Business applications that use geospatial information have become a much bigger part of the information technology software industry, based upon a recent review of Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms” (February 2013). A few business intelligence (BI) software solution providers have differentiated their products with geospatial technology and now appear in the Gartner report. Tableau Software, Alteryx and TIBCO Spotfire are members of the Magic Quadrant. Other members, including Information Builders, SAP and SAS, have long utilized geospatial technology as part of their solution, though perhaps not usually as a differentiator. Still others, such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, consider geospatial technology to underpin their database or business intelligence solutions, thus “geoenabling” these solutions. However, Gartner, in assessing the criteria for the leaders and visionaries of the Magic Quadrant, far under-values the importance of geospatial functionality as a differentiator.
Business intelligence applications have integrated geospatial technology from Esri and Google as visualization tools and more recently as embedded analytical applications. Gartner has even changed the name of its report to "Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms" in order to, as it states, “emphasize the growing importance of analysis capabilities to the information systems that organizations are now building.” As such, geospatial technology is now recognized as one of the many areas of functionality that BI solution providers have integrated as part of their product.
Figure 1. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant (Source: Gartner)
While the analysis of geospatial data has always been an implied underpinning of the location intelligence ecosystem, the use of the term “location analytics” is showing up more as the focus shifts in parallel with the BI community. Information discovery is an integral part of reporting and visualization capabilities that are now exposed on dashboards to enhance and simplify the user experience. Location analytics provides yet an alternative method to synthesize information not often exposed in charts and graphs. In addition, as unstructured data from social media, sensor networks and other sources contain a geospatial reference, the capability to incorporate these data types in the analysis becomes more necessary. In a recent article
in Directions Magazine
, Mark Smith of Ventana Research, a Gartner competitor, said:
While location analytics is not new, the heightened interest in actually doing something about it is, driven in part by the prevalence of mobile devices used for business and by the growing ability to analyze social media commentary and other expressions of customer sentiment.
Does Gartner assess advantages to companies using location technology?
Consumerization: The demand for easy-to-use tools has already fueled tremendous growth in data discovery and mobile BI. We see the trend to "make hard things simple" continuing, with greater investments in business-analyst-oriented predictive and prescriptive analytics tools and applications, natural language processing query and analysis (text and voice), geospatial and 3D analytics, and advanced mobile analytics.
Gartner spells out “consumerization” for the business analyst well: “making the hard things simple.” The challenge for the developer of location analytics is to provide a simplified workflow that allows the analyst to integrate geospatial data from both internal and acquired (purchased) sources. Standards in open data formats and Web Feature Service (WFS), for example, have made this easier. In addition, workflows that facilitate more advanced spatial statistical analysis should adhere to the precept of making it easier for better knowledge discovery. This has not always been the case for software providers who have come from the GIS world, as they tend to deliver confusing solution sets and workflows, while BI vendors de-emphasize geospatial analysis by offering, for example, only Google Maps as simple backdrops. Neither produces an ideal solution and this has hindered analysts from getting a deeper understanding of geospatial functionality and therefore more complete knowledge discovery. Eventually, one of the Magic Quadrant “leaders” will figure out how to do this well.
Where geospatial functionality is recognized
Gartner’s report recognizes that some companies include geospatial functions as part of their solution. From the report, here’s a rundown (in italics) of those companies:
Microsoft: Over the next year, Microsoft plans to introduce a number of high-value and competitive enhancements to Excel, including geospatial and 3D analysis, and self-service ETL with search across internal and external data sources. These enhancements, along with planned support for analyzing large and diverse data (PolyBase, Microsoft's platform to enable a single query across relational and Hadoop data sources, is due in the first half of 2013), contribute to Microsoft's strong product vision score this year — one of six measures used to determine its positive movement in overall vision position.
Just recently, Directions Magazine reported
that Microsoft introduced GeoFlow, a 3D visualization tool for Excel.
Information Builders: The major change in Information Builders' 2012 marketing messaging was to promote the three pillars of its platform: intelligence, integrity and integration. WebFocus is fully integrated with the firm's iWay integration platform, which provides adapters for multiple data sources, as well as data federation, profiling and quality capabilities, geocoding and real-time search index management, business activity monitoring, complex-event processing, file-based integration and master data management.
Information Builders has been an Esri partner for many years and its geospatial capabilities are now considered a mainstay of its competitive advantage, but Gartner fails to credit this as a differentiator.
Alteryx: In the past year, Alteryx transitioned itself from a more narrowly scoped platform focused primarily on developing geographic-based analytic applications (such as store locations for retailers) to a more broadly scoped platform that can be applied to a broader array of analytic applications, such a pricing optimization and marketing mix allocation.
Alteryx began as a GIS solution provider with analytics as a differentiator and subject matter expertise in retailing. It has since tried to broaden its appeal as a more complete BI solution and received investment from SAP Ventures in 2011. Gartner’s assessment reveals that it’s tough going, as Gartner points out that "Alteryx is deployed very narrowly within its reference clients, typically operating within a single department or functional area with few multinational or global references. In fact, it ranked among the lowest of the 38 vendors surveyed for this question. While the analytic applications are often used strategically by the organization, typically only a handful of business analysts use Alteryx."
SAP: While it has been in the mobile BI space for more than 10 years, in 2012, SAP enhanced its mobile experience with geospatial and camera capabilities, enabling users to view information in camera view over the visual representation.
Another Esri partner, SAP seems to go through mood swings with just how much it wants to leverage or promote geospatial technology as a competitive advantage. Currently, SAP appears to acknowledge geospatial more fervently with the investment in Alteryx.
Other companies mentioned in Gartner’s report use geospatial functionality as a differentiator but the report does not specifically point this out. Tableau Software was an early adopter of the use of Google Maps as its visualization tool and appears more invested in promoting location technology as a core component. TIBCO Spotfire is identified as one of the Magic Quadrant “leaders.” TIBCO recently purchased Maporama, a provider of location intelligence solutions, in late March. According to a press statement
from TIBCO, "Maporama digital mapping and geospatial capabilities will help TIBCO Spotfire customers compress decision making cycles, optimize resource allocation and gain enhanced insight into markets and supply chain trends and geographic clusters." Finally, Yellowfin, though not considered for evaluation in the Quadrant, was added to the report under “other vendors to consider” and the company’s “location intelligence” capabilities are mentioned. This is somewhat odd as it was the only time “location intelligence,” not “geospatial,” was used as a descriptive term.
Gartner’s identified “leaders” (see Figure 1) must differentiate themselves on factors that Gartner calls “completeness of vision.” While Gartner does not recognize “geospatial” as comprising such “completeness,” Gartner characterizes these leaders’ understanding of the market’s needs as exemplary and has identified three companies for which geospatial appears to be a competitive advantage.
Leaders are vendors that are strong in the breadth and depth of their BI platform capabilities, and can deliver on enterprisewide implementations that support a broad BI strategy. Leaders articulate a business proposition that resonates with buyers, supported by the viability and operational capability to deliver on a global basis. Small vendors such as Tableau, QlikTech and Tibco Spotfire, which may lack strong scores for geographic or vertical strategy, or breadth of capabilities in the offering (product) criterion, are still Leaders due to the strength of their market understanding and marketing strategy. The evidence that they are market leaders comes from the fact that most of the market is trying to imitate the simplicity of their architecture and the ease of use that it provides.
Mark Smith of Ventana also notes, “Our next-generation business intelligence benchmark research
examined the importance of location and found that deployment of geographic maps was the most important benefit in 47 percent of organizations. Location analytics can deploy maps either by leveraging data and analytics within existing software or operating in parallel with it and utilizing the underlying data structures.”
Where Gartner should be focusing more attention
Gartner’s criteria for positioning companies within sectors of its Magic Quadrant seems to want geospatial technology to be a parameter for consideration, but then only gives it passing reference. As such, it far under weights its importance. BI companies routinely and prominently boast maps as part of their dashboard visualization toolkits. Moreover, mobile BI is noted by Gartner as critical for data delivery, but it gives only scant mention that apps inherently leverage location technology (i.e. GPS), not to mention relying on geospatially referenced data. In addition, so much of marketing now considers the analysis of social media and near real-time hyperlocal data, itself a big data challenge, to be a “must have” in any BI solution. Eventually, geospatial information, location analytics and the entire ecosystem of data and software that comprise location intelligence must be given due emphasis, as they are critical to the business analytics marketplace. A market research company of the stature of Gartner cannot afford to continue missing the obvious.