LocationBI - Location-based Business Intelligence

By Joe Francica

Over the course of this past year, I have published a series of editorials that discussed components of what is developing into the broader market trend for location technology adoption by business.These editorials can be found in our archives including the discussions of Geologistics, Operational GIS (by Steve Walden of Sagent, now Group1), Oracle 10g, the ramification's of Oracle's attempt to acquire PeopleSoft, Location-based Wi-Fi, and Change Agents.

Over the course of the last few years, traditional GIS vendors have engaged in business partnerships with Siebel Systems, a CRM software provider, SAP, an ERP and systems integrator company, SAS, a business process solutions company, and others.All have engaged Oracle at some point.IBM is a major player, mostly in government.Microsoft enlists partners to exploit their location technology.

In addition, other elements of the broader location technology marketplace have affected the manner that both consumers and businesses relate to geographical information.Business travelers don't usually leave their office without consulting MapQuest or the hotel locator services that are offered by them or others like MSN MapPoint, Yahoo, or MapBlast.And as we are running out the door, we usually check in with the Weather Channel or weather.com before jumping in our car, which are, themselves, becoming "location-aware devices" through services such as OnStar and Lojack.

All this is to say that geographic information is now, more than ever, part of the necessities of doing business with new B2C and B2B (or B2B2C) services slicing onto the scene with increasing regularity.Add to this the wireless location-based services offered by the cellular companies as well as the newly emerging Wi-Fi location technologies and the result is a more geographically astute audience for location technology.

Among the consumers are chief information officers, on which this firestorm of new services in not lost but who are not quite spatially astute.More focused on the how IT networks are functioning and which enterprise systems are in need of upgrade, the CIO is tasked with delivering the tools of business intelligence to executive management.Among those tools are geographic information systems but which carry with it the burden of having to indoctrinate decision-makers with an understanding what it is, how it functions, and will it save or make money for the company.Missionary work.

Relieving this burden from the shoulders of the CIO will not be easy, but let's start with nomenclature.Abandon GIS for a more sensible lexicon that tells people about the foundation of what it is that spatial information brings to business: Location.Add to that the language with which they are most familiar: business intelligence or just BI.Taken together it is more palatable to refer to what we do (GIS, SIM, etc.) as location-based business intelligence solutions.Or, if you want something that rolls off the tongue, try LocationBI.CIOs understand Business Intelligence (BI) and location is obviously a good way to couch the term that we too often embrace until we suffocate with it: GIS.

Business Intelligence, too, has undergone an evolution of sorts.We used to call it data mining, and consequently evolved into more verticalized applications like customer relationship management, CRM; Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) systems seemed to encompass more massive financial and human resource software solutions, but have come under fire for taking several months if not years to implement.Supply Chain Management (SCM) looks to facilitate not only raw material acquisition but taking the widget all the way through finished product.Field Service Management (FSM) solutions monitor the work order process from call center to dispatch.The objective of these solutions is similar: extract and analyze information from myriad data warehouses; allow decision-makers to perform at a higher level of efficiency.

At this point in time, location technology as an industry, finds itself in an extraordinary situation.Many vendors have componentized functionality such as geocoding, thematic compilation of map viewing, routing, and spatial querying, as well as adopting interchange standards such as XML and SOAP. The result is the ability to "plug and play" (to borrow an anachronistic phrase) with BI systems.And it is my opinion that, as an old boss used to say, there is "a marketing opportunity."

As an example, users of SAS can leverage ESRI technology to perform spatial analysis.Oracle has engaged Navigation Technologies to support an Advanced Scheduler module for visualizing routes.MapInfo is certified with Siebel's sales tools; SAP and ESRI have had a long-standing relationship. There are others but more needs to be done.The GIS vendors would benefit by getting in a room and talking about these "marketing opportunities" with the BI vendors.The GIS vendors have unique solutions that the BI companies can leverage with their primary clients, the CIOs.

I'll discuss more about how this coalescing of forces can be facilitated in a future editorial.

Published Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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