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Archive for November, 2009

Out in front of the GIS wave

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

By Jon Winslow

 

When MapInfo began knocking on doors with the world’s first desktop GIS in 1986, few business managers understood the concept of geo-spatial analysis or the power of LI (location intelligence).

 

Today, GIS technology is pervasive in society. Thirty-one percent of Americans own a portable navigation device. iPhone apps use GPS coordinates to find nearby restaurants.  You can hardly find a business website that doesn’t provide a link to an online map and driving directions. And four years since its release, Google Earth has been installed on over 500 million machines.

 

As for the future, industry experts predict that the GIS market will grow 50% within the next five years.

 

For business analysts, IT heads and developers who have relied on sophisticated location intelligent solutions for years, this sudden burst of GIS activity in the consumer market has its pros and cons.

 

  • On the one hand, business executives and financial officers who must approve and fund LI initiatives have personal experience with mapping and spatial analysis.  Discussions can quickly move from concept to concrete application as everyone has some familiarity with the underlying technology.

 

  • On the other hand, these same executives think they know what location intelligence is based on their experience with simple consumer applications – they often don’t understand what could be done with a business-strength solution.  After all, you can just download maps for free, correct?

 

Professionals understand that location intelligent technology does not necessarily equate to business intelligence.  So in a world where a bit of information can be dangerous, GIS experts must in some cases work harder to demonstrate the value of their work.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with many such professionals at the AGI GeoCommunity conference in the United Kingdom.  When you are around people who understand that the hot, new “find the nearest” app making headlines today is really ho-hum ten-year-old technology, it gets you that much more energized about the leading-edge innovations that are making spatial analysis so much more valuable to business today.

 

These experts, who are out in front of the current GIS wave, have their eye on emerging technologies and incremental improvements that provide significant advantages. Depending on their role and responsibilities, business users are excited about what today’s advanced technology can deliver: more power, greater simplicity, increased flexibility and greater control.

 

  • The Professional. High-end users that need to create and analyze data see 3-D visualization as a potent tool, especially when you can combine satellite imagery with complex, proprietary geo-data. The ability to instantly access and analyze stores, markets and trading areas – overlay large number of polygons – and color code areas based on revenue, demographics, proximity and penetration, for example, generates insights that lead to better, more profitable decisions. In a word, they are excited about the power.

 

  • The Enterprise Planner. As business intelligence takes on a more important role across business functions, everyone is looking for fast, effective ways to install Web solutions.  Today’s newest technologies are driven by the same sophisticated spatial analysis engines that companies have relied on for their most important decisions.  Through RIA and tiling, they offer an intuitive, out-of-the box experience that is as simple and stylish as any of the consumer-driven apps.  Providing user-friendly access to complex LI tools is only getting easier.

 

  • The Developer. Individuals responsible for custom solutions and LI augmentation see advances in both functionality and flexibility. While some developers are loyal to their favorite API, they are finding that more advanced geo-spatial programs are being created to fit their expertise. Built using open-source technology, developers can easily add to and adapt these solutions without the risks of a pure home-grown application. In practice, that means a simple API designed to route trucks, for example, can be easily enhanced, edited, data-enabled or embedded into desktops and mobile devices.

 

  • The Data Manager. As 70% of all business data contains a geographic component, data stewards are looking for ways to help people access high volumes of geo-data without losing control. Now, location intelligence solutions make it easy to access data where it is stored, whether that’s Oracle, SQL Servers, flat files, etc., and users can manage, access and administer information through queries that do not disrupt the underlying data integrity or governance principles.

 

While these emerging technologies and incremental improvements mean little to the soccer mom who simply needs directions to the next away game, the value of true location intelligence has never been more appreciated than today.  For organizations dealing with complex challenges, this additional power, simplicity, flexibility and control translates into lower costs, improved customer satisfaction and profitable growth.

 

Are you out in front of the GIS wave?  Learn more about the latest solutions – and be sure to let us know what trends, technologies and applications interest you most.

 

Getting on the same map

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

By Chris McCartney

 

Consumers have become increasingly dependent on mapping applications ever since MapQuest went online in 1996. Today, maps are incorporated into search engines, company Web sites and according to a recent Forrester survey, nearly a third of North American adults own their own map-driven navigation device.

 

Developers took full advantage of open source technology when code for Google Maps API became available in 2005. The simplicity of Google and alternatives such as Bing Maps made it easy for organizations to provide customers with simple, intuitive Web-based mapping services.

 

Meanwhile, managers in back-office operations shied away from these basic mapping tools because they simply could not support the complex data crunching and spatial analysis necessary to make smart business decisions. Business-focused solutions (such as our own MapInfo Professional) delivered the advanced location intelligence and predictive analytics necessary to underwrite risk, design networks and plan retail expansions.

 

More recently, however, new technology has closed the gap between consumer simplicity and back-office sophistication – giving companies the ability to leverage common mapping applications that can handle the heavy lifting with a smile.

 

From a customer relationship point of view, this adds a much-needed level of consistency. Now, information presented on Web sites can reflect the realities of how a company operates. Making such accurate, up-to-date mapping and spatial analysis available to consumers helps increase confidence and satisfaction. From an efficiency point of view, the ability to access a centralized database helps improve data quality and eliminate unnecessary redundancies.

 

Consider this real-life example:  after a hurricane, one UK insurance company experienced a wave of claims—some of which fell outside the path of the storm.  Rather than alienate customers with flat-out denials, the company updated their Web mapping using GIS information that geo-coded the exact path of the hurricane. They applied a generous buffer zone, which eliminated any chance of error and invited claimants to double check themselves whether they really wanted to submit that claim. With the ability to see the same information that underwriters saw, many decided to “unsubmit” their request – saving the company time, money and hassles.

 

What’s special about these new technologies?  Plenty.  First, they are driven by the same sophisticated spatial analysis engines that companies have relied on for their most important decisions.  Through RIA and tiling, they offer an intuitive, out-of-the box experience that is as simple and stylish as any of the consumer-driven apps.  Built using open-source technology, developers can easily add to and adapt these solutions without the risks of a pure home-grown application.

 

So, are you interested in getting on the same map with you customers?  For more insights, check out the recap from our recent Stratus RIA Workshop.  We look forward to your thoughts…

Customer segmentation: Canadian Style

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

By Sebastien Rancourt

Canadian privacy laws set ground rules on how organizations may collect, use and disclose personal information. Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, for example, personal information can only be collected when it is gathered with the knowledge and consent of the consumer-and only used for the reasons for which it was gathered.

Despite these data challenges, marketers and strategic planners have found effective ways to understand customer needs and create actionable customer segments. These insights and best practices-while particularly germane in Canada-are relevant to anyone looking to improve results by targeting more effectively.

Today’s leading solutions begin with geo-demographic clusters. While cluster segmentation strategies have existed for decades, contemporary clustering methods use robust statistical data and advanced analytical power to capture, create and measure more precise customer segments based on geography, demographics and lifestyles.  With the right data and analytical tools, organizations can characterize the behavior of every clustered customer-from their favorite movies and foods to their preferred attire and avocations-enabling users to more accurately predict customers’ responses to every campaign.

Professionals in retail, financial services, media planning, real estate and restaurants, among others, rely on cluster segmentation to improve decision making and business results.  Yet with the enhancements made in recent years, some marketers have yet to incorporate the latest advances which can boost overall performance.  In speaking with experts across Canada, we’ve identified a series of best practices to help guide your next steps.

Segment by neighborhood, not postal codes.  Some segmentation strategies rely on postal codes, which can lead to problems down the road.  Each month, as many as 5% of the roughly 850,000 six-digit Canadian postal codes change, as Canada Post updates this system solely on the basis of their mail delivery needs.  Not only does this taint campaigns in the short-term, it makes it nearly impossible to manage year-over-year modeling and analysis.

The best neighborhood segmentation clusters begin with census data at the dissemination area levels-which are the lowest levels for which reliable census data are published-providing hundreds of reliable data variables. In addition to data accuracy, these neighborhood-based models offer year-over-year consistency, so marketers can build on past success over time.

Incorporate household-level insights. This past year, leading cluster models have found ways to use more comprehensive household level data, incorporating consumer information that goes far beyond census findings.  These inputs, which conform to Canadian privacy laws, represent an unprecedented level of detail and behavior-based data-and create a more high-definition view of customers and prospects.

Maximize data points.  Not all household level data is the same.  Some cluster models are built extrapolating data from as few as 8,000 surveys across the full population of 33 million Canadians.  More reliable cluster models will analyze self-reported data from as many as 10 million individuals-providing for more accurate targeting and a lot less guesswork.

Overall, organizations that employ these best practices will benefit from a multidimensional framework that makes it possible to sort through the complexity of Canadian consumer culture without having to manipulate literally hundreds of census and survey variables. 

One such solution is PSYTE HD, the Pitney Bowes Business Insight segmentation system created using an innovative two-step clustering process.  The 59 clusters identified, including Canadian Elite, Joie de Vivre, Urban Verve and Next Gen Rising, leverage the largest and most robust repository of Canadian consumer intelligence to date-making it easier for organizations to locate new opportunities, connect with customers and communicate more efficiently.   We invite you to learn more and look forward to your feedback.

 

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