A world of two and half billion people connected with various devices is creating an explosion of sensor and behavioral data. For most businesses in Ireland the most challenging aspect of any decision making process has been finding, validating and massaging relevant data by normalising, analysing and harmonising it in a manner that helps solve business problems. In the last two years there has been a heightened awareness of both the challenges and benefits of harnessing business-relevant information that is inherent in the vast array of open and big data that is available to us. It is this explosion of data from sources such as sensor networks, crowd sourcing and social media channels that ensures that ‘data’ is king when it comes to the discipline of business analytics.
Businesses now, more than ever before, need access to authoritative data content and relevant information, whether that content is contained in open data sources, big data sources or, in the case of a fast developing area of business analytics called location analytics, ‘spatial’ data sources. Up to now, spatial data (to you and me this is simply data that can be viewed on a map) fell into that very specialist area of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Now, spatial data is pretty much available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection whether that is through a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Companies such as Esri, Google and Microsoft are providing large volumes of rich ready-to-use spatial data content, including high quality aerial imagery, street level data, census data, environmental data, health data, economic data and other business-relevant data such as demographic profiles, deprivation indexes and consumer spending.
Location analytics makes use of this array of spatial data by combining it with your own business data in a way that will reveal trends and patterns that otherwise wouldn’t be visible with traditional business analytics tools and processes. Location has always been a part of business analytics, often helping answer questions such as, where should I locate my next store or branch? Where are my existing customers? and where are my target prospects? However this explosion of location based data collected through smartphones and other devices has meant that it is now fast becoming a source of competitive advantage for the business sector.
Location analytics is about dynamic, interactive mapping; sophisticated spatial analytics and rich complementary spatial data. Making use of this resource is now no longer the domain of the GIS specialist. For example, Esri is now working with major technology suppliers such as Microsoft, IBM and SAP to integrate mapping with common Business Intelligence (BI) technologies. In this way Microsoft Office users can now harness the benefits of location analytics and spatial data inside Excel and PowerPoint by using products such as Esri Maps for Office (similarly for users of MS Dynamics and MS Sharepoint); Cognos (IBM) users can benefit from location based analysis through Esri Maps for Cognos and later this year Esri Maps for SAP will expose the power of location analytics to SAP users. This means that the powerful business benefits associated with the efficient and effective use of spatial data is now accessible to traditional business analysts from within traditional BI tools.
As we hear more and more from the open data and big data movements it is easy to get caught up in the hype around both of these data sources. But let’s not forget about spatial data, which in itself is both open and big in the context of its impact and value proposition to the business community.
Paul Synnott (Article for Business Ireland & Public Sector Times, Q2, 2013)