Assess your geospatial capabilities to gain greater BI value.
Geospatial analytics are nothing new. Dr. John Snow, considered the father of epidemiology, is credited with the first use of geospatial analysis when, in 1854, he developed a map of the spreading cholera epidemic in London.
In an effort to determine the root of the epidemic, Snow mapped the location of cholera incidents in relation to various sites that were suspected causes, such as water pumps and workplaces. He discovered that those afflicted with cholera got their drinking water from a specific pump, while those not taken ill received their water elsewhere. His findings, via the analytic use of mapped data, helped prove the connection between water sources and the disease.
Sense of place
Flash forward more than 150 years. The widespread adoption of GPS-enabled mobile phones and other products, along with the general availability of geospatial analytical tools, offers organizations the opportunity to glean information from enormous amounts of geospatial data:
- Events or point patterns expressed through occurrences identified as points in space. Examples are crime spots, nodes on a distribution or transportation network, and location of customer residences in relative position to competitors.
- Continuous surfaces estimated from a set of field samples and regularly or irregularly distributed. The type of data results from surveys of geological, topographical and ecological resources.
- Areas with counts and aggregated rates, including data from population surveys, such as census and health statistics, that refer to individuals situated in specific spatial points. These are aggregated and delimited by closed polygons that can be tailored to evaluate a particular business opportunity, such as comparing the locations of a store, its shoppers and its competitors.
Standard relational database management systems that include spatial SQL now perform an analysis that explicitly considers spatial relationships present in data. Before spatial queries are developed and formally tested by SQL, they are usually preceded by an exploratory analysis that includes a visual examination of the data in the form of graphs and maps, followed by discussions of spatial patterns.
Geospatial techniques have significantly developed since Snow’s analysis. What has not changed is the first law of geography: While all things are related, near things are more related than distant things. Building geospatial analytical capabilities—with a proven approach that also provides immediate business benefits—is a sound way to understand those relationships and the opportunities they create.
A proven approach
To develop a long-term vision for their geospatial initiatives, successful organizations use best practices to align business and technology. Without this vision, businesses often revert to a “define it as you go” approach in which they build a solution without first knowing where they are headed. The initial release of a geospatial solution might be successful, but design decisions will make it difficult down the road to support new and evolving requirements, often resulting in costly rework.
Businesses considering their geospatial analytical capabilities need to evaluate their existing portfolio of tools and techniques and develop a strategy that provides for their orderly and cost-effective optimization and improvement as required. The insight and knowledge of experienced experts will enable companies to gain a thoughtful assessment of their geospatial solution.
Establishing itself as a leader among geospatial consulting firms is HARKENDATA. Not only can it solve the most complex geospatial challenges but it also provides business intelligence (BI) and geospatial services to clients in the Americas. HARKENDATA’s capabilities leverage Teradata Database functionality and are optimized via collaboration with Teradata solution architects and technical leads to develop an integrated geospatial solution. The organization’s extensive experience working with the most popular geospatial tools enables its consultants to assist with assessing and developing geospatial analytical capabilities. This allows its clients to exploit geospatial technology, all while delivering a fully functional system on time and on budget. The assessment comprises five key activities:
1. Information-needs assessment
Articulating the business uses of geospatial data is fundamental to a company’s success at location intelligence. A documented model is used to chart how the geospatial value chain can improve a company by linking its business objectives with decisions, decisions with questions, and questions with the geospatial data required for analysis.
2. Existing systems analysis
After the information needs assessment, organizations must review their existing systems to understand the level of effort required to complete three critical tasks:
- The Geocode data
- Perform comparisons
- Distribute analytic results
Latitude and longitude coordinates must be assigned to business locations to make geospatial analytics functional. Geocoding entails either subscribing to an outsourcing service such as NAVTEQ or Tele Atlas or purchasing an application for internal use. Each service maintains a worldwide database of addresses with latitude, longitude and geospatial features. Additionally, most address-cleansing tools, like those from Informatica or Trillium that exist as part of extract, transform and load (ETL) functions, can match coordinates to addresses maintained in the organization’s database.
Comparisons can now be performed with most relational databases that have adopted spatial SQL standards. Furthermore, many conventional BI providers offer the capability to accept the results of geospatial analytics, as well as invoke the services of your spatial SQL-enabled relational database.
3. Geospatial workshop
To validate and refine your geospatial business requirements, a workshop is offered that includes a broad group of units within your organization. Using the information model in a top-down approach, the workshop’s goal is to define and build upon the relationships between current geospatial capabilities and business applications. The solicited feedback and commentary help clarify the organization’s expectations as to how businesspeople will use this information in day-to-day decision making.
4. Tool evaluation
While a geospatial systems analysis reveals potential gaps between your organization’s current capabilities and its information needs, a tool evaluation will help fill those gaps. Based on communications with IT personnel, decision makers and relevant business units that perform geospatial analysis, a scorecard is prepared that ranks tools according to features and functions, analyzes them, and recommends the best tool among them.
5. Geospatial assessment
When conducting your assessment, think strategically but act tactically. Strategic thinking involves adopting a vision of how geospatial information will enable your organization and how the resulting analytics will support its business needs for long-term growth. Acting tactically translates this vision into a set of value-based projects with clear dependencies and checkpoints for measuring the success of a specific initiative. The assessment uses the results from the geospatial workshop and applies strategic thinking and tactical action to produce four key items:
- The Conceptual view describes a vision for the solution based on the business requirements identified during the geospatial workshop.
- Data architecture identifies in your database the sources of data needed for geospatial analysis and describes how those sources must be transformed, or geocoded.
- Technical architecture shows where software such as geocoding, geospatial ETL and analytical tools fit into the architecture. It identifies the high-level information flow among all architectural components and recommends vendors that are best able to supply products, if any are required.
- Implementation view uses a roadmap to establish geospatial capabilities over time as a series of manageable projects, each one of which returns value to the business. It proposes a phased implementation based on the priorities identified during the geospatial workshop. The proposed sequence focuses on maximizing business value while minimizing project risk.
Developing geospatial analytical capabilities is crucial to an organization’s competitive strength. No longer can a business settle for answers to “When?” “How?” and “How quickly?” The focus should also include “Where?” To get these answers, companies must apply a tested, repeatable approach to geospatial analysis that will deliver greater business value.
Photo illustration by Randall Nelson