October 12, 2009
Location Intelligence for the Enterprise
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Location Intelligence for the Enterprise
By Susan Smith
The recent release of SpatialKey On-Demand, from the SpatialKey business unit of Universal Mind, is a location intelligence software geared toward offering located-based data to those who are not GIS users. As a software as a service (SaaS), cloud approach to providing easy access and analysis of location-based data, SpatialKey On-Demand automatically recognizes geographic information and displays it as an accurate map form, allowing multiple data sets to be aggregated and viewed in a single view. Users can analyze data by specific attributes by click-and-drag as well.
Tom Link, managing director, SpatialKey business unit of Universal Mind
and Mike Connor, VP of product management, SpatialKey business unit of Universal Mind, spoke about the company’s goal to bring location intelligence to those who haven’t been able to access it in the past.
Universal Mind has been in existence since 2003, with approximately 90 employees. The company designs and builds rich internet applications (RIAs), of which SpatialKey is an example. “That often means taking apps that used to exist as desktop apps and bringing them to the web where you can take advantage of the deployability of the web – go to the URL and start working with the app, but it is richer than traditional html apps," explained Connor. “Our company has been combining these kinds of Web 2.0 architectures which are part of RIAs with a larger focus on user experience and user centric design, making it easier to use for our target audience who are really enterprise and
decision makers in general, working in Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.”
Enterprise customers have requested that Universal Mind bring their clunky workflows in legacy systems to the web, but also at the same time improve their usability, a core competency that the company has developed since its inception. “Lots of that work has tended to focus on data visualization and executive dashboards,” said Link. “Just the technology we’re working with and ideas we’ve presented really work very well with those sorts of apps.”
Two years ago users wanted to include location intelligence in their projects as part of the dashboards. From there, Universal Mind began to explore traditional GIS applications to see how to bring those applications into the work they were doing with decision makers, and make the information more useful to a larger set of users inside an organization. Many times decision makers would receive a map from the GIS department and want some other aspect reflected on the map, so would have to hand it back, and then the GIS department would have to generate a new map with the new information.
“We were really excited by the potential of LI as part of decision support and as part of data visualization, but we found the existing tools were really difficult to get deployed into these richer apps,” said Connor. “We needed to make it easy for decision makers to get access to information in a way that was understandable to them.”
In talking to decision makers, Universal Mind learned that the solution they wanted needed to be instantly deployable and collaborative. What this meant was that a lot of software had to work together, and data would have to come from a number of feeds into one system. Many organizations had purchased GIS but it wasn’t used across the company because some users were exempted from it by its difficulty to learn. Next, the solution would have to be easy and intuitive to use. Users wanted to be able to get useful data within 15 minutes, including loading their own data in that time.
Universal Mind works well both with organizations that understand GIS and want others within the organization to be able to access GIS data, and also organizations where GIS is too complicated because it exposes them to more information than they need.
Some customers such as police departments who were initially concerned about the cloud now prefer it because they think it is more secure than their own networks. “SpatialKey makes us much smarter cops,” said Police Chief John H. Greiner, Ogden Police Department. “It is the cutting edge of where law enforcement will go in the next 10 years.”
Nonetheless, Universal Mind offers both on premise hosting for organizations, as well as hosting on the cloud. Universal Mind has a relationship with Amazon to use their cloud services.
SpatialKey can work with any dataset, but Link said the geocoder included in the package is only for North America. They do work with organizations who have international data that is already geocoded, and with some organizations they help secure licensing as part of a custom add on.
“We can collect, combine, and map data collaboratively in minutes,” said Dr. Clionadh Raleigh, director of Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project (ACLED).
Connor said a lot of decision makers start their work in Microsoft Excel. An example given was some foreclosure data belonging to someone who manages or owns properties in the Sacramento area. They may be interested in trends and other data that may impact their properties. They may have purchased the foreclosure data with the goal of understanding how it is relevant to their other data, which is a list of properties they manage in Sacramento. The list of properties in Sacramento is obviously much shorter, of about 38 records, compared with the foreclosure list which holds approximately 9,000 records. Other information such as number of bedrooms, bathrooms, foreclosure date, is included
“While SpatialKey does work with data from Excel and data we can manually import, we can also automatically feed data into SpatialKey through APIs,” said Connor. “But as a starting point, for a user working right away, they’re expecting that they’ll be manually loading data in.”
There is no software to install with SpatialKey. “Our main offering is ‘on demand,’ meaning it’s hosted in our architecture and the whole thing runs off the Flash Player inside the browser,” said Link.
Link logs onto SpatialKey, and doesn’t have to import data feeds because they’ve already been imported in this particular case in the interest of time. “The usability of that import process was a big key for us, so loading this file would take somewhere between five and ten minutes depending upon whether or not we’re geocoding the data for you; it’s an easy to use user interface,” said Link.
The application is up and running just as fast as logging onto the internet. “When we update and add a new feature to the software it’s just immediately available,” said Link, and this takes place every six to eight weeks.
When the user first encounters the SpatialKey interface, they see the Start menu that then allows them to upload their own data or try sample data if they don’t have data they’re ready with, or watch some videos. There are also reports which have been published by users and shared, as well as raw datasets brought into the application.
The initial view shows about 9,000 records of foreclosure data that is now available on a map. “There was no programming or configuration for this to occur, we simply imported the data, asked a couple of questions about it, and now everything is a result of that. First we have this interactivity,” said Connor. “We’re showing by default a density map or heat map that shows the concentration of data, so I can see where foreclosures are in the northern area and other slight hotspots down south.”
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