ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

August 2011

Transforming Business with Geographic Knowledge

By Karen Richardson
Esri Writer

Starbucks Coffee Company's Patrick O'Hagan, manager of global market planning for the world's largest retail coffee chain, served some great advice to executives at the 2011 Esri Business Summit: don't put the buggy before the horse.

When Starbucks first began using GIS technology and data in the late 1990s, the company's GIS staff flooded its staff members with data, especially those working with real estate. The employees needed to understand their trade areas to make vital business decisions about their stores.

photo of Patrick O'Hagan
Patrick O'Hagan

O'Hagan's team created an Esri ArcReader application that allowed staff members to access all the geodemographic and topographic data available for use in the company. While it was important to allow staff to have access to the data they requested, this approach didn't quite catch on.

"We held pretty true to the putting the buggy before the horse allegory, but in a futuristic sense," O'Hagan said, speaking in San Diego, California, to a group of 200 business executives from all over the world. While Starbucks staff had access to massive amounts of data, they had no way to easily analyze it. Today, O'Hagan's team provides analytics and business support, instead of a mass of data, to its real estate section. Instead of providing an open door to terabytes of data, the team uses ArcGIS for Server to create data-rich applications that staff members can access via desktops, on the Internet, and out in the field on mobile devices.

O'Hagan later pointed out during a panel discussion why this was a successful approach: "Our people don't want to know what GIS means or what it can do. They care about functionality, speed, and convenience. [Esri's] ArcGIS allows us to create replicable consumer applications that are exactly what they need."

Streamlining Business Processes

Warner de Gooijer, strategic analyst and project manager for global supply chain operations at Cisco Systems, Inc, also spoke at the summit, explaining how his company uses GIS. Cisco is the worldwide leader in networking, offering products and services that help companies share data and information securely anywhere in the world through a variety of ways. The organization is adopting Esri GIS technology and data to help streamline its global supply chain and continue to provide high levels of customer service.

"Leveraging GIS technology advances our analysis capabilities and introduces new methodologies for business analytics," said de Gooijer. "We realized that this important service could be enhanced with spatial analysis."

ArcGIS software will be used to create web maps and analysis that help position the company's service depots to provide customers with the best service quickly. The business requirements and factors that determine the response times vary worldwide, so finding a solution that worked across the company and could be adapted to each country was important.

Communicating through Maps

Other summit speakers included Matt Mikula, a principal at Edward Jones, an investment company that serves nearly seven million investors. Edward Jones has licensed Esri Business Analyst software and business datasets to assist in opening new branches. It is looking forward to using the technology to better understand its customers' financial needs, such as whether they are saving for a child's college education or getting ready for retirement. Nigel Davis, director of product development at Willis Re, a reinsurance adviser headquartered in London, England, also spoke on the importance of using geographic data to help his customers—insurance brokers—understand information to make better business decisions. Willis Re created a cloud-based application called eCOMPASS for its customers that supplies data covering major perils worldwide, from flood zones in Latin America to earthquakes in New Zealand. Davis reiterated the need to keep things simple so people can really understand what information is being transmitted.

Davis agreed with Starbucks' O'Hagan as he explained that "interactive maps help in communication, but you have to be careful. Part of the challenge is not to overload people with information."

Becoming a Believer

Using geography as an information filter transformed the companies that presented during the plenary. Matthew Felton, director of GIS and research at MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, explained that once his company got past the problem of not knowing what it was missing, it was sold on using GIS to visualize and analyze company data.

"GIS is like a smartphone; if you use it, you are a believer," Felton said. "Those that don't have one don't really get it. But how an iPhone seems to transform the people who use it, this is how our company feels about GIS."

Felton introduced his company to Business Analyst and Business Analyst Online. "For the first time, I think members of my company really saw their real estate," Felton said. "[They] had a lot of fun with the data, viewing and exploring information in a way they hadn't experienced before. The more they saw in the maps, the more questions they would ask."

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