Is GIS a Business Intelligence Solution?

Would you spend money on mapping software or rather buy a BI solution? Believe it, or not, you can get both by buying a Geographic Information System (GIS). Read the rest of the article to learn more about the Data Value Chain, GIS and BI.

Data Value Chain

An Information System or IT solution generates new information through the analysis / processing of existing input data as illustrated in this simple diagram.

Data flows through 3 consecutive stages and value is incrementally added until the data becomes information that can be used for decision-making. The 3 stages can be summarized as follows:

  1. Data is collected against a defined set of quality attributes to ensure that it is fit for purpose. The data is stored within a database or other storage to keep it secure and accessible, and processed to make it usable.
  2. The data is analyzed through a wide variety of tools and techniques that can be chained to form automated workflows. The 4 types of analytics in order of increasing complexity are descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive.
  3. The new information generated through analysis could trigger an immediate action. More often it is visualized and displayed on a screen, stored in a database for subsequent use or published as a report, graph, infographic, or map.

A GIS has the following unique capabilities that can be leveraged across the Data Value Chain:

  1. Collect, store and manage geodata / location data in a geo-database.
  2. Use location data to perform geo-processing and advanced geo-analytics.
  3. Visualize and publish information as static maps or interactive web maps.

This reveals that GIS is not just an information system for geographers and natural scientists, but a powerful set of tools and capabilities that can augment other business solutions.

GIS for Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence is a term that has different meanings to different people, but I like Gartner’s definition which states:

Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.

Like a chameleon, GIS fits in different places. It forms part of the BI infrastructure by providing the location data, can take the shape of a BI-like application (e.g. Tableau, ArcGIS Business Analyst) or provide tools that are embedded in other BI solutions (e.g. ArcGIS Maps for Power BI).

Geo-analytical tools can be used in all 4 types of analytics, as illustrated by the following scenarios for the insurance industry:

  1. Descriptive – Calculate home insurance premium using the number of house burglaries in the neighborhood.
  2. Diagnostic – Use geographically weighted regression to determine the factors that cause house burglaries and use these factors as parameters for calculating the home insurance premium.
  3. Predictive – Analyze patterns and trends and GIS-based modeling to predict the number of house burglaries in the coming year(s) as a basis for the home insurance premium.
  4. Prescriptive – Offer home insurance at variable rate based on risk level and focus sales efforts on low-risk areas where you can better the price of your competitors.

Conclusion

Use the Data Value Chain to evaluate data and information management within your organization and consider the following questions:

  1. Are you collecting, storing, and managing the data that your business requires in its decision-making? Is the data stored in a manner that makes it secure, available, and accessible to the people who need it?
  2. Are you effectively using the 4 types of analytics within your organization and at what frequency and speed? Do decision-makers have the tools to perform their own analysis or are they dependent on IT staff or external consultants?
  3. Do you use a variety of methods to visualize information and insights in your organization in a manner that communicates with its audience? Are recipients taking the desired action, and have you seen an improvement in business performance?

I can’t guarantee that BI and GIS solutions will work for your business. Nevertheless, you can’t ignore these technology trends and should try them out in whatever small way you can.

About Author:

Willy Simons came to Kenya from The Netherlands in 1994. He is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Oakar Services, Esri Eastern Africa and Spatiality. He blogs about business, geospatial technology and cloud computing.