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.