Visualization can change the way that we look at data and information. If that data contains a geographic/geospatial component then utilizing location information can help provide a new layer of insight for certain kinds of analysis. Location intelligence is the integration and analysis of visual geographic/geospatial information as part of the decision making process. A few examples where this might be useful include:
- Analyzing marketing activity
- Analyzing sales activity
- Analyzing crime patterns
- Analyzing utility outages
- Analyzing military options
I had the opportunity to meet with the team from SpatialKey the other week. SpatialKey offers a location intelligence solution, targeted at decision makers, in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. The offering is part of Universal Mind, a consulting company that specializes in design and usability and had done a lot of work on dashboards, Geographic Information Systems, and the like. Based on its experience, it developed a cloud-based service to help people utilize geographic information more effectively.
According to the company, all the user needs to get started is a CSV file with their data. Files must contain an address, which SpatialKey will geocode, or latitude and longitude for mapping purposes. It can contain any other structured data component. Here is a screen shot from the system. It shows approximately 1000 real estate transactions from the Sacramento, California area that were reported over a five day period.
There are several points to note in this figure. First, the data can be represented as a heat map, meaning areas where there are large number of transactions appear in red, lower numbers in green. Second, the software gives the user the ability to add visualization pods, which are graphics (on the left) that drill down into the information. The service also allows you to incrementally add other data sets, so you can visualize patterns. For example, you might choose to add crime rates or foreclosure rates on top of the real estate transactions to understand the area better. The system also provides filtering capabilities through pop ups and other sliders.
SpatialKey has just moved out of beta and into trial. The company does not intend to compete with traditional BI vendors. Rather, its intention is to provide a lightweight alternative to traditional BI and GIS systems. The idea would be to simply export data from different sources (either your company data stores or even other cloud sources such as Salesforce.com) and allow end users to analyze it via a cloud model.
The future of data is more data. Location intelligence solutions will continue to become important as the number of devices, such as RFID and other sensors continue to explode. As these devices spew yet even more data into organizations, people will want a better way to analyze this information. It makes sense to include geographic visualization as part of the business analytics arsenal.