding of the entire enterprise. Renewed expansion + new people = new excitement about what LI tools can do.

The third element is that the scope of the tools is broader. Within site selection and trade area assessment applications, the tools now include business and competitive intelligence as well that can reach further into the enterprise. This is, of course, partly a function of better software, better data and the improved ways we access and utilize both.

A factoid that was mentioned during the Webinar was that only 6.6% of companies had invested in LI. If true, this is an amazingly low number. Regardless of the percentage, however, it is exciting to think that we still have a lot of people to whom the LI tech story must be told.

If LI technology is expanding and there are new opportunities, the excitement and newness should, I hope, re-propagate through the industry. It isn't often you get to retell stories to new audiences (I'm told that you get to do that with grandchildren). We also have lamented that we never could seem to get LI into the mainstream. Yet it doesn't get much more mainstream than BusinessWeek. Kudos to BusinessWeek and MapInfo for pointing out that we still have a lot more people to enlighten, and that enthusiasm and newness for LI still exists and is growing. Down here in the trenches, it's good to hear it!

Published Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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