SIM: Fitting in With Everything Else

By David Sonnen

Part two in a series - ed.

Recently, one of the big GIS vendors recommended that organizations appoint a Geographic Information Officer(GIO) who would formulate business strategies that incorporate geographic information technology.Interesting idea.And, if GIO's were to suddenly appear, they might help us in the spatial industry find our way through the confusing mass of companies, processes and technologies that we like to call "mainstream business".But, if the last hundred or so business executives that we've interviewed have their way, the sudden appearance of GIO's is about as likely as the appointment of Information Officers for time series, text or integers.

Instead, most companies are trying hard to treat all data and technology as a common resource that supports business processes.They spend a lot of time and money to break down their old, separate structures for each data type and technology.One executive called it, "driving wooden stakes into islands of information".That all makes sense.We know that information is more effective for business when the technology is organized around business processes.But, we have a hard time understanding where we fit in when our spatial technology looses its identity among all the other technologies.

" The sudden appearance of GIO's is about as likely as the appointment of Information Officers for time series, text or integers."

Well, where do we fit in? Perhaps a simple market model can help structure what otherwise seems an increasingly unwieldy array of choices and promises (see Figure 1).We can consider the various options for spatial technology in terms of applications (the y axis) and the reach they provide within an organization (the x axis)..Each cell can represent a set of requirements, and corresponding services.Yes, an information system may reach across many cells.As shown in Figure 1, ERP includes both vertical and Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) applications.

Figure 1: The SIM Market Landscape

Source: ISSI/International Data Corporation, 1999
Click to enlarge

Understanding the Available Applications (Y axis)
Using International Data Corporation's (IDC's) software taxonomy, we can group most popular applications into categories according to the broad business processes that they support.Granted, there are some applications that do not fall neatly into a category, but the categories listed are the ones where we see most growth for spatial technology over the next five years.

  • Analytic applications/ data warehousing. This wide range of applications are built to analyze a business problem (e.g., financial analysis, customer churn analysis, and risk analysis).Spatial information is essential in some analytic applications like customer churn analysis, facility siting, traffic flow analysis and predictive modeling for retail sales.Many organizations with strong GIS systems are looking for ways to use their existing spatial data in analytic applications.MapInfo, for example, is busy building a strong presence in this space.
  • Vertical applications. These applications include any industry-specific application, such as package tracking for FedEx, reservations in the airline industry and claims processing in the insurance industry.Vertical applications like RF analysis in the wireless telco industry have a critical spatial component.In the property and casualty insurance industry, good spatial information makes the difference between profitability and heavy losses when rating risk.In our research, we have found that most mission-critical spatial applications fall into verticals.
  • ERM applications. ( Enterprise Resource Management) These applications include accounting, human resources, materials management, and facilities management.This sector includes many traditional GIS applications like AM/FM and land information systems.We see strong pressure to move spatial data from these traditional applications into broader enterprise systems.Within a few years, we expect to see ERP and database vendors taking a significant portion of the revenue in this space.Companies like ESRI, Autodesk and Smallworld are well-positioned to take part in this trend.
  • CRM applications. ( Customer Relationship Management) These applications include segments such as sales force automation, customer service, and marketing applications.Today, SIM's role is well-established in data-based marketing.We see strong growth in the use of spatial technology in sales force automaton, call centers, and other customer relationship management applications.Companies like MapInfo, Object FX, QMSoft and Formida are well positioned to move into CRM.
  • Commerce applications. These applications include order processing, fulfillment and delivery.While the Web is taking over many front-end commercial processes, we do see a role for spatial information in back-end commerce systems for order fulfillment and delivery.
  • Collaborative applications. These applications include groupware, email, and conferencing applications.Applications like MapGuide from Autodesk and GeoMedia from Intergraph are well-suited for collaboration in situations where spatial information is being developed by different groups within a company.
  • Personal productivity applications. These applications include office suites such as Microsoft Office and others.MapPoint 2000 from Microsoft has the potential to dominate this space.We also see interesting potential for Web-based applications like MapExplorer from MapQuest in personal productivity.
Understanding the Reach Within an Organization (X axis)
The reach of SIM capabilities within and outside an organization can also be plotted along a continuum ranging from simple to complex.The simplest systems are within workgroups and departments while the most complex may involve both a company's suppliers and customers.We expect most SIM implementations to fall into one of the following categories:
  • Departmental. Today, this is where most GIS applications live, handling specific tasks within a workgroup or department.Sometimes, departmental applications share data with applications in other departments, but without the benefit of a corporate information architecture.
  • Enterprise. We hear "Enterprise" used to describe software about as often a "New and Improved" is used to hawk laundry soap.In our definition, "Enterprise" applications reach across several departments to support a common business process.Enterprise systems have a common architecture that specifies interfaces between applications.
  • Suppliers and customers. Some systems like supply chain and e-Commerce let suppliers or customers interact directly with an organization's information system.We see this approach becoming more common as standards and open architectures mature.
Understanding the Cells
The cells in Figure 1 represent sets of user requirements and corresponding technologies that may have a spatial component.If we can understand the ways that technologies fit together within the cells, we can understand how spatial technology fits into the whole picture.

To help explain how technologies fit together, IDC developed a model called the "Application Ecosystem".Dr.Henry Morris of International Data Corporation (IDC) first described the Application Ecosystem in 1995.Since then, IDC has incorporated the model into most of their analysis and forecasting.We'll use the Application Ecosystem here to illustrate how the pieces of an information system fit together to make a whole solution, including spatial technology.

Now for the basics of the model.IDC defines an application ecosystem as a community of product suppliers, comprised of an overall leader and providers of complementary products.Complementary products contribute value by adding needed capabilities to the leader's product to form a whole solution.

Figure 2: Application Ecosystem Model

Source: ISSI/International Data Corporation, 1999

As shown in Figure 2, vendors provide different components.Applications like ERP or financials capture transaction data.Databases store and manage the data for use by other applications.Data access/analysis applications turn the data into information.Development tools create and modify applications.

For example, in the City of Calgary's AM/FM system transactions are captured by SAP customer and property record applications.A Microstation CAD system captures spatial transactions that involve power lines, switches and other facilities.All of the data, including spatial, is stored in an Oracle database.The City uses a number of data access/ analysis applications including SAP, Crystal Reports and Autodesk Vision to generate reports and analysis as needed.The system supports business processes that reach from field electricians to executive management.

In another example, Realty One is building a system that captures all their customer information, real estate listings for every region where they have an office, plus a wide range of demographic and geographic data about each city and neighborhood.They store and manage the data, including spatial, in an Oracle database.Realty One uses MapInfo and their own applications to make the data available to each of their agents across the Web.Eventually, Realty One wants their prospective customers to use the system to select homes that fit the customer's desires and financial ability.

So, you can see that the Application Ecosystem model is handy for describing the ways that spatial technology fits into mainstream information systems.We've also found that it helps predict which vendors are most likely to be successful in different markets.But, that's another article.And, we'll run that one in a few weeks.

Part One in this series.

Published Tuesday, October 26th, 1999

Written by David Sonnen

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