What’s the real value of combining business intelligence (BI) and geospatial information services (GIS)?
The vast majority of customers who come to us already know the answer (and that’s why they come knocking on the door), but for those who don’t know the answer we start having that ever-popular ROI discussion (return on investment).
Our ROI discussions are not strictly about the value of BI reports. Nor are they just about the value of maps.
The discussions are about getting users to actually use the reports and maps that are given to them. The result, and inherent ROI, is increased user adoption of all that expensive technology. Oh yeah, and the users make better business decisions too.
How much better are their business decisions?
The New York Times recently reported that researchers are finally quantifying how much better data driven decisions are.
The end figure is 5 to 6%. Those who use data to make decisions increase output and productivity by 5 to 6%. In an organization with only 500 people using BI effectively, this could add up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 business days worth of additional bandwidth and productivity... every single working day.
Imagine the potential results if business users could actually use the full range of software tools effectively.
If you read my earlier post about slowly changing BI, you know I believe that the time is right for integrating maps into business intelligence.
This is something we at SpotOn have known for quite some time, and is in fact the reason SpotOn Vantage Maps came into existence. We saw two distinct enterprise solutions, often targeted at the same industries, with little or no integration or synergy. So we changed that.
It's refreshing to see that we're not alone in our assessment of where this is all going. We've always known that the BI aspect of Geospatial Business Intelligence (GBI) was critical. So it was nice to see some affirmation, from the ARC Advisory Group, in the form of an article entitled GIS: An Enterprise Software Market in Transition.
In this article Clint Reiser, an Analyst at ARC Advisory Group whose areas of expertise include GIS, asserts that the GIS market is evolving to more of a supporting role with respect to other enterprise software solutions. He asserts:
"If the current trends continue, pure-play GIS will take on the role of a supporting technology within a broader set of solutions that are focused on a well-defined customer segment."
We tend to agree.
It's been a guiding principle behind the design of SpotOn Vantage Maps, and more recently of SpotOn Vantage Maps Starter Kit for IBM Cognos. After all, BI has been top-of mind for CIOs (according to Gartner) for many years now, and is well into production in many well-defined customer segments. It's only natural that enterprise GIS should start adding value to those thousands of BI applications as only enterprise GIS can.
I just wrapped up attending a two-day commercial summit that ESRI hosted for its current and potential business partners. The objective of the summit was to arm partners with the knowledge and capabilities to go after the for profit business sector. Makes perfect sense. The event was well put together and provided the attendees with ample potential opportunities in a myriad of directions.
As a "lowly BI guy" in the room, I had my head spinning as incredible geo-spatial capabilities were showcased that would provide invaluable information business insight across various industries. I think I'm starting to understand why GIS folks are so passionate about their solutions. However something was gnawing in the back of my mind; why would companies utilizing these capabilities need BI? Demo after demo, we were shown staggeringly powerful capabilities that delivered all the information anybody could ask for. Why was I in the room? Who in their right mind would want my crosstab - let alone my simple list...
But then in started to don on me; almost every demonstration started with the desktop power-tools. Jokes were made during presentations about "chained up GIS developer in the dungeon". Even when presenting the web-based server tools, the thrust of the presentation was on the analytical capabilities. There are a ton of potential buttons to press and levers to pull. I was starting to formulate a theory...
And then were uttered, in the final session of the final day of the summit, words that reinforced my growing suspicion; "it's all about getting this information beyond the analysts....". The thrust of point was not about leveraging BI solutions like IBM Cognos, but about building web application to present mapping capabilities.
Aha!!! I'll do you one better than your custom web apps. How about we deliver the spatial capabilities with the same vehicle used to disseminate the rest of your business information. What if we use the enterprise BI security model to control access to your maps. Maybe we augment the map with a layer or two based on the BI data. Heck, let's get the whole thing working together with interactive capabilities allowing the user to click on the map and affect the tabular view - or use the map or a report prompt control.
It's not the sexy side of the information game, but the key "so what?" about BI solutions for GIS capabilities could very well be the administration and dissemination capabilities. On the flip side, even a simple interactive map in a report gets your average BI guy into a tizzy - very sexy! This simple map also seems to cause disdain and scorn from GIS folks, "that's just dots on a map".
Fine by me, will focus on mapping capabilities for the "low brow" BI masses. We'll leave you to your power-tooled enable dungeons!
I'm thinking they are. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days at the 2008 ESRI International User Conference down in San Diego.
Being a veteran BI guy, I'm fairly familiar with the Business Intelligence circuit; TDWI, Gartner, Computer World, and several Cognos Forums (on both sides of the stage). I've found that the attitudes are generally fairly upbeat and positive. Attendees are proponents of BI solutions, the value of these solutions, and the importance of BI in organizations as a foundation for performance management. The BI folks - if you can characterize this broadly, which might be a stretch - are also realists, and will speak of opportunities just out of their solutions reach. I have also seen beaten down individuals who are suffering due to the unfulfilled promise of BI expectations.
Then I went to San Diego...
I was absolutely stunned at the passion attendees displayed for GIS applications; and the eagerness to push the envelope with organizations' GIS deployments. I get that every data point has a location, but holy cow! Truth be told, there was some spectacularly stunning displays of technology.
So is the GIS Analyst some part of a fanatical cult? Let's look for clues... Attendees in San Diego: 14,500. Want to see where they came from? Check the map. Click around a bit if you want. Although ESRI is a private company, my understanding is that it was roughly in the same revenue ballpark as Cognos. ESRI Conference attendees outnumbered this year's Forum attendees by a factor of nearly 4! This blew me away.
One last tidbit; I was sitting in on a demo. The presenter was speaking about a multi-dimentional GIS connector, and proceeded to poll the audience on their familiarity with OLAP. I looked around the room and noticed there was only one hand up - mine... Everybody was looking at me like I was the freak! If they only knew...