RESEARCH & RESOURCES

GIS Enriches Data, Enhances Decision Making

GIS information can enrich internal data, improve business processes or enhance decision making. So why aren’t you using it?

If you’re a large organization, you probably have a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) practice somewhere in your enterprise, whether you know it or not.

This is almost certainly true for Global 2000 shops, says Steve Trammell, head of alliance and IT marketing with GIS specialist ESRI. The rub, he argues, is that many shops still aren’t taking advantage of their in-house GIS expertise.

“A lot of the private sector folks have a GIS practice in their real estate department. They tend to do it on the desktop, and it’s very project-oriented. It doesn’t really bloom up into the enterprise just because it’s kept as one of the esoteric, project-driven parts of the budget,” he explains.

ESRI, of course, isn’t a wholly disinterested party. Its name is virtually synonymous with GIS -- or was, at any rate, until Google Maps appeared.

Moreover, ESRI isn’t just a services provider: in addition to its bread-and-butter GIS data services, ESRI markets its ArcGIS line (which consists of server, desktop, mobile, and software-as-a-service offerings) to enterprise customers.

Other business intelligence (BI) players second Trammell’s claim, at least when it comes to the pervasiveness -- and as-yet-mostly-unyoked promise -- of GIS.

“I think that’s right, says Jake Freivald, vice president of corporate marketing with Information Builders Inc., when asked about the pervasiveness of GIS. “I think that certainly among our customers, you’ll find that somewhere, at some level [of an organization], they’ll already have [someone] who does that. They used to have a hard time explaining to people how what they were doing could be beneficial. Now with Google Maps, that’s less of a problem.”

Trammell, too, gives Google Maps its due. If nothing else, he says, Google and its free mapping service have helped prime the GIS pump.

“Google made [GIS] take off just because people who were using Google for search thought, ‘There’s a nice map here. This could be useful,” he comments explains. “It was useful -- until they got to thinking spatially. Google’s great for visualization, but not very good for analytics. If you just want to know where things are happening, a dot on the map represents that fairly well. Invariably people start asking other questions about that. Why did this happen there?”

ESRI, Trammell says, enriches its GIS data with information that it collects from other services. That’s its key value-add. “What [Google] know[s] about you is ZIP-code level. We can enrich your data with data that we get from other services, specifically down to block group, which is [at the] subdivision level,” he says.

He uses an example involving dueling pharmaceutical sales reps, which he says highlights the benefits of GIS used in conjunction with analytics.

“We can take a very successful sales territory and look at the demographic data underlying that and then use that to find other potentially successful territories,” he avers. “It’s using geography as a selection tool. If we can then draw that sales territory on a map, which we can, we can then use that as a cookie cutter to extract other similar [territories].”

In an everyday business sense, Trammell suggests, customers can use GIS to enrich internal data. “This wealth of [GIS] data ... can help improve business processes and decisions by enriching the data that you already have,” he says. “In some cases, [e.g., a GIS-derived insight], this whole wealth of data can actually enable a decision that you could not [otherwise] have reached using any of the common data fields that were available to you internally.”

ESRI used to have a hard time making this pitch. Part of the problem, Trammell acknowledges, was an issue of positioning -- literally: ESRI’s old strategy, which centered around the idea of an “Enterprise GIS,” asked potential customers to give it priority of place in an already packed enterprise pecking order.

“For years, we were trying to push the idea of an enterprise GIS, but that doesn’t really fit in well with the politics of IT, because all of the sudden, we’re coming in with a fairly heavy footprint -- [i.e.] we want to be down there with their ERP system, and that’s a little daunting,” he says.

“We’ve taken a different tack now, with the server and cloud offerings. We’re not looking for an Enterprise GIS; we’re looking to enable the enterprise for GIS. We can GIS-enable an enterprise content management system, an ERP system, a BI system.”

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