Esri Adds GIS to Business Intelligence, Promotes “Location Analytics”

This week marks the 33rd annual users conference for Esri, a leading provider of mapping software and geospatial information systems (GIS). In Internet time, that should qualify the privately held company for elder statesman status.

The Redlands, CA-based software developer (founded in 1969 as Environmental Systems Research Institute) currently holds an estimated 40 percent or more of the global GIS market and is just introducing version 10.2 of its popular ArcGIS product line.

Yet longevity also can pose some challenges. For more than 13,500 GIS users and professionals attending the conference this week at the San Diego Convention Center, the invariable question is what’s new? Or perhaps more to the point, where is the innovation?

Esri’s answer, which became apparent during a business summit that preceded the conference, is “location analytics.”

James Killick

“If you look at business data, the location aspect of customers, suppliers, corporate offices, and other relevant information is pervasive,” says James Killick, who leads Esri’s location analytics group. Killick says location analytics can add insights to business decisions in the same way that prospective homebuyers consider geographic factors like the quality of local schools and neighborhood crime rates in their purchasing decisions.

Killick says business intelligence is a $12 billion market that represents a tremendous growth opportunity for Esri, which has been working to integrate its GIS capabilities in a host of products—from Microsoft’s Excel and Sharepoint to IBM Cognos, SAS Enterprise BI Servers, SAP Business Objects, and Teradata. Of course, it faces competition today from some of those same companies; Microsoft, for example, is working to integrate map-data visualization tools into Excel.

Killick says location analytics can play a critical role in a host of business operations, including retail site selection, supply chain management, customer relationship management, workforce management, financial performance, and marketing. As an example, Killick says prospective homebuyers don’t focus solely on the floor plan, square footage, or the number of bedrooms. They also take a variety of local characteristics into consideration, such as the school district, neighborhood crime rates, school district, nearby shopping, and scenic views. So Esri has sought to pull a variety of geographic sources into its GIS products for business intelligence applications.

At the Esri business summit, Killick discussed what he calls the four imperatives of mapping in business systems.

—Go Beyond Basic Mapping. In cases where there is a lot of data, Killick says a map can become so densely laden with pushpins that it becomes increasingly difficult to visualize relevant information. But there are methods for aggregating data into clusters or hot spots that make it easier to display the proportional relevance. Customer sales, for example, can be aggregated by zip code, cities, counties, or townships, or within other administrative boundaries, such as sales territories.

—Enriching Data. Esri enables users to overlay relevant information from a variety of sources, including demographics and population growth trends, consumer spending patterns, traffic, and occupation and household income. “We’re building everything we do on top of the ArcGIS platform, so we’re providing not just software, but content.” Killick says.Esri Mapping Business Data (courtesy James Killick)

—Map Analytics. Using GIS data enables users to drill down into a specific region or neighborhood to run geo-statistical analyses. In retail, for example, Killick says location analytics is used to predict current and future sales, and to identify sites for new stores. Location analytics can be used to identify key sales, such as weather or traffic, and to identify and compare the factors affecting profitability in different cities and regions. Users also can outline a neighborhood or region hit be a tornado or flooding and calculate the total insured value of customers within the zone.

—Collaboration. The underlying concept of Esri’s platform enables users to create online maps that are interactive, and to share the maps throughout a company or among business partners. “Sharing information is important because it really helps people break down the silos within their own organizations,” Killick says.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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