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Location Analytics + Maps: 10 Eureka Moments

Multiple data sources combined with geographic information (GIS) technology can provide a new level of business insight. Ask smart questions and see where the data takes you.
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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, 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, 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

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User Rank: Moderator
7/25/2014 | 8:58:39 AM
Re: SmartScan
@fourcornerstone It sounds like a useful tool. Location analytics tools seem ideal for crisis management and companies. Understanding and delivering the right data for these areas is important.
User Rank: Author
7/24/2014 | 5:01:26 AM
SmartScan for me is what it is: a very smart move. It somehow minimizes the "noise" that often comes with big data, making it easier for enterprises to handle collected and stored information. But then it also reminds me of another comment, wherein data collection should not be so choosy as "unlabeled" data may prove to be useful later on. 
User Rank: Moderator
7/23/2014 | 7:04:30 PM
Re: Crime stats
Location Analytics tools are excellent in providing the right data and stats. With the right tools, this data can save lives and better assist in the navigation end. It's good to see tools and analytics evolving to other sectors are areas such as disaster preparedness in which weather and street maps are crucial.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/23/2014 | 9:39:54 AM
Store-location nuances are complex
I've talked to specialists in scoping out potential new retail store locations, and it requires very sophisticated analysis. Not only do analysts look at local economic and demographic information and how many potential customers are within X miles of the new location, they have to consider the potential impact on existing locations. It gets down to the level of looking at whether it's a left turn or right turn into parking lot, which can make a big difference in how willing customers are to visit a store.
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2014 | 7:43:20 AM
Crime stats
I know that it's good information to have but it does make me wonder how much you can do with those 4 year crime statistics.   I know you can increase police presence at least for a short time but what if budgets don't allow for long term changes?  Do many of the crimes committed just shift locations in the case of increased police presence?  How far will a city go to reduce crime in a specific area if it means that crime increase in a neighboring area?
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