The Need for Operational Business Geographics Solutions

By Steve Walden

In order to gain maximum value, GIS technology needs move out of the power user paradigm into the hands of the masses. Geography plays a valuable role in many key decisions - but its use should not require the decision makers to understand the complexities of the technology needed to provide those answers.

For decades, GIS has been a somewhat arcane, complicated discipline handled by a select group of technologists.GIS systems are important because they allow management of municipal infrastructure for virtually every city and county government.GIS keeps track of utility lines, tax parcels and our road networks.In the business community, early adopters across virtually every industry have experimented with GIS, and many have had great success applying it to their organizations.
Until now, GIS has remained a power user toolkit, solving ad-hoc problems on a periodic basis, and done outside of the front line personnel within an organization.In today's economy, organizations are seeing the need to reduce costs by utilizing technology to enable consistent decisions where location is a key component.In addition, the decision often needs to occur at the point of customer contact, rather than in a back end system.

The typical GIS application is most often thought of as a visual, map-based solution.Business Geographics "operationalizes" GIS, by embedding the geographic decision process into the applications that are used every day to enable users to take better actions that are more consistent.Business geographics solutions most often input an address and output an answer based on business rules.This removes the need for users to perform interpretive analysis based on viewing a map.

For example, due to FCC regulations, a Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) company had a need to determine if customers were eligible to receive local market broadcast network channels.Their customer service agents had no way to identify eligibility without the use of a GIS.ZIP Codes were far to coarse for doing this type of analysis, as the signal strength was dependent on topography.

There was no time or money to train over 2000 CSR's on a power-user GIS package.They did not want to rely on 2000 potential interpretations based on viewing a map, but wanted consistent analysis to arrive at the correct answer.This business geographics problem was solved by integrating a spatial analysis solution that allowed a CSR to enter an address and receive a "Yes" or "No" answer for local channel service.Behind the scenes, embedded into the customer service application, was a high performance geocoding and point-in-polygon analysis engine that compared the geocode with the topographic contours to obtain an answer.
None of their CSR's realized they were using a GIS solution to solve this complex problem, and none needed to be trained in understanding the complex interaction between topography and electromagnetic signal propagation - fitting the true definition of an operational business geographics solution.

This is just one example of a company that has successfully rolled out a wide-scale GIS based solution that provides consistent geographic analysis to make critical business decisions.By moving GIS out of the back room to the point of customer interaction, this DBS company has truly maximized the value of GIS.

Other industries have a similar need to push operational business geographics to the point of contact.Virtually every industry has a need to make geography-based decisions, and operational business geographics provide a low cost, high yield method for obtaining a simple answer for a very complex question.

Published Saturday, January 11th, 2003

Written by Steve Walden

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