Putting Business Intelligence on the Map

By Louella Fernandes

Ed. note: This article originally appeared on Quocirca's website and reprinted here with permission in a modified version.

GIS has long offered the capability to analyze geospatial data. The power of geospatial analysis has not been ignored by business intelligence vendors. Oracle Locator, for example, is part of Oracles Database 10g and offers the functionality to manage spatial data. Oracle Spatial provides capabilities for geocoding, routing, data mining and spatial analysis. IBM also offers spatial capabilities with DB2, through the Spatial Extender, based on ESRI technology. Pure play BI vendors such as Business Objects, Hyperion, Information Builders and SAS Institute have collaborated with ESRI to integrate geospatial capabilities into their platforms. Similarly, both Cognos and Microstrategy offer integration with MapInfo geospatial technology.

So with many BI vendors offering integration with geospatial technology, how close are we to the location enabled enterprise? MapInfo in particular aims to widen the adoption of it’s so called “location intelligence” applications to mainstream business users. Although its strongest sectors are retail and the public sector, it is seeing the fastest growth in the financial services and insurance markets, organizations which have not been traditional users of GIS.

The potential for business users to benefit from geospatial data without having to be GIS specialists is significant. However, whilst Business Intelligence (BI) is generally considered now to be more valued at the strategic level, geospatial business applications are largely still a tactical investment. The key challenge for MapInfo and similar vendors is to demonstrate to the C level executives the value of geospatial technology and how it can ultimately deliver a competitive edge to their organisation, by enabling all levels within an organisation to benefit from geospatial data.

In terms of technology, the future development of geospatial applications will be primarily driven by service-oriented architectures (SOA). For example, inventory control using RFID represents a real opportunity to integrate real time data with geospatial technology. Similarly, the ability to view geospatial data on mobile devices will further boost the trend for requiring real time data. It is likely that geospatial capabilities will be more easily and cost-effectively integrated within enterprise systems that are based on SOA. By linking geospatial applications to online databases, web services also improves the updating of source geographic data which is often a time consuming and expensive task. MapInfo is already addressing this area through Envinsa, a scaleable web services platform for delivering mapping, geocoding, routing and other enhanced spatial capabilities across the enterprise. Envinsa is centrally managed, giving a consistent view of data, and can make legacy systems more “location aware” by adding geospatial functionality to any application which uses location information.

The future for the geospatial enabled enterprise may rest with the BI and database vendors, and vendors such as MapInfo may gain more traction in the enterprise market through building further on its integration with database and mainstream BI tools. At the mass market end, Google, Yahoo and MSN will continue to provide free geospatial functionality, and the availability of Microsoft MapPoint at a low price point will increase the awareness of geospatial analysis. Indeed, both expense and ease of use are factors which may limit adoption of geospatial applications across an enterprise. MapInfo will need to decide if it wishes to complement the mass market offerings with its own lower cost entry level product aimed at specific geospatial tasks. This could enable it to open the door for further sales and increase awareness of the benefits of enterprise wide geospatial technology.

After all, the technology is already here, the challenge is to educate the enterprise about the commercial potential of applying geography to business data.

Published Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Written by Louella Fernandes

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