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Steve Benner

The Location Intelligence blog is a place where we can help guide ourselves and others in the use of geospatial technology to make better decisions for our organizations. It is intended to engage the business community by removing the jargon and mystique surrounding Location Intelligence and to entice them to further explore this important extension of business intelligence. It will also engage BI and LI technical experts to help us understand the options and approaches to bringing LI to our organizations. Please join us whether you are and expert or totally new to Location Intelligence. I hope to connect those who know with those who need (even if they do not know it at the moment!).

About the author >

Steve is founder of The Location Intelligence Institute, an education resource focused on assisting business executives in the use of geospatial technology to improve business processes and decision making. He has a broad background in both business processes and geospatial technology and practical experience in bringing the two together. Steve has managed location intelligence integration projects with major business intelligence (BI) vendors and has helped dozens of organizations understand and implement geospatially enabled business and business intelligence solutions.

Steve has helped spread the word about location intelligence as a contributor to IBM Data Warehousing (Gonzales, Wiley, 2003) and Real Estate Market Valuation and Analysis (Karr, Wiley 2005) and as a presenter at industry and user group meetings worldwide.

Steve holds a BS in accounting and marketing from the University of Maine and an MBA from Boston College with a focus on operations research. He can be reached at inquiries@tlii.org.

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Steve's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!


In many ways, location intelligence  is shrouded in a primal mist that leaves BI practitioners with only a dim perception of what it is let alone how to use it.   Some of its features are recorded in static maps that began to appear in BI tools over a decade ago.  Linked to data in standard reports, these location intelligence fossils shed some light on the geographic dimension of data by freeing it from pie and bar chart representations and showing it as geographic features that represented the actual shape and proximity of the data.  Sales by country and state or other geographies unveiled new insight when presented as a map. The location intelligence stone age began.


How far have we progressed?  From a technology viewpoint, quite far indeed.  Today nearly every BI vendor has a location intelligence implementation, though still rather embryonic.  Location intelligence tools can be found at all levels of the BI technology stack.  The fossilized static maps are still with us but have now branched into more functional, interactive, intelligent maps embedded directly in popular BI tools and dashboards.  These indigenous maps are created from a growing body of technology and content for building modern-day location intelligence applications.   Contributors to the technology include traditional Geographic Information System (GIS) vendors who have exposed the vast functionality of their systems and access to geographic content through open APIs.  Database vendors and data warehouse vendors have added spatial data types and functions to their databases for storing, managing and using the building blocks of location intelligence such as points, lines and polygons.  Dozens of new-age vendors offer direct, real-time access to geo-referenced data for building dashboards and mashups.  They all possess the same technical DNA:  a open, standards-based architecture and APIs of every genre.  Technical people are quite familiar with and readily available to use all of this technology.  So why do contemporary BI applications that incorporate location intelligence seem so primitive,  crude and unpolished? 


I believe the reason is that the technical BI tribesmen back at camp are playing with and improving their familiar spears, arrowheads and slingshots to provide for a growing community of users and have little time to experiment with new tools with imperceptible uses.  The BI tribal hunters on the other hand are oblivious to what location intelligence is and how it can help provide new insight on their prey and increase their chances of success.  Like early man who for millennia walked past round stones before inventing the wheel, today's BI tribesman has at best a vague idea of how to use location intelligence.  How can this be changed and accelerated? 


As Darwin observed, things evolve over time to fit the environment, so we could just wait.  But it took some 3500 years to go from a stone wheel to a Michelin, and most businesses don't have that kind of time.  We could look to the heavens for a Geospatial "sky god" to drop in and tell us exactly how to build a location intelligence temple incorporating the latest technology and content, but most location intelligence tribesmen have little knowledge of business processes and their associated BI metrics, so we could end up with a modern day Mayan Temple of Inscriptions: a technical marvel with no agreement on its purpose.


Having observed the introduction and evolution of location intelligence in many environments, I've concluded that the biggest impediment to adoption is the tribal culture prevalent in the BI and location intelligence communities.  I recently came across a new book, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright.   They introduced a "Culture Map" depicting Five Stages of Culture in organizations.  I was immediately struck by how well their model fit my experience.  I noted that true to their assertion,  half of the BI and LI teams I've been in contact with were Stage 3 "Lone Warriors", viewing their domain as the center of the universe, one they want complete dominion over.   The BI tribe, often bigger and with access to more resources, views their efforts and results as more valuable than those of the LI tribe.  This keeps the LI tribe in Stage 2 "Apathetic Victim", separated from the BI tribe or used only in limited situations.  Few organizations reach Stage 4 "Tribal Pride" where both tribes work together, collectively improving the analysis and decision-making capabilities of the organizational community.


So how do we bring these two tribes together and begin to leverage location intelligence in our organizations?   We can start by getting more specific on exactly how location intelligence enhances business intelligence.  The location intelligence tribe needs to  move beyond general assertions and deductive reasoning:  "80% of all business data has a location component, therefore 80% of all reports and analytics have a location component as well".  Although this may be true, it alone is not enough to compel the Lone Warriors of the BI tribe to add location intelligence to their arsenal.   Location intelligence tribesmen need to learn the language of BI and relate specifically how their technology and content can improve the hunt for insight and decision-making.  The BI Lone Warriors, in turn, need to take a closer look at the tools and content of location intelligence tribe.   They need to move their organizations beyond the status quo of primitive descriptive location intelligence to prescriptive and predictive location intelligence.  Adoption of foreign tools and techniques have been the mainstay of innovation throughout history.  In many cases, it came at a terrible cost after a crushing defeat.  Learning about the new location intelligence tools should be a top priority.


If your recognize these two tribes in your organization, make them start talking.  They share as much in common as they have differences:  technology, a passion for analysis, and a desire to be more relevant to their organization.  Internal workshops, retreats, or lunch-and-learns can help raise awareness and build bridges.  Pilot projects (joint hunts) can transfer knowledge, provide quick results, and elevate both tribes within the larger organizational community.


Technically, it's so easy a caveman could do it.  Culturally,  it requires collaboration between the BI and LI  tribes within the organization.  Cavemen are not known as great collaborators, as they compete against other  tribes for scarce resources.  But by banding together, the BI and LI tribes offer unique and valuable insights to the organization and can collectively command more community resources.   You may find that getting to Tribal Pride and fully leveraging location intelligence for the benefit of the entire organization takes no more than a walk down the hall to your brethren's fire and sharing stories of successful hunts.  This is the way of the world since the beginning of time.  We're still cavemen in many ways.

Posted September 28, 2011 7:43 AM
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As an opening blog on this new channel about Location Intelligence (LI) I thought I'd ask some questions: 
What is Location Intelligence anyway?
How is it different from:
Location-based Services (LBS)
Location-based whatever (LBx - you supply the "x")
Geographic Business Intelligence (GBI)
Geospatial Business Intelligence (GBI again?)
Geo-Business Intelligence (GeoBI)
Geographic Information System (GIS)
Spatial Information Management (SIM)
A simple Google search on any of these terms will likely lead to more confusion than clarity on the topic. The terms are used by a wide variety of vendors to differentiate themselves,  at least in marketecture. The list will likely grow as the popularity of mapping within BI and other business applications grows. Just playing with the words spatial, geospatial, geographic, geo-, location, location-based, business, and intelligence got me a dozen combinations that had a nice ring to them. So we still have a ways to go. There are at least five new categories waiting for some marketing genius to exploit!
The ingredients of location intelligence are debated even by those in the industry.  How confused must the BI community be about it?  Maybe they don't think about it, blissfully (dangerously?)  unaware of what it takes to deliver a LI solution?  Dots on maps is what they know and they are happy with it.  To them, this is LI,  or GBI, or GeoBI, or LBS, or ... whatever.
To help this topic along lets start with some basic ingredients that we can collectively modify and blend in our own measure to see what we can bake for a definition LI.  Here is a basic list of ingredients:
  • Standard or custom geometries such as points lines or polygons (states, my territories).
  • Information about each geometric feature (demographics for Maine, territory 3 sales).
  • Visualization of maps of the geometries and their  associated information, paper and electronic.
  • Analysis of spatial relationships, both intuitively and computerized.
  • And the most important:  a problem whose solution can be improved by blending the right amounts of the above.
I offer these as basic ingredients of location intelligence.  Just as it would be hard to bake bread without flour and yeast, it would be hard to deliver LI without these.
If you are in the LI business, share your favorite recipe!  Give us the chef's secrets about each ingredient, how to prepare it, and how to bake it all into a solution.  If you are new to LI, tell us what you're hungry for whether it's a big juicy problem or just an appetizer.  If we're successful here, we'll end up with quite a cookbook, one full of problems and recipes to solve them.
If you don't care to comment here but would like to share some thoughts or longer comments privately, send them to inquiries@tlii.org
We look forward to your feedback!


Posted May 18, 2011 4:03 PM
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