Why business intelligence finally loves maps

Why business intelligence finally loves maps

Why business intelligence finally loves maps

If you are old enough to remember when geography was taught in elementary school you undoubtedly recall the memorization of capitals, countries and cultures. To the curious-minded, geography uncovered the world, and maps displayed proximity relationships, offering a perspective not revealed by merely reading the textbook. Some thematic maps depicted the size of economies relative to GDP, for example. A simple but effective geographic depiction of statistics.

Fast forward several years to the late 1980s when desktop mapping systems were available to PC users. Thematic maps introduced a new way of visualizing demographic and business data. But integrating customer information was still a challenging process and employing the most current demographic data was always the next decennial census away.

Then in 2005 came the great disintermediation of geography: Google™ Maps. Maps were no longer trapped in desktop mapping systems. Geographic information about countries and their economies and satellite images of the terrain were just an Internet click away. But Google Maps’ greatest impact brought location-based data to users easily. Businesses found a very simple and inexpensive way of mapping sales and marketing information. Still, not everyone recognized the benefits.

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From 2004 to 2014, I founded and chaired the Location Intelligence Conference. The objective of this event was to place geographic information system (GIS) solution providers in the same room as those offering business intelligence (BI) software. Companies like MapInfo and Group 1 Software (both acquired by Pitney Bowes), SRC (now Alteryx), Esri and Tactician mixed it up with PeopleSoft and Seibel (both acquired by Oracle), TIBCO, Information Builders and Oracle. Google and Microsoft participated, as did GPS chip manufacturers. The result: the location intelligence ecosystem coalesced among some of the major IT companies and many startups. However, most BI vendors just didn’t see the value of location-based data and later stopped participating altogether. To too many analyzing the field, spatial was not special; spatial data was just another data type.

Today, all BI vendors, including enterprise players such as Microsoft, IBM and SAP, are grasping for more improved geospatial technology integration and functionality. From better styled maps to more accurate geocoding, business intelligence solutions crave superior geospatial processing tools. Nearly every BI software product provides rudimentary mapping capabilities out of the box, but the vendors are scrambling to meet competitive threats. Maps and location technology, according to a senior sales director at Pitney Bowes, are now “table stakes.”

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While it’s true that spatial data is just another data type, more of it is swamping CIOs and CDOs, every day. The key, a latitude and longitude coordinate pair, is attached to nearly every transaction, both virtual and physical. From tweets to check-ins, from fob payments to beacons, data with location is ubiquitous. The need, and the demand, to understand spatial extent, proximity and relevance is important to every business.

This still doesn’t explain the entire transformation. BI solutions are splintering into specializations to leverage unique visualization and analytical capabilities. Maps occupy a significant portion of real estate on BI dashboards because maps portray multivariate information relative to place, something with which most people can more readily identify.  But, BI solution providers cannot simply duplicate basic GIS functionality, like putting pie charts on thematic maps, to be competitive.

Three significant industry trends are driving immense change today and will into the future: mobile payments, drones and autonomous vehicles.

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