Putting the 'where' into your analytics

Geographic information can be the missing piece in the business intelligence puzzle.

At EDENS, a developer, owner and operator of community shopping centers on the East Coast, blending geographic information systems (GIS) and business analytics has enabled a competitive advantage in a fast-paced, crowded market.

The Columbia, S.C.-based company coupled Microsoft SQL Server with Esri's ArcGIS Server and Spatial Database Engine (SDE) to display and analyze its current portfolio of more than a hundred properties and 4,000 other relevant shopping center property locations. EDENS' GIS director, David Beitz, integrates demographic data such as average household income, competition and traffic counts with select map criteria to paint a clear picture for both internal teams and leasing agents to use with potential retailers.

David Beitz
We are able to really hone our presentations and give customers one or two great options," says David Beitz, GIS director of EDENS, an operator of shopping centers. "They can tell we've done our homework."

For example, grocery store chains have to closely study trade areas for new development. "They have found that some people just won't cross certain railroad tracks, impacting the site's overall draw," he says. With GIS-enhanced analytics, the development team can quickly rule out some sites -- even if they otherwise appear ideal -- that don't meet specific criteria. "We are able to really hone our presentations and give customers one or two great options. They can tell we've done our homework," he says.

While it's difficult to quantify the impact of GIS data, success is measured by being able to quickly respond to retailers' requests for location and market data to help leasing agents "move a deal forward," Beitz explains. "If you make a retailer wait or provide out-of-date information, then they are more likely to land at another site."

EDENS finds that success is a matter of the quality and quantity of data fed into the analytics system. For instance, though relatively few data points are shared with customers, all information, including confidential prospectus data, is mapped and stored for later use. If the team wants to buy a property down the street from one it looked at in the past, all relevant data is at the ready, avoiding the need to reassemble all the past shopping center and market data. Rapid access makes determination of the soundness of the deal faster and more efficient, Beitz says.

Helping collaboration

In Las Vegas, engineers at VTN Consulting, a civil engineering and land planning firm, are beginning to use GIS and analytics to bolster communication and collaboration among project stakeholders. Their pilot project, based on Autodesk's AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler software, interweaves civil, geospatial and building data. Planners, GIS analysts, project managers, architects, city leaders and other stakeholders can visualize projects in context and with existing parameters, such as underground utility lines, traffic patterns and surrounding buildings.

"Traditionally, engineers have to work with multiple two-dimensional paper plans that are tucked away in different silos," says Keith Warren, VTN's Building Information Manager.

Business intelligence

VTN's project comprises a central database that serves as a storehouse for survey and architecture plans, infrastructure specs and more. Pinpoints include water and sewer pipes, utilities, street signs, parcels, roadways and structures. Information is rendered in 3-D so that users can visually analyze the impact of new construction or renovations based on site requirements.

The striking models can help planners decide the number and location of street lamps to place outside a new building based on a light and shadow assessment of the structure and its environment. Or they can clearly illustrate utility thresholds for various proposed projects -- for instance, a library would probably consume less energy than a casino.

Warren says the database was built using standard GIS fields so that clients will be able to hook into their own analytics engines. For instance, if a building's air conditioner goes out, repairmen would not only be able to call up its exact location but whether nearby air conditioners also are in need of service based on their maintenance records.

Saving animals' lives

For the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), stepping up business analytics to include GIS data is literally a matter of life and death.

Millions of cats and dogs enter animal shelters annually, and more than half are euthanized due to non-health-related issues such as overcrowding. The ASPCA battles this overpopulation crisis with low-cost or free services, including spay/neuter clinics and outreach programs that teach responsible pet ownership.

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