Maps tell stories beyond location. When combined with data from a growing array of sources, and added to visualizations in a variety of formats, geographic information systems (GIS) can yield insights about who is doing what where, and what is happening when, why, and how.
A digital map can be like a thick deli sandwich: the bottom slice of bread represents the geographic coordinates of an area, and each layer added to it is another data set spread over those coordinates. Weather. Sales trends. Highway layouts and transportation networks. Building configurations. Office locations. Natural resources identified and targeted for exploration. Infrastructure and utilities underground. Those are the things that stay in one place. Add assets in motion such as trucks and goods shipments. Note the movements of customers. Mix in trends over time, such as demographic data on who lives and works in various locations. Then start asking smart questions and see where the data takes you.
A question such as, "Where should I put my next store?" depends just as much on what the data says about your prospective customers as the real estate you're evaluating. What are their median incomes and education levels? Do they tend to drive or walk to shop? Is it advantageous to be near certain other attractions? And although many enterprises hold customer data in their corporate systems, the opportunity to marry those systems -- such as business intelligence, ERP, and CRM -- with GIS data is becoming more popular thanks to the consumerization of IT and the popularity of smartphone-based maps.
As a result, there were more than government geographers and city planners among the 16,000 attendees roaming the halls at the July 2014 Esri International User Conference in San Diego. The event, with people flying in from more than 190 countries, also attracts a rising group of strategists and corporate location professionals from a range of industries. This slideshow provides a window into some of those discussions.
Take the smartwatch prototype pictured above. Black Eyed Peas founder Will.i.am, who has struck up a friendship with Esri founder Jack Dangermond to promote science and math education to high school students in his Los Angeles neighborhood, told attendees that he is investing in a smartwatch to further his involvement in technology.
"I'm wearing my maps," said Will.i.am, who appeared from Australia via Skype hookup. "So if I'm on the run, I can look and say, give me the safest route home, give me the quickest route home, give me the scenic route home. Those types of tasks, and the gathering of all this GIS information, to the person wearing the maps, make them aware. We're changing our viewpoint on what a wearable is."
Dig into our slideshow for examples of how businesses put location analytics to creative uses. Then share your feedback in our comments section below.Michael S. Goldberg is an independent business and technology writer and editor based in Boston. He's led editorial teams at CIO, Computerworld, CSO, and Data Informed. View Full Bio