Location Intelligence: More Than Just Something to Wow At

By Doug Kolom

Doug Kolom makes a presentation at the Location Intelligence conference. Photo courtesy of Rich Gibson.
Early April's Location Intelligence conference in San Francisco provided a broad perspective of the market for geospatial technology. Attendees witnessed an expansive mix of product and service offerings, and were presented with many innovations. We saw bird's eye-view imagery, 360° immersive photo views, eye-catching simulation and visualization tools, and a new Google Maps look-alike Web service. There was much to soak in and a lot to 'wow' at. This is an accomplishment in the day and age of Video iPods and credit card-sized cameras (i.e. the bar for 'wows' is set really high).

But the industry continues to innovate and a sense of possibility pervaded the conference. The technology showcased this year, juxtaposed to an earlier era when demonstrations of customer records being geocoded and mapped would illicit 'oos' and 'ahhs' from an audience, is no less than remarkable. The striking developments with location intelligence technology are sure to resonate even stronger with veterans of the business. The tools that we used 10 or 15 years ago are beginning to seem quaint.

The location intelligence marketplace, however, will not always reward the cool-factor (apologies to you noble mashers out there) - it's about value and problem solving - an idea underscored by this year's theme, 'Profiting from Location Technology.' The strong industry support for a conference devoted to location intelligence speaks for itself; there is money to be made. Niche product vendors and boutique consultancies sat side-by-side with many of the heavy hitters of the IT industry, each with their own proposition for leveraging location intelligence to solve business challenges. The presence of many big name companies attending the conference lends credence to the notion that the business world is warming to the idea that the location intelligence can be employed to reduce costs, improve efficiency and impact the bottom line for the better.

The synthesis of technologies into a common interface remained a hot topic this year. Several vendors touted flexible application programming interfaces (APIs) and technologists could be overheard during coffee breaks chatting excitedly about AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript And XML). AJAX appears to be more than an ephemeral trend in the mapping world. It helps reduce issues with the heavy client-side interaction often demanded by map-based interfaces, and it eases the development of calls to multiple Web services. Improved APIs and the use of AJAX are enhancing usability and performance of applications and enabling the synthesis of location technologies into novel solutions. In a pre-conference tutorial, Microsoft Virtual Earth was integrated with an SRC Web service and after a several minutes and some basic scripting, we were nosing around tony neighborhoods from a bird's eye perspective for median home values. This demonstrates a simple application with obvious value for real estate professionals (and a pretty fun one).

We also saw growing overlap between many vendor offerings, and it is clear that the market place is not as roomy as it once was. The jockeying for identity and position among vendors was evident during panel discussions, and there will be turf wars in the coming years. Even so, there was the usual championing of cooperation through standards and interoperability, but this enthusiasm was not unanimous. After a round-robin response of major vendors to an audience question concerning interoperability, one moderator quipped, “Those were some wonderfully circuitous answers.”

Captivating new technology, powerful APIs, integrated technologies, and a sense of increasing competition combined to give the Location Intelligence Conference its flavor for 2006. The coming year is sure to be as interesting as the last as the big players battle it out for market share, more and more businesses buy into location intelligence, and we continued to be wowed by new innovations. We will also see more consumer-end embracing of mapping services and their new features. Perhaps this will finally be the year when people stop responding, “Is that like GPS?” when I explain what I do for a living.

Published Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Written by Doug Kolom

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