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Location, Location, Location 2

The three principles of real estate success also apply to data. Geospatial tools combined with databases and BI software deliver "location intelligence" so you can better position branch sites and distribution centers, as well as improved logistics and planning for transportation and service delivery.

Visualization

Although some data is best displayed in a table, in other cases a map is the most effective way to assimilate data and correlate the results spatially. Only a map can expose the inherent relationship between customers, real estate values and the risks associated with a specific geography, for instance. When Hurricane Andrew blew through Florida in August 1992, some insurance companies were exposed to huge liability losses. In the wake of $26 billion in damages, some companies pulled out of the state rather than assume the risk of future destructive hurricanes. And it doesn't stop with hurricanes. Crime, traffic congestion and disease are all risk elements that most companies need to be aware of.

To help companies understand how to amalgamate data and derive usable information from a variety of information sources, business intelligence solution providers often use dashboards to display data as charts and maps in a single view. IDV Solutions combined Microsoft's MapPoint technology with statistics from individual locations to report on prison offenses and facility utilization (see screen at top of page 38). This executive portal view gives managers a snapshot of current conditions — an improvement over trying to look through reams of paper reports.

Two-dimensional maps are common, but three dimensions are increasingly in demand. Planet 9 Studios and GeoSim Systems are two companies that have labored to integrate side-looking radar, aerial photography, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) imagery, and ground-based photographs to construct highly authentic three-dimensional models of urban environments. These models support a variety of applications in travel, tourism, in-vehicle navigation systems, TV news, gaming and entertainment. This kind of visualization will continue to pique the imagination of users and prompt even more applications, especially in areas such as real estate site selection, pipeline routing and right-of-way, and local government, where the majority of geospatial technology investments are made.

However, military intelligence agencies also use this type of realistic imagery effectively in security planning, blue force tracking (identification of "friendly forces") and warfare simulation. Geospatial intelligence, or "GEOINT," is one of several information sources used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in addition to the more common surveillance technologies such as signal intelligence and human intelligence, aka spying.

GeoEye, a company born of the merger between Orbimage and Space Imaging, will launch GeoEye 1 next year — with .41m resolution. Some say this level of spatial accuracy should raise security and privacy concerns. Matthew O'Connell, GeoEye's president, says, "We are monitoring the public pulse. We don't want to be supplying people pictures of our camps in Iraq right now. We have to be careful because we are not restricted from doing that, and people have a right to ask for it."

But the popularization of maps by Web mapping portals such as Microsoft's Live Local, Google Earth and MapQuest, in addition to consumer applications for vehicle navigation, have set the standard for commercial use. Executives expect the interface to data containing location references to be visually appealing. Maps with lines to represent roads or dots to represent customer locations just won't stimulate mass adoption. Location intelligence dashboards must assimilate not only the corporation's current sales or supply chain information but real-time data from traffic and weather, as well as predictive models that can project sales activity.

We have reached a tipping point, where location-based information is recognized for the strategic benefits to companies that use it well. And these new visualization tools could alter the way we perceive geography and its commercial potential. Whether you are looking for a place to build your next retail center or simply looking for an inventory of RFID-tagged Skippy Peanut Butter, location intelligence can provide significant competitive advantages to a new generation of geospatial sleuths.

Joe Francica is editor-in-chief and vice publisher of Directions Media. Write to him at [email protected]. some figures and quotations were used with permission of directions magazine.