Big data is all the rage in business management. A supersized extension of business intelligence (BI) for managers, big data proponents say that companies can use it to get more value out of information. And what person with a business administration degree doesn’t appreciate that concept?
But the secret to smart decision making isn’t just data, but the right data. Too many facts and figures can drown you in useless detail. Similarly, telltale signs of what could direct the business to greater effectiveness is a fast way to success. Ironically, one of the biggest sources of important data — geographic information — goes wanting in too many corporations.
That’s why companies should consider making geographic information systems (GIS) an integral part of their strategic and tactical planning. Up until now, outside of some specific industries like retail, geographic data in the form of maps has been a largely insignificant feature in BI systems.
That has begun to change for two reasons. One is the availability of improved GIS tools. The other is the growing realization that location is a proxy for behavior. People with certain characteristics live and work in specific places. They shop and buy products, go to school, vacation, and eat at various locations. In addition to physical locations, there are places online.
You could think of the political process as taking a position in a socio-economic space. Choose one competitor over another and you can model it as spatial relationships. Online behavioral monitoring depends heavily on following the routes that consumers take through a network of Web connections.
GIS doesn’t bring insight just to consumer activity. Any factory has points in the manufacturing process, and those points could be thought of as locations along a path a product must take, from raw materials to finished goods that ship to stores and then consumers.
The geography traversed by pipes that carries crude oil from a well to a distribution point can greatly affect how effectively the pipeline. Even the logistics of transporting products involves a series of locations, any of which could represent a stage in the process that significantly affects overall results. Without geographic information, analysis and planning face severe limitations. How else can you have a company sell the right mix of products into areas that display specific socioeconomic factors?
Location provides insight into patterns that may be otherwise invisible. The insight comes from applying location data to other information the business uses. Furthermore, location is often something that a company either already has or can get with relative ease. In these times of social media, consumers often freely offer location data, letting executives now correlate attitudes with position. Integration of GIS into business intelligence claims a vital insight unavailable in any other way. Executives can make smarter decisions and perform deeper analysis. Maybe it’s time that you start understanding a new meaning of that old real estate standby phrase: location, location, location.