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Location Intelligence Part III: Enabling Technologies

ABSTRACT: This article, the third in a series, dives into the technologies that underpin modern approaches to location intelligence.

Over the course of this blog series, we’ve talked about what location intelligence is and explored examples of the use cases it supports. This third and final blog examines the tools that bring it to life. There is no one solution for every geospatial problem. Different questions require different tools, but in general, software for location intelligence falls into one of four categories: geographic information systems (GIS), full-feature business intelligence platforms, geospatially optimized databases, and use-case specific tools.

GIS Platforms

GIS platforms led the way for working with geospatial data, and a lot of work still happens in these tools. ESRI’s ArcGIS is probably the most well-known of these solutions, but there are also opensource alternatives such as OpenJump and QGIS, as well as other competitors including Hexagon and Carto. GIS platforms put maps first. They are the tool of choice for modern cartographers. Because they focus exclusively on geographic data, they often offer features not found in other sorts of tools. At the same time, they require a certain level of user expertise with geospatial data. 

Think of GIS tools as the software that allows you to make and analyze maps. If you ask a lot of complex, geospatial questions, you’ll want a GIS platform and a GIS expert to use it. 

Business Intelligence Platforms

Given that location intelligence is a subcategory of business intelligence, it’s natural that many modern BI platforms include features to address geospatial analytics. These tools have the advantage of being familiar to business users and doing more than just location intelligence, although they generally provide fewer capabilities than dedicated GIS platforms. The geospatial capabilities of these BI platforms are typically sufficient to answer 80% of geospatial questions. They allow users to slice, dice, and plot data with a geospatial component. TableauTIBCO, and Alteryx all place significant geospatial capabilities in the hands of their platforms’ users. 

Geospatially Optimized Databases

GIS and BI platforms are both great for exploratory location intelligence. They can help visualize your data, answer strategic questions, or perform one-off analyses. When you want to build an industrial application that leverages geospatial data, you need a different tool. Unlike the previous examples, geospatially optimized databases aren’t primarily concerned with visualizing data. They aim to store, process, and analyze geospatial data at scale. 

Databases such as Vertica and Kinetica provide optimized geospatial functions to power applications that provide location intelligence. Their approaches to storing, joining, and querying geospatial data allow them to perform at high levels even when inundated with thousands of queries a second.

Use-case Specific Tools

Finally, an emerging category of tools focuses on providing business users with location intelligence for specific use cases. For example, Near offers Allspark, which couples geospatial analytics with consumer behavior data to help marketers understand 1.6 billion consumers. It also offers Pinnacle, which provides real-time analytics of geospatial data for site planning and retail management. Other tools in this space include Fract, which addresses the territory mapping problem; Uberall’s CoreX, which aims to drive local traffic to the website of brick-and-mortar stores; and Geoblink, which also supports retail location planning and management.

These tools are narrower in scope, but they lower the bar for answering certain kinds of questions. If you find there are really only one or two geospatial questions you need to ask repeatedly, it may be worth identifying a point tool that specializes in answering those questions.

Take-away

Location intelligence tools come in many varieties. In order to find the right solution, consider the sorts of questions you want to ask and the scale at which you need to perform location intelligence. Each of the categories I’ve outlined is a match for a particular need. If you have highly technical questions that involve deep exploration of geospatial data or creating custom maps, think about a GIS platform. For general questions, the BI tool you already have might meet your needs. Providing a full-service application will depend on selecting a database that can handle geospatial data efficiently. Finally, if you just have one or two questions that you ask a lot, look for a tool that focuses on your use case.

Joe Hilleary

Joe Hilleary is a writer, researcher, and data enthusiast. He believes that we are living through a pivotal moment in the evolution of data technology and is dedicated to...

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