Putting the 'where' into your analytics

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

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However, knowing where to target limited resources can be difficult, according to Greg Miller, GIS analyst for the ASPCA. "The ASPCA used analytics to study the communities its shelters serve, but couldn't always uncover why, despite the availability of critical services, there hasn't been a reduction in incoming dogs and cats," Miller says.

The ASPCA is convinced the missing link has been location information, Miller says.

As part of a pilot program still in its early stages and funded by PetSmart Charities, the ASPCA identified three regions in the U.S. -- Cleveland, Portland and Southeast Florida -- to apply GIS-enhanced analytics using a combination of shelter management applications, the organization's own homegrown analytics software and Esri's ArcGIS.

Greg Miller
Combining GIS and BI information will show the ASPCA trouble zones where disproportionate intakes of animals are occurring, making outreach far more effective, says Greg Miller, the organization's GIS analyst.

"Data about species, age, whether the animal has been spayed or neutered and address aren't completely telling. Overlay that on a map and suddenly you can clearly visualize specific neighborhoods that are hot spots," Miller says.

Without GIS, ASPCA workers and shelters have to know the area well enough to see patterns among addresses in static reports. GIS helps illuminate trouble zones where disproportionate intakes of animals are occurring, rendering outreach far more effective. Instead of blindly passing out brochures or parking a spay/neuter mobile van in a random area, ASPCA and shelter representatives can blanket exact neighborhoods and place spay/neuter clinics in the most in-need areas.

The pilot project should save money, enabling funding to extend to services such as fences for dog owners, breed-specific training such as for pit bull owners and more in targeted locations, Miller says.

Like traditional analytics projects, the program's outcome is dependent on the quality of the data, which has led to new processes. Shelters now verify all intake addresses for the data to be considered clean. Also, they enter the location where the animal was picked up or seen vs. the address of the person who brought him in or called. Such accuracy, the ASPCA believes, will inevitably save animals' lives.

Making servers go 'tilt'

Adding GIS to business analytics is not without cautions, though, as it can overburden servers. For instance, EDENS plans to support mobile analysis of almost 200 layers of data from internal and external databases.

A data 'layer' consists of one theme, Beitz explains, such as a property layer for EDENS shopping centers and a property layer for centers that belong to other firms. Each of these layers contains thousands of data points.

While the ArcGIS SDE resides at headquarters, the mapping services that feed into it are in the cloud. Many of the mapping services are hosted in the cloud by Esri and are then fed into the application. EDENS' proprietary data is served as local map services, and they are hosted on the firm's on-premises ArcGIS Server.

Tapping into Esri's cloud servers was an application design choice driven mostly by cost. "At this point for us, it's cheaper to use the Esri Business Analyst Online API and make calls to Esri's cloud servers than it is to buy Business Analyst Server and host all the data ourselves," Beitz says. He pre-builds the most popular requests and models to speed response times.

Factors behind the GIS/BI marriage

EDENS is in good company in realizing GIS's ability to soup up business analytics. "GIS tools have existed in parallel with business analytics software until recently. Now we're seeing them merge," says Dan Vesset, program vice president for business analytics at IDC Research. IDC predicts a significant spike in the worldwide spatial information management market, which is how it categorizes GIS-enhanced analytics, from $3.1 billion in 2011 to a projected $4.1 billion in 2015.

Vesset attributes the interest in GIS-enabled analytics databases -- including those from Oracle and IBM Cognos, and analytics-enabled GIS servers such as Esri's ArcGIS Server -- to the proliferation and consumerization of GPS and GIS. For example, smartphones have geo-location capabilities that enable easy spatial data collection for back-end applications, and Google Maps and Microsoft Bing have reduced the high cost and complexity of GIS mapping software.

"Social media, vehicles, infrastructure -- everything has sensors that gather geo-location data, and that has created a snowball effect," Vesset says.

The heightened availability of geo-location data has enterprises asking their analytics and GIS vendors to either build in blended support or offer it as an add-on, according to Vesset. And the GIS-enhanced attraction spans vertical industries.

For example, trucking companies use GIS-enhanced analytics to track and monitor waste such as fuel and idle time, local police departments use the technology to model optimum locations for crowd coverage for large events based on available personnel, and retailers use it to push targeted ads to shoppers' smartphones as they pass in front of their store inside a mall, Vesset says. All of these actions depend on spatial information paired with back-end analytics engines.

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