The success of all businesses and organisations depends on accurate identification of needs, and the effective delivery of solutions to those needs. Delivery requires timely access to related data and the ability to understand the information implicit in the data. From this basis you can advance group knowledge via analytics and so become better positioned to make informed decisions.
Business Intelligence is a process of translating information into insights, enabling people to dynamically create and interact with data, exploring and seeing the data represented in a variety of complementary visualisations.
Location transcends landscape, climate, and buildings. Data has more meaning when placed its real-world context but constructing the location context of data is a lot more than latitude and longitude coordinates.
So what is location context and how do you put it to use?
In geography the simplest location is a point on the Earth. A collection of points occur within an area or mark the boundary of an area on the earth’s surface. Each point or area has associated geographical features, involving things like geology, hydrology, meteorology, even cosmology with the effects of the sun and moon, and then there are the various populations of flora and fauna (including mankind) together with their effects such as cities, roads, dams, farms, congregations and migrations. Maps are our way of showing and relating these phenomena.
Man’s world becomes more abstract with the presence of states, organisations, commerce, transactions, money flow, politics, war and so on. So a core use of maps is concerned with people, where and what they produce and consume, the momentum of business and the effectiveness of government.
To be effective every sector of industry and government department must include location as a dimension in its Business Intelligence (BI) activities. Seeing individual and aggregated data attributes displayed over maps is proven to be the most effective way to discover, understand and communicate key information, including patterns and trends.
According to the 2014 Wisdom of Crowds Location Intelligence Market Study by Dresner Advisory Services, “Over 70% of business users interviewed expressed Location Intelligence (LI) as critical or important for a BI strategy”.
To complement the current trend towards “data discovery” non-technical users must be able to undertake a sensible but useful range of data mapping activities. Any need for coding means you’re not using the right tool. It’s no good if your product capabilities can only be used by trained professionals, but conversely the toolkit mustn’t constrain data analysts who require finer control to manipulate and display data. It’s an unavoidable fact that complex data requires specific analytical skills otherwise it’s “garbage out”.
So while jump starting people into the analysis process and masking the underlying complexity via an intuitive and familiar web-interface, the palette of visualisation algorithms must allow significant customisation to create useful combined BI/LI reports.
Whether working directly from an Excel spreadsheet or a BI tool there should be a seamless transition between representing selected data in various forms – tabular, charted or mapped.
Extending this dynamic environment to pull in external data to combine with your in-house data enables the discovery of new data associations. For example, importing and merging specified demographic or government open-source data accessed via the web with your customer data can quickly expose previously hidden important facts.
Towards Beneficial Outcomes
Because location is so pervasive in our lives, well-designed, mapped narratives make it easier to share information and then collectively act on the factors which matter for your business.
This enhances your BI effort to effectively link all of your company's data and processes across finance, human resources, marketing, sales, service, supply chain, procurement and project management.
Some BI products come out of the box with rudimentary mapping capabilities, but most BI vendors will admit typical LI requirements often quickly exceed their capabilities.
Being a relatively new development it’s important not to confuse this BI use of maps and location analysis with the more traditional usage of heavyweight Geographical Information Systems (GIS) or the simple mash-up APIs offered by more recent startups.
Mapping technology (GIS) is a critical part of advanced data visualization and BI environments should be able to leverage any pre-existing investment in such products as Esri’s ArcGIS, Pitney Bowes’ Spectrum Spatial as well as use background maps from the likes of Google, Bing or HERE.