The Power Of Location

Your data is operating at a disadvantage if it doesn't know where it is. Data that's "location-aware" can quickly draw connections between customers and stores or available workers and remote job sites, for example, creating revenue streams in the process.

But as more businesses discover the value of location-aware data, they aren't turning to traditional geographic information systems (GIS). Companies are looking at new technology: spatial information management software and business support systems.

Use of this technology to add location awareness to existing data and business software is on the rise, according to an August 2001 report from IDC in Framingham, Mass. Spatial information management vendors saw sales grow 60% from 1999 to 2000, while GIS revenue grew only 2% in the same period, the report says.

"A lot more companies are incorporating geospatial information into their systems and applications, but it's always secondary, sometimes tertiary, to the main application, and that's as it should be," says David Sonnen, primary author of the IDC report.

Here's a look at four companies that are putting their data on the map.

Lais is a freelance writer in Takoma Park, Md.

Find: The Right Worker Closest To the Job

By making its data location-aware, Producers Assistance Corp. (PAC), a Houston-based staffing service for oil and gas producers, has trimmed the time it takes to find the right employees for its customers from days to minutes. To speed searches of its Lotus database, the company turned to Troy, N.Y.-based MapInfo Corp., says Gary Dean, PAC's vice president of operations.

Typically, when PAC had to supply workers for offshore oil operations, they would be at the job site for a week or two, so their location wasn't very important, Dean says. PAC staff could search the database for workers with the needed skills and simply draw from that pool.

"But then we started to see more business development inland, where workers would have to report to the same site every day," Dean says. With a pool of more than 3,000 employees, finding the right worker for what is usually a remote job site could take one or two people two or three days, he says.

After unsuccessfully trying several geocoding products, "we contemplated abandoning that feature," says John Knapp, PAC's executive vice president.

Then a PAC software developer found MapInfo's MapX. PAC embedded MapX in Lotus Notes, and now it takes one person 10 minutes to locate workers with the appropriate skills by ZIP code, Knapp says.

"Mapping is bringing our database alive," he says. "We were having a hard time getting anyone to use it as a database. Now we don't have to encourage anybody. The thing that made it so cheap [about $5,000] to add is that ZIP codes are something you already have in your database."

The time between deciding to go ahead with the implementation to delivering it to user desktops was about 45 days, Knapp says.

PAC is just beginning to calculate the return on investment, says Dean. "But it comes down to this: We don't make money if we don't fill positions, and the faster we can do it, the more money we can make," he says.

Find: Customers Near a New Location

By combining insights into its customers' data and demographic information, Champion Printing and Advertising Inc. in Jackson, Mich., has grown from a small, local printing company to an operation spanning several Midwestern states.

Three years ago, the company was seeing a return of sometimes less than 2% on direct mail campaigns for its financial institution customers, says Mike Shutler, Champion's president.

By combining customer demographic data in Troy, N.Y.-based MapInfo Corp.'s TargetPro with the mapping capabilities of MapInfo Professional, Champion was able to offer better-focused mailing lists, Shutler says: "We got returns of better than 15%," he notes.

Now, when a bank picks a location for a new branch, for example, it can "come to us and say, 'Find us some business in this area,' " Shutler says. "MapInfo paid for itself within six months."

Find: The Nearest Hotel And How to Get There

Each year, Atlanta-based Six Continents Hotels puts together bids to provide accommodations for corporate travelers, says Jill Cady, director of global sales operations.

In the past, customers would provide destinations for the bulk of their travel, and Six Continents would match them with the closest properties, Cady says. "But today, companies are more sophisticated about how they handle business travel," she says. "They want to give us addresses and for us to tell them which properties are close by, and they want to know the distances."

Figuring that out was a manual process that took days, says Cady. "Our sales staff figured out that rather than use our own directories, it was easier to go to our [external] Web site," she says. The site has a search tool that lets visitors find hotels based on location.

But the Web tool permitted only one search at a time, Cady says. So Six Continents looked to Vicinity Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., which had developed the hotel chain's Web tool, to allow sales staff to enter a list of addresses. Extracting the geospatial information from Six Continents' Excel data didn't require changes to the application or the data, Cady says.

That was six months ago. Today, "what used to be a tedious process that could take two days now takes maybe 10 minutes," she says. "And I have happier employees." It's more than "keeping sales coordinators from getting paper cuts," Cady adds. Factor in a decrease in staffing needs plus the time savings, "and we're looking at an absolutely terrific ROI," she says.

Find: The Store That Sells What You Need

For Dallas-based Kinko's Inc., letting customers visit its Web site to find the nearest store wasn't enough. The company needed to extend that capability to wireless phone users, says Richard Maranville, Kinko's vice president of e-commerce and field services.

But Kinko's wanted to stay focused on its core mission: selling photocopying and other business services, Maranville says, explaining, "We didn't want to have to geocode our own data." Kinko's turned to Vicinity Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., in July 2001 for help.

Potential customers can now go to Kinko's Web site, find the nearest stores and get maps and directions. The service complements the company's online initiative, launched in December, that lets customers fill out a form, upload documents and have them printed, copied, collated and prepared.

"It was relatively painless to implement," Maranville says.

"We feed the data nightly to Vicinity, and they geocode it," says Michael Dekel, Kinko's product manager. "And as we add product lines, it'll be simple to add new attributes." The company is also considering letting stores customize their sites to advertise new or unique services. For example, a store in Los Angeles could offer special script-copying services.

"Cost avoidance is one bottom line," Dekel says. "This implementation means there are thousands of hits a day not going to our call center. We saw that traffic flatten out, and that means we can manage the calls we have coming in without hiring new staff."

PAC uses a Lotus Notes database equipped with MapInfo•s MapX software to match workers to jobs based on location.

PAC uses a Lotus Notes database equipped with MapInfo's MapX software to match workers to jobs based on location.

Potential Kinko's customers can go to the company's Web site to find the nearest stores and services.
Potential Kinko's customers can go to the company's Web site to find the nearest stores and services.

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Taming Data Chaos

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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