How Business Intelligence and GIS are becoming more integrated.
Most people may think of geographic information systems (GIS) simply as Google maps or the navigation system for their car, but GIS tools do a lot more than help people get from A to B. Businesses are adding a spatial dimension to data to help make critical decisions in this tough economy.
We recently interviewed Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie to find out more about this topic and why Yellowfin Business Intelligence with spatial data is so much more than just Google Maps.
Q. How does GIS integrated with BI differ from the traditional GIS approach?
A. A typical spatial specialists approach to GIS data is that it is about land use – and the optimisation of that – where to put that next store. Well on the one hand that is true and there is a place for stand-alone GIS apps to do just that, but the power of GIS is far greater. Land use changes – where you put a store or a branch today may not be that ideal in 5 years time – however what action can you take based upon your now relatively fixed network. How do you market to the changing landscape of customers and attract them to your store, how do you optimise the distribution channel that you have, how do you accurately compare one stores performance with another based on customer catchment segment analysis not necessarily proximity (still a spatial question believe it or not). This is the greater reality of GIS data and the massive potential it has for improving business performance.
Q. What are some of the newer and more innovative ways in which businesses are using GIS data beyond traditional niches?
A. When you think of GIS traditionally you think of government and urban planning. The major application in the private sector to date has been logistics. However, this is changing. One of the key uses of GIS is store/branch/dealer location. A great partner of ours eSite does just that – but there is a whole lot more. The most compelling is the use of spatial data for optimising marketing campaigns. Understanding the demographics of your desired customer and where they are located is critical if you want to maximise the return on your marketing dollar. Its not just about being able to target them but also understanding what the likely-hood of them accessing your channel is – especially if it is a bricks and mortar channel. What’s the drive time? etc.
Jet Interactive a partner of ours has a fantastic use of Yellowfin spatial. They use the spatial analytic capability of Yellowfin to provide 0800, 1300 call information. By tracking incoming calls Jet Interactive can overlay not the location of the call but all the demographic breakdown of the locations population. This is a highly valuable service to their customers who can now accurately measure the effectiveness of response rates to phone campaigns from a spatial perspective.
Q. How is GIS being integrated with traditional business Intelligence?
A.It is already happening with Yellowfin Spatial. This is location intelligence as simply another facet of our core application and designed for an Enterprise platform independent stack. It can access spatial data from a variety databases and provides map reports either through its dashboard interface or as a web service. These maps services allow developers to embed these maps into things like SharePoint or any other application. This approach is different than traditional GIS. It’s really mapping for the whole enterprise.
Q. You started out in as pure play BI presentation. Why did you get into GIS and when did you make the leap?
A. I did a little bit of urban planning whilst at University – dabbling really but I got a taste of how communities are formed and interact. Later I worked for a major bank in the BI space. We developed an impressive data warehouse but little focus was placed on the spatial side of BI. This was left to a separate department that concentrated on branch network optimisation –I did a little work with them and became fascinated by why some branches were more successful than others. Such a large part had to do with geography yet this information was never integrated into a manager’s view of branch performance. However, what really got to me was that organisations have whole departments that specialise in Geo Spatial business questions and yet these departments are rarely integrated into their general Business Intelligence and this I see as a major gap. I came to fundamentally believe that along with time – spatial data is a common and highly relevant dimension for any business.
So in the context of Yellowfin, I got really excited when in the last couple of years we had clients coming to us who really understood the interaction between BI and spatial data, and wanted to see their spatial data integrated into Yellowfin. It was with working with these customers that we really decided to take the plunge and develop our own native GIS functionality within Yellowfin to ensure its tight fit into BI. 4.0 was the first iteration of this – and not a bad start really. But with 4.1 it has really come into its own.
Q. So what are the main GIS enhancements in 4.1 and what does this mean for Yellowfin’s customers?
A. With 4.0 we enabled querying and rendering of spatial data types for Oracle and MySQL in 4.1 we have extended this to SQL Server 2008 and other databases. However – the really big breakthrough in this release was the ability to leverage Web Map Servers (WMS) for rendering spatial data. This allows us to connect to any GIS application that uses the WMS open standard for map delivery. This combined with the ability for users to build map layers – which can be turned on or off at run time– means that users have a huge amount of flexibility to built and view spatial analysis with an incredibly easy to use interface.
Q. You mentioned that there are big pay-offs for analysis with GIS. Does GIS belong integrated into core systems and applications such as CRM and ERP apps?
A. I think that just like BI and its GIS counterpart these are not core systems and are better integrated into application. Yellowfin specialises in providing an embeddable BI tool for software vendors. Our solution is easy to integrate and designed to support developers as well as end-users by allowing application vendors to rapidly bring spatial analysis to their customer base.
Q. The embedded mapping capabilities on websites often come from Google and Microsoft etc. What is Yellowfin’s niche?
A. Microsoft and Google are very much consumer-focused. They look at mapping as one more aspect of search. What they have done is pump prime the need for GIS applications. However, their technology is more geared towards fast visualisation access; it’s not a GIS system.
Yellowfin does not focus on the consumer – our target is the business user. Whilst we do use Google as a content provider for some of our maps we enable business users to actually build the content that can be visualised or analysed on the web. Analysis is where the big pay-offs on GIS arise, and this is where Yellowfin excels with its fully integrated Business and Spatial Intelligence solution.