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Using Geospatial Data in New Novel Ways

Geospatial data might not be new, but how companies expect to use it -- for example, by tapping geospatial to enrich sales and marketing, risk analysis, and other practices -- certainly is.

A recent report from The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) highlights a septet of use cases for geospatial or location data. The TDWI report also underscores a key point: geospatial data might not be new, but the ways companies expect to use it -- for example, by tapping geospatial or location analytics to enrich sales and marketing, risk analysis, and other practices -- are.

"[Geospatial] analytics are also moving past mapping to more sophisticated use cases such as advanced visualization and predictive analytics," writes TDWI analyst Fern Halper in Seven Use Cases for Geospatial Analytics, the latest entry in TDWI's Checklist report series.

Halper, research director for advanced analytics with TDWI, says geospatial data can be used to enrich many nontraditional practices, including sales and marketing, asset management, situational intelligence, risk analysis, and fraud detection. Other, more traditional, geospatial use cases include better (or more strategic) location determinations and enhanced transportation/logistics planning.

"Geospatial information can be extremely helpful in a variety of analytics ranging from marketing to operations management," writes Halper. The non-traditional use cases Halper identifies underscore a key point: even though geospatial analysis is, to a real degree, useful in and of itself -- this is one reason most Global 2000 organizations already have geospatial practices of some kind -- it's even more valuable in context.

"Geospatial data and geographic information systems (GIS) software are being integrated with other analytics products to enable analytics that utilize location and geographic information," she explains, citing survey data from TDWI Research which projects that the use of geospatial analytics will effectively double over the next two years.

This doesn't come as any surprise to Steve Trammell, strategic alliance manager with GIS software specialist ESRI Inc. "We're already used pretty extensively. In fact, 60 percent of the people we run into may already be our customers and not even know it," he says.

Nevertheless, Trammell points out, organizations are increasingly keen to use geospatial data in new and potentially valuable ways. He cites the example of retail giant Sears, Roebuck & Co., which -- like most large companies -- had a long-standing ESRI practice. "They just wanted to optimize their delivery routes. Their [rationale] was, 'We need to get our delivery windows down from six hours to two hours.' We put some routing software in and showed them how to optimize their routes."

In 2012, ESRI kicked off its location analytics practice, which currently offers maps for IBM Corp.'s Cognos BI, MicroStrategy BI, SAP AG's BusinessObjects, and Microsoft Corp.'s Office.

In addition, ESRI markets ESRI Tools for Hadoop, which Trammell says extends support for ESRI spatial data types to the Hadoop environment. "Our spatial data libraries reside inside Hadoop, and we've made it possible for you to query Hadoop via Hive and other technologies," he explains. "You can [use ESRI Tools for Hadoop to] query petabytes [of Hadoop data]. We did that at our user conference: were going against a Hadoop cluster via Amazon and working in their environment."

Mapping Goes Mainstream

By now, most established business intelligence (BI) players offer mapping capabilities, usually (but not always) delivered via partners, such as ESRI.

For this reason, Jake Baillie, director of business development for Urban Mapping Inc., one of ESRI's competitors, argues that mapping has "basically" gone mainstream.

"In the BI space, you can clearly see the trend: Tibco bought that mapping company [Maporama Solutions] so they're certainly focused on it. Microsoft with Bing, you're already seeing them put maps in Excel, and that's pretty interesting on a couple of fronts, [such as the possibility of] self-service mapping in Excel," argues Baillie, citing the availability of Google Inc.'s free mapping service, too. In this context, he explains, his company is focusing on geospatial analytics.

"Our customers generally are not creating map data, they're consuming it. Most of our users are looking for ways to slice and dice map data. Tableau is a great analogy. Most people who use Tableau aren't doing a ton of modeling or creating things that didn't exist before. They're looking for ways to visualize or to tell a story in new ways," Baillie explains. "There are a lot of maps out there. What there isn't a lot of is data behind maps that's relevant for business analysis purposes. It's relatively hard to make a crime-by-census plot-level map with Google. Until recently, this didn't exist, but we've always looked at the data and the map platform as inseparable."

Urban Mapping's flagship product (Mapfluence) provides mapping and geocoding capabilities for Tableau Software Corp.'s flagship data visualization offering. "We've had the Tableau relationship for four years now. It's been a longer-term relationship for us, a good one, [and] they're the only [BI] vendor we partner with. We've had a lot of great support internally at Tableau," he explains.

"We've had a lot of interest from [Tableau] customers, too. Because of that native connectivity that we have in[to] Tableau, we're in a great position to help people with their geospatial problems. A lot of companies have geospatial data that they weren't doing anything with."

There's a lot you can do with geospatial data. Geospatial analysis, for example, has seemingly exhaustive applicability. After all, argues ESRI's Trammell, just about anything can be mapped.

"Anything that has a location you can map, because every thing is some place. We're actually looking at doing mapping inside the human body," he points out. According to Trammell, the logic or principles of topology apply to "neurons and blood vessels, too. We're starting to look at the mathematical relationships between 3D structures. It all boils down to the same technology."

You can download the TDWI report, free of charge, here.

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