Two weeks before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Mississippi's Department of Human Services was wrapping up training classes for an application that promised to detect food stamp fraud.
Once the hurricane hit, state officials moved quickly to use the software, which marries business intelligence tools and geographic information systems (GIS) software, to help ensure that aid monies weren't wasted or stolen in the 15 coastal counties targeted for additional food stamp benefits.
Mississippi officials last week said that they plan to make the location-based BI application available to all state agencies so it can be adapted for a variety of uses, such as tracking foster children and Medicaid recipients.
Bud Douglas, chief systems officer in Mississippi's Department of Human Services, said the application uses WebFocus reporting tools from Information Builders Inc., adapters from IBI's iWay Software unit, and GIS tools from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) to display BI data in maps.
The interface for the system was created by developers in the state of Louisiana's IT operation, which also uses the application.
For the original application, the WebFocus tool is used to generate reports detailing what recipients are buying with food stamps. The GIS maps can pinpoint the locations of 1.2 million daily food stamp transactions and highlight suspicious behavior, Douglas said.
Next, the state hopes to build a GIS map for all state agencies to map the residences of all potential clients, Douglas noted. For example, the application would map the locations of the state's elderly and special needs populations to help in evacuation planning for a future disaster, he said.
The Red Cross used software from ESRI and Business Objects to create this map of shelters set up after Hurricane Katrina.
Mississippi's state government is but one operation using a combination of BI and GIS tools for hurricane planning and recovery efforts.
The American Red Cross used such tools to prepare for Hurricane Wilma, projected to hit Florida over the weekend.
During and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Red Cross relied heavily on location-based BI for purposes such as deciding where to send relief supplies and set up service centers, said Greg Tune, lead program manager for disaster assessment and GIS at the Red Cross in Washington.
The relief organization uses Web-based query and reporting tools from Business Objects SA to extract data from its data warehouse and GIS tools from ESRI to generate maps based on that data, he explained.
The use of location-based BI should grow, said Wayne Eckerson, director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute in Seattle. People will increasingly turn to technology that geographically displays data not only for relief efforts but also for commercial purposes, such as identifying potential customers or breaking down sales by region, he said.