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Mapping Better Business Strategies

Where Is How Services Are Accessed

In the last five years, geospatial technologies have become increasingly integrated not only with mainstream IT but also in the daily lives of millions of consumers. The number of geospatial technology users has grown tremendously and can count users in categories that did not exist a decade ago. In addition to GIS professionals or remote-sensing specialists, there are now legions of geospatial information consumers around the world who would not recognize themselves as users of this technology. From location-based services accessed on cell phones to vehicle mobile data services, geospatial data and applications are relied on by consumers while being transparent to them. GIS, which integrates data from other geospatial technologies, is moving into the BI sphere to help manage businesses and other organizations in a similar and transparent fashion.

Moving into the Mainstream

The development of Esri software has always been characterized by a broad approach that lets users manage GIS independently of the underlying IT implementation. When Esri introduced ArcInfo in 1981, minicomputers dominated the IT landscape. Rather than focusing on only one vendor, Esri let users decide which system was best for their organization. With the development of client-server architecture in the 1990s, Esri software moved to this environment with support for multiple relational DBMS.

This strategy has continued with ArcGIS, an integrated collection of GIS software products that are standards based and enterprise oriented. Esri has embraced Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) for delivering GIS data and functionality through a network of distributed servers with resources that are loosely coupled but can be integrated on demand. The ArcGIS framework makes GIS functionality accessible on desktops and mobile devices, from servers, embedded in other applications, and on the Web.

This robust, standards-based approach to GIS greatly aids the integration of GIS with a variety of BI software platforms. ArcGIS uses industry standard components and protocols that can be called from any other standards-based application. ArcGIS components can be used to create server- or Web-based applications for sharing geographic knowledge across an organization or the Internet. BI software exports data in commonly accessible formats that can be readily used by Esri software. This nonproprietary approach and compliance with IT standards mean that businesses can implement Esri software with the BI vendor that best meets their needs.

It's All about Integration

Providing geointelligence to organizations for better decision making, enhanced efficiency, and cost savings has always been the purpose underlying Esri's software development. To help GIS benefit from BI tools, Crystal Reports, the industry standard for high-performance reporting from BusinessObjects, has been incorporated into ArcGIS. A copy of Crystal Reports ships with every copy of ArcGIS Desktop at all license levels (ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo).

Crystal Reports is available directly from the ArcMap interface. With Crystal Reports, GIS data can be viewed in new ways, extracted, and presented in a variety of formats. For an introduction to using Crystal Reports with ArcGIS, see the article "Taking Advantage of Crystal Reports" [PDF-2.35 MB, 5 pages] in the January–March 2004 issue of ArcUser.

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Crystal Reports ships with ArcGIS Desktop and can be used to create a variety of reports directly from ArcMap.

SAS Bridge for Esri is another example of the integration between BI and GIS. This product, developed jointly by SAS and Esri, allows the exchange of attribute and spatial data between the two software platforms. The value of this integration was proven by a non-business application. After the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while flying over the southwestern United States, ArcGIS, the SAS Bridge for Esri, and SAS Enterprise Guide helped the National Aeronautics and Space Administration narrow the search area for debris. To learn more about the SAS Bridge for Esri, see the Esri Virtual Campus training seminar Integrating SAS Software with ArcGIS.

The state of Louisiana supplies another example that illustrates that BI isn't just for business. When that state migrated to an Electronics Benefits Transfer system for distributing food stamps, it took that opportunity to incorporate a reporting tool using WebFOCUS from Information Builders and ArcIMS.

Illegal trafficking in food stamps costs the state millions of dollars. However, with a few hours of training, field investigators and supervisors in the Fraud and Recovery section of the Department of Social Services could use the reporting tool to map the distribution of suspicious transactions. The proximity of these incidents to specific stores helped identify dishonest store owners. According to Raymond Pease, assistant director of the Fraud and Recovery section, "Once you geocode your database, all of the applications that use that database have access to that information. GIS has taken hold in government agencies because it is so valuable. Combining it with a powerful reporting environment puts two complementary technologies together."

Two accompanying articles in this section highlight the use of two powerful BI software platform—SAS and SAP—with GIS in an enterprise setting. In "The Fifth Dimension of GIS—Spatially Enabled Business and Analytic Intelligence," William S. Holland of GeoAnalytics, Inc., explores the potential for integrating SAS and Esri technologies. "GIS and Beyond: Integration with SAP Improves Business Processes" describes how and why Pidpa, a Belgian water utility, integrated SAP and Esri software to maintain the large amount of data relating to its water distribution network and make that information accessible to the company's employees.

An Intelligent Choice

The integration of GIS and BI opens up new opportunities for leveraging investments in existing data as well as existing systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and CRM. For companies that have several BI packages in place, Esri software can provide GIS functionality to a range of BI products.

Putting the where in BI has the potential to cut costs associated with administration, procurement, and operations integration while limiting risk. The benefits of greater efficiency from automating or improving work flows that are familiar to longtime GIS users are now available to BI users who integrate GIS into their operations. The enhanced communication made possible with GIS gives an organization, whether a business or a government agency, a common operational view that greatly aids the decision-making process.

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