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Courtesy of SpotOn Labs: Heat Maps in IBM Cognos BI

Posted by Dave Kerr on Tue, Nov 29, 2011

I was on a call last week, planning some activities around a location intelligence demo for an organization that needs to analyze its business data on a map. Their requirements specifically called for data displayed in "heat map" format, which, if you're a SpotOn Vantage Maps user, you'll know has not been supported.

Until now.

One of the attendees on the call asked:

"How are you (SpotOn) going to handle that heat map requirement?"

I was very happy to be able to answer (somewhat glibly, I admit):

"I think we'll just drag a heat map into the report."

For a long time now, SpotOn has delivered out-of-the-box capabilities to symbolize important business data as points on a map and/or as thematically shaded regions, directly within IBM Cognos BI dashboards:

vantage thematic shading  vantage points on map
Thematically Shaded Regions Points on a Map

Of course, these simple screen captures don't at all convey the power of dynamic maps in reports, shown here in isolation from both the BI report objects they're used to analyze and the built-in spatial query tools that enable such analytics. Check out our demos if you'd like to see these and others in action.

When it comes to maps in BI, one of the most asked for features over the past several months has been the heat map. Now, there are multiple visualizations commonly referred to as "heat maps". Rectangles that are thematically colored, scaled, and ordered based on a set of measures, for example, is one particular kind of "heat map".

From a location analytics point of view (and with apologies to anyone looking for colored rectangles), our heat map shows measure density on a map, indicating very clearly and quickly where things are concentrated. For example, let's have a look at a customer sales heat map for the USA. As you'd expect, customers and sales are concentrated in densely populated regions:

vantage heat map Heat maps are a great way to see where key business drivers (customers, outlets, sales reps, suppliers, partners... whatever!) are concentrated. Heat maps like this can easily be overlaid onto the other layer types (points and regions) shown above, directly in an IBM Cognos BI report with related business charts, lists, and crosstabs. You can even overlay multiple heat maps one on top of the other, and adjust the transparency to see intersecting regions of interest, all driven by key business measures.

The best news of all: just like all of the integration into IBM Cognos BI, you add a heat map based on any measure with just a few simple clicks. These heat maps, together with some of the other advanced new features we've introduced recently, bring SpotOn Vantage Maps to a whole new level when it comes to location analytics.

 - dk

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Location intelligence springs naturally from the logical question

Posted by Dave Kerr on Tue, Nov 22, 2011

Think about the last time you got good or bad news about something that happened relating to your business or organizational performance. It may have been a spike in sales, or a pronounced and unanticipated dip in those sales. It may have been a big deal that closed, or some kind of catastrophic event that affected your organization in a profound way. Perhaps it was a wildly successful marketing campaign.

Regardless of the actual transaction or event, as a manager or information worker, what's the first question that pops into your mind when someone tells you something like:

  • "we just closed the biggest sale of the year..."
  • "revenue is really down, and looks like it's going to get worse..."
  • "our biggest competitor just announced they're opening a huge new branch..."
  • "the sales organization as a whole has spent way more money than we budgeted..."

If you're like most of us, the very first thing that springs to your mind is: "where?".

Where did the huge sale happen? You need that context before you can begin to understand why it happened, who and what was involved, and think about ways to replicate your success.

Where specifically is revenue up or down? Only when you know that answer can you even begin to address the other key questions like why is it down, at what point in time did it start to decline, and what should be done about it. When you answer those questions, you can take action to turn things in the direction you want them to move, but it starts with "where".

Where that competitor branch pops up will potentially impact you if it's near a location in which you either already have a presence or are planning to develop one. 

The "where" of performance management in any business or organization frames understanding. Without it, there is virtually no basis to make informed decisions.

Which of these tell the story quickest?
 Performance by Map Performance without Map 

Now of course there are a lot of ways to identify "where", but nothing like a map. Lists of numbers alongside of States and ZIP codes do not "pop" information the way that a well symbolized map can, instantly. Lists of retail outlets and sales say far less than those same outlets, shown as symbolized points on a map. And when the map is linked to a wealth of other BI data, you can analyze and answer those other questions (Who? Why? When? What?) in the context of where. You have location intelligence.

And it all starts by asking the most logical of questions.

 - dk

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An IBM ISV Achievement Award for SpotOn makes three...

Posted by Dave Kerr on Thu, Nov 03, 2011

In the better late than never category, I'm finally getting around to sharing impressions from from the Esri booth at last week's IBM IOD event in Las Vegas.

Overall it was an incredible event for us, and we sincerely hope it was the same for the many who dropped by our booth. The conference fell hot on the heels of Esri's announcement concerning the acquisition of SpotOn, so naturally many who stopped by to see us were curious about that. It was extremely gratifying to experience the overwhelmingly positive response from our customers about this announcement. Without exception, the many SpotOn customers who stopped by were very excited about the prospects of a continued and strengthened relationship with Esri.

SpotOn wins IBM ISV Achievement Award at IOD 2011The other big news for us at the conference was the winning of not one but two awards, both of which were on prominent display. First, SpotOn won an ISV Achievement Award, which means we'll need an expanded award case as we add this to the 2009 Global ISV Technology Partner of the Year award and the 2009 IBM CTO Innovation Award. Second, Esri won a Global Technology Alliance Excellence Award.

The other very interesting thing I noted was the sheer volume of business analysts and managers who are beginning to think about spatial analysis and location intelligence. A lot of people who dropped by are actively seeking it. They watched our demonstrations of Esri maps integrated with IBM Cognos BI, and stood by saying things like "oh wow... oh wow...". One attendee actually stopped me in mid-demo, stating "OK - you've sold me. Just tell me how much it costs." It's kind of a "you have to see it to believe it" thing. But once anyone accustomed to seeing data in an IBM Cognos report sees the information to be gleaned by adding powerful map integration, it's a real eye opener. After all, location is one of the foundational dimensions in any BI application. By the way, almost all of the demos that we showed at IOD are now posted on our Web site, accessible from the product demos page.

On a personal note, it was absolutely fantastic for me to see firsthand some of the work our customers have done with SpotOn Vantage Maps. I'm generally sequestered away up here in Ottawa, and while I work with many prospects and customers, I very rarely get to see the end result of their work or their looks of satisfaction as they demonstrate back to us in front of their managers and peers.

Feel free to chime in and share your impressions of the conference.

Until next time,

 - dk

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SpotOn Acquired by Esri - Focus on Location Analytics

Posted by Chris Ovens on Sat, Oct 22, 2011

In case you missed it this week, Esri announced the acquistion of SpotOn Systems.  I wanted to share my thoughts on this news; what it means for our customers, the SpotOn team, and the Geographic BI / Location Analytics journey we've been on.

Short version of the story: this is fantastic news on all fronts.  As everyone knows, I don't tend to tell short stories...

One of our great customers actually published the letter we sent them on the acquistion.  For our mapping customers, this acquisition is fantastic news.  The Esri investment is a signal that the leader in mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is very serious about the spatial-enablement of IBM Cognos business intelligence.  To this end, there will be immediate investment in the Vantage technology.  Purchasing will become easier - less moving pieces; and the technical and support depth just increased dramatically.  All very imporant considerations.

To the SpotOn team, this is a tremendous validation of the solution that they developed and built, marketed and sold.  And along with working with the best and the brightest in the GIS space, the team seems to be very excited about adding personnel and equipment - it seems their old GM was a bit of a "scrooge"... 

I've been getting a lot of the "so what are you going to do now?" questions. For the past three years our mission has been to map-enable BI reports for IBM Cognos customers.  Rather than this being a handing off of the torch, this move is a "doubling down" of the mandate.  The SpotOn team will form the core of a Location Analytics group within Esri.  The mutual expectation is that we will see dramatically accelerated success, with more and more IBM Cognos customers seeking to address the "missing analytic".

Let me know what yout think, or if you have any questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.


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The Secret Sauce of GBI Report Authoring for IBM Cognos

Posted by Dave Kerr on Fri, Sep 30, 2011

GBI-1: Authoring Map-Enabled ReportsWe conducted a webinar yesterday, all about authoring map-enabled reports in IBM Cognos BI. This was the third installment in our weekly GBI-1 webinar series and one on which we have received a lot of positive feedback from several who attended.

As I watched the webinar recording we posted on our web site, and in fact during the event itself, I noted something that I believe makes SpotOn's offering pretty unique among geospatial BI vendors.

That something is: it took me about the same amount of time to show how to use the powerful features of the session's map-enabled report as it did to create it.

In less than 15 minutes, I took a basic BI report, and enhanced it with a map that provided a rich visualization of (in this particular case) key insurance measures like sales revenue, claims, and TIV (Total Insured Value). Think about that: less than 15 minutes to build a report that brings entire new avenues of analysis to the fingertips of business analysts, users, managers, and executives.

It's what I often refer to as the "secret sauce" of SpotOn Vantage Maps. Not only can we show you GBI reports and the value they deliver, but we can also show you the absolutely minimal effort required to build them.

More sauce, anyone?

 - dk

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Powerful New GBI features in SpotOn Vantage Maps

Posted by Dave Kerr on Tue, Sep 20, 2011

So I conducted a Webinar mid-last-week, the first installment of our GBI-1 Webinar Series, about the powerful combination of Esri Map Server shapes with IBM Cognos BI reports.

Not to recap the whole thing (the posted webinar recording is here), I proposed in the session that when it comes to getting started with geospatial business intelligence, incorporating maps thematically shaded regions into IBM Cognos BI reports is the most logical place to start, because:

  • every BI user knows that their application has a "region" dimension somewhere (region being one of two immutable dimensions)
  • customer data records (or data records for constituents, or partners, or sales outlets, or... well, you get the picture...) may not have latitude and longitude information, but they do include attributes like ZIP, State, County, Area Code, and so on that are just begging to be joined to map layers for analysis.

The demonstration I presented in the Webinar provided a great opportunity to show off the cool new features I want to talk about. One of the main new features enables Vantage Maps users to query data in specific map service layers, and then apply results from that query directly as input to the BI data in the report.

I can almost hear everyone out there say: "Huh? What the heck does that mean?"

It means that custom shapes and points rendered in map service layers (containing valuable "geodata", like weather forecast information, elevation data, ecological data, demographics, and so much more...) can be queried simply and easily, with the results of that query subsequently fed into to a BI data query to update a report.

Still not crystal clear? How about an example:

  • the US Geological Survey publishes a map service that includes hazards of various types (hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, floods, and so on). Thinking about the recent wildfires in Texas, with our new capability, I can now answer the question: How many insured customers do we have in a 50 mile radius of all wild fires bigger than 1500 acres, in Texas? The answer looks like this:

SpotOn Vantage Maps Map Layer Query Filter
The same kinds of truly spatial queries, for spatial attributes and events like extreme weather, earthquakes, elevation, and so on can easily be tied directly to IBM Cognos BI queries and associated report objects.

For business, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Imagine being a marketing analyst, and being able to query a map to isolate neighborhoods where the average age is in a specific range, the average household income is in your target prospect sweet spot, and conduct a surgically targeted marketing campaign to just the right people.

These are only a couple of the great new features in SpotOn Vantage Maps. You can see more if you sign up for our GBI-1 Webinar series, next on-air this coming Thursday, the 22nd of September.

 - dk

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Not all BI Dimensions are Created Equal

Posted by Dave Kerr on Thu, Aug 25, 2011

In the time I've been involved in business intelligence, and more recently in GIS and spatial analytics, I've both read and written a lot about "business dimensions". You know, those aspects of the business that underpin analytics and OLAP-driven data exploration. They let business managers answer those niggly little questions, like "where are we most profitable?" or "which projects or divisions have blown the budget with the most reckless abandon?". From there, they can start to investigate "why" by "slicing and dicing" data across business dimensions, like department, product line, cost center, and so on.

But not all business dimensions are created equal. What are the two most critical, most central and fundamental business dimensions?

They are Location and Time.

Think about it. We live in something called a "Space-Time" continuum. Everything in business happens at a specific place and time. These dimensions are fundamental to everything else, and oddly in most cases are somewhat taken for granted.

You can re-org your departments, you can juggle your product lines, you can cleverly allocate marketing budget. But aside from deciding when and where you're going to make things happen, you cannot actually change the location or time dimension. Events still happen today, this week, last week, last year, in whatever cities, states, and countries you choose as target markets.

I mentioned earlier that these dimensions are too often overlooked. I meant by that they're mostly treated just like other more "subjective" dimensions, and I say it because many BI vendors have not paid the attention to these two dimensions that they should or could.

This is especially true of the region or location dimension. There are tools out there that do some pretty neat and useful things with respect to time -- like automatically generating relative time periods (week-over week, year-over-year, and so on) for analysis, or "playing" an animated business measure trend over time. But only fairly recently have spatial concepts like 'location intelligence" started to bubble up into the day-to-day vocabulary of business analysts and BI vendors.

That's a huge part of the reason why, when our customers see their data plotted by region (and/or point) on a map, with intuitive built-in exploration capabilities, they often just can't believe what they're seeing. Typical reactions:

"Why don't we have this now?"

"When can we get this?"

Bringing total clarity to one of two fundamental business dimensions instantly unlocks a lot of the inhibitors to real, fruitful data exploration and analysis. And when you augment the visual clarity of maps with the time dimension that exists in every data warehouse, it's pretty much a slam-dunk. You see what's happening, where, and can instantly filter the view to visualize it for any other business dimension. Or even bring in predictive analytics to see what might happen regionally if you adjust programs, products, resources, and so on.

The Location and Time dimensions. Get your business managers to analyze and understand those, and the rest will follow.

 - dk

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GIS & BI: Art & Science in Business Decisions

Posted by Dave Kerr on Wed, Aug 17, 2011

I read an interesting article from Directions Magazine today about the relative complexity of modeling certain things to make decisions. The article is interesting in that it states pretty clearly what most of us know about computers and models for decision making: they're pretty reliable... until things get complex to the point where there are no clear boundaries or frameworks for decisions to be made "algorithmically".

The article states that to a large extent, business decisions (in this case, about retail store placement and performance) combine aspects of both art and science. The computer does the grunt computation based on the underlying model (science), while the business user takes what the computer provides and makes the final decision, based on experience and knowledge (art). 

To a large extent, I believe that's what integrating the visual component of maps into BI data enables. It brings to the business user's fingertips all of the carefully modeled, massaged, and tabulated business data that would take a human ages to synthesize. It shows that data as information within in a known physical context where, correlated with spatial influencers (which again, are not easily synthesized except with a map). This information, combined with experience and  sound judgement helps ensure the best decision is made.

There may come a day when Watson's descendants can actually make business decisions (and I have reservations about that, but those belong in another blog). Until then, making information real and easy to consume for those responsible elevates both the art & science of decision making.  

- dk

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Real Deal Geospatial Business Intelligence

Posted by Dave Kerr on Mon, Aug 08, 2011

Recently we've been talking a lot about how busy we are, connecting IBM Cognos BI and Esri maps and GIS in organizations just starting to realize the benefits of spatial analysis on their BI data. Those benefits can't be overstated, and so our busy schedule just keeps getting busier. It's one of the reasons the blog here has been a little quieter than usual of late.

But I have to share something from an event that happened last week. We'd built a custom demonstration for a very large organization in the US northeast. The actual requirements for this little proof of concept were laid out very clearly, involving spatial analysis of customer data and associated financials together with analytics based on some underlying geographical influencers. We met the stated requirements all squarely and in fact went beyond them in some key areas.

I helped build this little demonstration, but was not present for our actual presentation & demo, which reportedly was very well received. In fact, in a follow up conference call, one of the senior technical IT people from this company described to me his reaction to what he'd seen. After the demo he said to his boss:

"Did we just see what I think we saw?"

He was having a hard time believing that the response we'd put together (in just a couple of days, by the way) was entirely "out of the box", and was wondering just how much custom coding it had required. In fact, that question was the main reason for our follow-up conference call. They wanted to know exactly that: what had we done in terms of custom coding/extensions to meet their requirements.

So you can imagine how great it felt to tell him all about our approach: we had delivered a one hundred percent out-of-the-box, zero-coding solution to all of their stated business requirements. Not one line of code was used to integrate Esri map services into several key dashboards, in some amazingly effective ways.

We're getting used to this kind of reaction.

 - dk

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“I have observations too…” CO’s Quick Takes on Esri UC ‘11

Posted by Chris Ovens on Thu, Aug 04, 2011

If you haven’t yet, check out Dave’s Trilogy of Observations on the 2011 Esri User Conference (#2, #3).  This was my fourth year attending, and it still astounds me to be surrounded by 15,000 attendees that live and breath GIS.

Here are some quick hitters on things I saw, heard, and discussed:

“Maps are the language”

I’ve heard this message consistently from Esri at the last couple of events.  I’ve heard it said in meetings as well as on UC Main Stage by Mr. Dangermond himself.   What this statement is meant to convey is maps are the medium by which information comes alive.   Spatial presentation of data can impart incredible insight and user impact.  Heck, check out our demos before you disagree.  ;-)

This is also a very interesting statement in the context of the intersection point between BI and GIS systems.  There is an implicit understanding of the value of the “language of maps” in the BI community - largely without knowledge about GIS solutions.  As a result, we have seen significant activity with Cognos BI groups seeking to integrate consumer mapping solutions.

“BI is the route to mainstream”

During the Esri Business Summit, there was a very good panel discussion on the use GIS in business, with representatives from Starbucks, MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services LLC, and Edward Jones.  In responding to an audience question about the value and impact of  the GIS capabilities provided to their organizations, the representative from Starbucks stated that they were providing a great service to one group in Starbucks.  Their objective was to have the BI department adopt their work and take it broadly throughout the organization.  I was spinning in my seat looking to see if others had heard the same thing I  had – I’m pretty sure I remember hearing the words, “take GIS mainstream”.  I like that idea a lot!

All in all, another great event.  Thanks Esri!


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