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What is Location Analytics?

Location Analytics is the ability to gain business insight from the location (geographic) component of business data.  Multiple types of business insight are possible as well as multiple ways of obtaining the insight.  This article focuses on recent evolutions in location analytics that enable additional insights, newer ways of obtaining those insights, and the keys to making that insight available and usable to decision makers.  

Some forms of business insight from location information have become well-known, even to the point of joining popular culture.  Fleet management and logistics companies are prime examples, and the value of knowing where trucks or packages are is undisputed.  Other departmental tasks, such as urban planning in local government require maps and visual examination.

Moving beyond traditional scenarios, geography can literally be the element that various organizational data silos share as a common ‘key.’ In one simple scenario, consider what location analytics can do for a business like Critigen, operating in dozens of US States.  Our operations require specific skillsets to be present in multiple locations (currently 51). Our staff travels to many additional client and project locations.  Our sales and marketing teams live in some of the same, and some other areas.  Our finance department records revenue and pays real-estate leases, taxes, and other fees in states and local jurisdictions.  Our HR team tracks where individual employees live and work and pays various payroll taxes based on those locations.  Each department has their own system for tracking each of these.  Now my challenge: Point me to an existing system that’s capable of telling me the whether my people in the most expensive cities bring in the most after-tax revenue?  Or, one that can help me know for my new marketing campaign, whether my prospective customers in areas where I have staff to deliver the projects, and how travel, taxes and office space leases impact potential profits?

The above scenario for Critigen illustrates the ability of location to reach across department boundaries in ways that transcend traditional systems integration. Applied to the oil & gas industry, imagine the ability to correlate exploration, environmental, drilling, collection, transmission, sales, operations, PR and regulatory functions spatially to optimize business and social responsibilities.  In healthcare, consider correlating care facilities and their specific capabilities with population demographics, individual provider locations, and patient residences, then layering on cost of care data, wellness campaign locations and state and local policy and prevention measures.  For a utility, consider the impact of viewing and measuring outages and their associated costs matrixed with customer location and product subscription to help prioritize marketing, system upgrades and customer service efforts. Location analytics, using location as the key data field for integration, makes all these possible.

Until recently location intelligence has been relatively limited to visualization or was used analytically in specific niche markets or for departmental use (fleet management, limited supply chain/shipping). Realizing this, Esri has turned their scientific GIS applications into a truly enterprise-class platform for location analytics. Esri’s ArcGIS Platform now provides the five key features necessary to true enterprise location analytics:

  1. Visualization within existing business systems.  The ArcGIS Platform has APIs for web, mobile and desktop systems that allow maps visualizing business data to be embedded into existing business systems.  Esri has built some integration packages already, including Esri Maps for IBM Cognos, Esri Maps for Office (Excel, PowerPoint) andEsri Maps for SharePoint (all of which Critigen implements).  Critigen also offers additional integration packages including SAP – GIS integration and has performed custom integrations for some time now. In the best integrations, the map can be used as an interface to create, update and delete data in the business systems.
  2. Location-centric analytics.  Maps enable people to see data differently, but to scale, maps need to be smart.  They need to allow roll-up, drill-down, correlation, and even custom analysis that produce answers, not just new views of the data.  The Esri ArcGIS Platform allows all these, and allows system integrators to provide pre-coded, scientifically sophisticated geographic analysis to business users through a simple button or workflow.  Sometimes those analysis produce a map, and sometimes they perform geographic analysis in the background and produce a customer list, or other result. Above all, these analytics are accessible, usable and understandable to the business users whose decisions they need to inform.
  3. Access enterprise data and bring new data to the table.  Enterprise is, by definition, the ability to work in a large, scalable environment across multiple departments.  The ArcGIS Platform can be connected to all enterprise business systems and to corporate and departmental GIS systems, breaking down information silos by using location as the common key for integration.  Extending the benefit of using location as the key field for integration is the availability of myriad data from third-party sources that is also geo-referenced (i.e. keyed to location).  Commonly known examples include demographics and satellite imagery, but more than 4,000 variables are currently available through the Esri ArcGIS Platform – everything from fire station locations and crime statistics to real-time weather feeds – to be incorporated into enterprise location analytics.
  4. Easy collaboration and security. Enterprise class systems are distinguished in large part from departmental and workgroup systems by their support for collaboration and access control.  The ArcGIS platform supports collaborative sharing and groups-based security, allowing an enterprise to make data widely available while controlling access to sensitive data and analysis.  Perhaps most important is the ability of regular business users to use Microsoft Office to create maps and analysis from their data and publish the results into the ArcGIS Platform for use by other groups members.
  5. Scalability.  The ArcGIS platform has proven its ability in recent years to handle ‘big data’ – enterprise data sets with millions of records.  Likewise, ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Portal released in 2012 allow cloud-based and behind-the-firewall deployments of the ArcGIS Platform. 

Other systems for mapping data quickly break down quickly when placed into an enterprise setting.  They lack the sophistication to match the systems they are integrated to – in depth of analytics, in access to outside data, in collaboration and security models and in scalability to big data sets. 

It’s commonly accepted that up to 80% of transactional data contains a locational component. This gives CIOs a very real opportunity to tie data silos together and facilitate inter-departmental collaboration using location analytics.  Critigen provides both strategic Spatial Enterprise consulting services and systems integration and implementation services to make location analytics a reality for our clients.

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