Location Intelligence, the mashup of GIS and Business Intelligence

Discussion in 'Java' started by JTP PR, Oct 21, 2008.

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    Location Intelligence, the mashup of GIS and Business Intelligence

    (GIS) A Business Intelligence (BI) system enables better decision
    making by combining the extraction, analysis and presentation of
    business information. It typically consists of a web browser dashboard
    that provides a single, personalised window into corporate information
    stored in a data warehouse.

    In the typical BI system, data is extracted from backend systems such
    as financial, customer relationship management, inventory, asset
    management, and human resources and moved into the warehouse, where it
    is restructured for efficient analysis and reporting.

    The BI system handles access, security and administration of the
    warehouse, It enables the chief executive to track performance for
    example; or the sales manager to compare sales revenue by product line
    and store. The customer service manager can see which of his or her
    engineers is trained to fix a particular piece of equipment or the
    maintenance history of an asset.

    Glen Rabie of BI software company Yellowfin explains: 'Dashboards
    communicate complex information quickly. They translate corporate data
    into graphics using gauges, charts and other visual media to show
    multiple results together. What makes this interesting for the GIS
    world is that now they are adding maps.

    When people see something on a map, they understand it, and it allows
    them to see relationships between different pieces of business data
    that they didn't previously appreciate,' he said.
    Users are embracing location-enabled BI because it is already familiar
    and enjoyable to use, thanks to the Sensis Whereis site and real
    estate sites such as Homebound. Also, SatNAV and Google Maps have
    played a huge role in introducing the power of GIS to the mass market.

    There is a 'wow' factor when executives see their everyday data
    presented for the first time with a map. For a telecommunications
    company it may be seeing a link between the amount of money spent by
    the marketing department and the busiest exchange, or being able to
    target those customers who are on exchanges with spare capacity and
    avoid offering others services their exchange cannot support

    For an agribusiness executive it may be seeing the impact of the
    amount and timing of fertiliser application on crop yield on a map
    derived from satellite imagery. For an insurance company it may be
    seeing the location of their policy holders and the value of insured
    property located in the path of an approaching hurricane. It could be
    the ability to spot potentially fraudulent claims after a hailstorm
    because the site of the damage is well away from the sites of other
    claims,

    Location-enabled BI has other benefits. If can streamline compliance
    reporting and reduce the knowledge loss when a staff member leaves or
    retires. A new staff member can see, for example, where all the
    service centres and distribution points are through an easy-to-use,
    intuitive interface.

    For those who are familiar with GIS, this is not rocket science. GIS
    professionals have been, analysing business data and combining themes
    like this for years, What is new is GIS in the boardroom. GIS is
    leaving its niche behind. The term 'spatial information' has been
    replaced by 'location intelligence'.

    The difference is that before, GIS implied expensive customised
    systems. They were time-consuming to build and required people with
    specialist skills to run them, Department managers might ask the GIS
    specialist for a thematic map wait for it, look at it, realise it
    didn't give all the answers and come back with a different question.

    Now, with location intelligence, managers can get their own answers
    and revise their search and presentation criteria repeatedly, They can
    start with a map, drill through to other data sources and reports for
    more detail, select certain records from a table (for instance, sales
    revenue by product line within a state or territory) and create a new
    colour-coded map (this is known as bidirectional integration). They
    can also choose to receive email or SMS alerts if a value goes outside
    a predefined range.

    Building a location-enabled BI system is also easier, thanks to
    mainstream web-based standards and programming interfaces such as XML.
    Flash animations can be embedded to display data over a timeline.
    Microsoft's impending SQL server 2008 spatial extension is expected to
    further simplify location-enabled BI. It will add location-aware
    commands to the standard repertoire of Microsoft programming
    languages, which are known to most-programmers and application
    builders.

    So how is location intelligence added to an existing BI system? It can
    be as simple as adding x and y co-ordinates to a record in the data
    warehouse. These may be derived from a postcode, from a Census
    district or from the asset record in a GIS.

    The process of extracting, transforming, and summarising into a form
    data that can be used by the BI tools is complex, and will expose GIS
    professionals to mainstream IT technologies such as Data Warehouse
    Extraction, Transformation and Load (ETL) tools.

    Nigel Lester, the sales manager at Pitney Bowes Map Info, explains
    other implications for the GIS professional.

    'GIS people must not underestimate the benefits of a relatively basic
    technical capability when it is embedded in a company's familiar BI
    environment and applied to business information. Being able to
    visualise data geographically is a big deal for BI users, and there
    are so many of them. You are not empowering five people, you are
    empowering 5000 to apply their knowledge and experience to what may
    have been previously insoluble problems;' he said,

    Higher visibility for BI in an organisation can also make it easier to
    get funding for projects. The GIS team may be able to spend less time
    fielding one-off requests and more time thinking and working
    strategically. As they explore the new BI's capabilities, users will
    ask for more and more.

    GIS people will need to understand the requirements of a wide variety
    of departments in order to identify which data will be extracted from
    the GIS and how often. Users will assume locations in the BI are 100
    per cent accurate and will make decisions accordingly unless they are
    told otherwise. Its limitations must be understood and improvement
    programs must be put in place when required. When users discover an
    error, there must be a process to get it fixed, so that confidence in
    the system is maintained.

    External datasets add more depth to company information, This might be
    maps of flood zones for an insurance company or the location of
    doctors' surgeries for a discount chemist. Finding who has the most
    accurate and complete version of this data, obtaining it, and keeping
    it up-to-date is not a trivial exercise. Custodianship programs that
    encourage public and private sector organisations to share their data
    will help.

    Often, when many datasets are combined, they don't fit together
    properly or easily. This can raise doubts about the cleanliness of the
    data in the combined dataset, misaligned data will lower user
    confidence - and it is being highlighted by the increased use of
    highly accurate orthophotography. Superfluous nodes in parcel boundary
    data will also affect display speeds and performance. Tools such as
    Tope Manager from Spatial Tapestry will enable the GIS group to
    automatically test, clean and align their datasets before rolling them
    out in mainstream BI

    While some companies will be happy to have quite basic mapping
    capabilities, others will want more. Maps answer many questions says
    David Merchant of Cognos, a BI company recently purchased by IBM. But
    they often also raise more, at which point you will want closer ties
    to the GIS. A good example is SF AusNet's Outage Information Centre
    (OIC). SF AusNet owns electricity transmission and distribution
    networks, as well as a gas network in Victoria. Its Network Operations
    Centre has used GIS to assist in the restoration of power outages
    during periods of high activity (storms, bushfires and other weather
    extremes).

    At such times, many stakeholders in the organisation need to access
    information. Executives need to know the cost of the outage, The
    customer services and corporate communications teams need to see the
    extent of the problem and the progress of repairs to keep customers
    informed and respond to questions from the media. The QIC enables the
    Network Operations Centre to concentrate on restoring power rather
    than managing internal communications.

    At SP AusNet, raw data is extracted from the GIS and Outage Management
    Systems every 10 seconds and within 10 minutes, efficient summarised
    data structures are constructed for analysis and reporting by Cognos
    and Eview software.

    Stakeholders view the information geographically, and then drill down
    to detail such as the comments from customers who reported the power
    outage, outage status information and the actual repair tasks
    undertaken. Executives can see the financial impact of the outage at
    15-minute intervals. The OIC implementation took less than three
    months and has successfully supported SP Aust.Net through 11 high-
    activity events since February 2007.

    SP AusNet Enterprise Solution Architect Jeff Warke said the project
    had provided a solution to the immediate problem of outage data, as
    well as a reporting foundation that could now be applied to other
    parts of the business.

    For GIS professionals, BI is both a threat and an opportunity. GIS
    technology will become more familiar, and so GIS specialists must
    expect more competition from other IT professionals. The demands of
    mixing datasets of uncertain accuracy and presenting meaningful
    results to executives will expose GIS professionals to a whole new set
    of demands.

    On the other hand, geography has never been so important to business
    people, and it's getting more important every day. That's got to be
    good news.

    Jose Diacono <jose,> is a freelance writer and
    marketing consultant specialising in spatial systems.
    JTP PR, Oct 21, 2008
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