Location Technology and Business Intelligence 2005: Nine Ideas Worthy of Note

By Adena Schutzberg

Tim O'Reilly addresses the attendees of the Location Technology and Business Intelligence conference.

1.The Web is changing.As Tim O'Reilly noted in his keynote, we are moving beyond the first iteration of the Web into a second, smarter and more interactive Web.I recall a keynote from Keith Bentley some years ago in which he offered specific advice on how his company's software users should begin to use the Web.One of the suggestions Bentley made was to put company forms and handbooks on the Web.At the time he was right on target as most businesses were overwhelmed with how to "get started" with this new technology.

In the mapping arena the equivalent, perhaps, was simply "putting your data on the Web." GIS companies, though perhaps not as explicitly as Bentley, cajoled their users to get their maps online right away.Many did.Others are just achieving that goal now.And, as O'Reilly suggests for the "regular" commerce of the Web, we in the geospatial arena need to take the next step.So, what might that new level of interactivity and participation look like in the world of Web mapping? How about an interactive, immediately sharable way to document "errors" in existing mapping data right in applications like Yahoo! Maps? What if those "in the geography" could document where the road name was wrong or where the street was geocoded backwards? Then others could read the note when seeking directions for that geography.How valuable would that be? As valuable as the reviews on Amazon? Certainly.Then, as the data vendors collected their updates, this would be another source for them.My goal here is not to chastise the data providers (NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas and friends) of the world, but to be realistic about the time frame for update and tap into the power of the Web.

2.Time is of the essence. I attended a workshop on TerraSeer's STIS and, perhaps because I was attuned to the idea, found time popping up in nearly every session I attended.I was intrigued by the cartographic techniques needed to best represent changes over time, something that really didn't come up in my cartography class in 1985.The other, perhaps more subtle, idea that I'd not really grasped until this session was that watching those animated loops helps reveal patterns in ways that static maps, even a series of static maps, do not.

3.Subject matter experts matter. I think I heard the term "subject matter expert" (SME) more at this conference than in the rest of my professional life.Some tools, I learned, were specifically designed for SMEs, not us regular people.So, it's important to be realistic about what a novice analyst might achieve with data from an OLAP cube, or from a map, for that matter.

That leads to another related idea raised by Chris Bradshaw of Autodesk several times.He suggested that just as typing pools went away as more people did their own typing on word processors and as dedicated drafters fade away as more architects and engineers do their own CAD work, so too goes GIS.

Mark Snow provided a "demo" of Cox Communications' location intelligence application.

4.A good opening plenary lays the groundwork for the rest of the conference. The best opening sessions I've seen at conferences (GIS or otherwise) are those the lay a common ground for what's to come.When successful, they are referred to throughout the remaining days of the conference. Mark Snow's case study of how location intelligence is applied at Cox Communications, while not an earth shattering new way of applying the technology, did just that.

I also think its worth noting that one of our student helpers asked a great question of me on the opening day: "What's a plenary?" I muttered something about an opening session where everyone is together, but honestly was less than confident in my answer.The real definition, in this context, is a session to which all attendees are invited.It typically has no competition from other events.Some of the plenary sessions at this event, and others, did not warrant everyone being in the room.That is, they may make fine sessions, but did not warrant the full undivided attention of all attendees.

5.Quotes of Note. Several comments and quotes popped up again and again during the event including these.
  • "Everyone is transforming, but no one wants to change." - Jack Pellicci, Oracle
  • "Gaining access to the CXO is quite difficult and once you do get a meeting, the next step is getting the CFO to pay for a project." - paraphrased, Steve Benner, ESRI
  • "Perfect is the enemy of the good." Steve Walden, Group 1, with respect to the value of TIGER, despite its imperfections.
  • "They don't know GIS is being done to them." Also Steve Walden, Group 1
  • "My privacy is negotiable." Bob Denaro, NAVTEQ. See the discussion here.
6.Open Source still makes people nervous. When COMCARE introduced its EPAD solution for sharing emergency data across jurisdictions, a solution built on open source software, a sort of collective gasp occurred in the session.A member of the audience and the moderator both asked the equivalent of "So, how was it working with open source, specifically with support?" The response was one I've heard many times from those who've worked with open source software, "Fine, thanks!" Remember the old Palmolive soap commercials where the woman was surprised to learn she was "soaking in it?" Most of us are soaking in open source software all of the time, we just don't know it.It might just be time to get over knee jerk reactions and look around at the state of the world.

7.Fleet tracking and management needs a human face. While the return on investment for fleet tracking and dispatch systems is well documented, there is still a key element in making them work.A presentation by ClickSoftware on an implementation for a small company (pdf) that repairs and maintains recycling machines provided an interesting illustration.Working with the staff throughout the transition was key, as was dealing with the realities of two way communications.Ideally management wanted to assign field staff one job at a time.When that one was completed, the next one would be assigned. If several were assigned, management felt the field personnel might reprioritized them, based on their own thoughts on how best to tackle the tickets.However, if a staffer completed a visit and was not in communication range, it would cause other issues.The compromise: jobs are communicated not one at a time, but two at a time.The ROI on the implementation? Twelve percent increase in closed calls with the same number of staff, one dispatcher handled the work previously done by two, 20% decrease in response time to the customer and a 7% drop in miles traveled by field staff.

8.Standards need care and feeding. In a sea of geospatial faces in the closing panel sat Andy Updegrove, a lawyer involved with standards setting organizations.He made three points about standards that were not scary, boring or technical.
  1. We, the beneficiaries and users of the standards, need to take care of them and serve as "standards environmentalists," helping to establish a safe environment for them to grow and prosper.We might, for example, try to prevent overpopulation of standards setting organizations.
  2. We need to be aware that standards can come from organic developments (grass roots, consensus) or be directed by key players.The "men in black," (MIB - Microsoft, IBM, BEA Systems) some argue are "too much" behind Web services standards.
  3. We need to look at standards as solutions, as tools, as things that create commonalities (pdf).
9.Youth are the future. I moderated a panel of representatives from major mapping portals.The majority, well-spoken and knowledgeable men, seemed to represent the next generation.A question from the floor asked about "fun" as part of the developer and user experience.A challenge to the closing panel from an attendee noted the relative maturity of the panelists (also all men).Indeed, those who invented geospatial technology/GIS are aging.Those who have worked in it for fifteen or so years are getting gray hair, too, myself included.

Noah Doyle, Keyhole Strategic Parner Development, Google and Craig Barton, Director of Product Management for MapQuest Business Solutions
Craig Barton and Rob Agee, Lead Partner Development Manager, Microsoft
Sean Phelan, Founder and Chairman, Multimap.com and Jeremy Kreitler, Senior Product Manager, Maps & Local, Yahoo!

Today's hot mapping companies, the ones with all the mapping buzz in the larger world are not the traditional GIS/geospatial companies, but those who've popped up in recent years and grabbed the Web by its tale: MapQuest, Yahoo!, Google, MultiMap, Microsoft (ok, that one is old, too).To be fair, these companies are often putting forward consumer mapping solutions, an arena most traditional geospatial companies avoid.Still, they are driving geospatial forward in ways the originating companies cannot.I received e-mail during the conference from a developer whose client insisted on a Google Maps implementation for the real estate application website.The client did not run into an "old school" Web mapping application from a traditional vendor and get excited, but a Web 2.0 implementation.

Published Friday, May 13th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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