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

July 2008

Esri's Business Analyst Online Provides Tools and Data to Solve a Complex Business Problem

College Students Use GIS Technology as They Vie to Win a Business Intelligence Competition

Being prepared for a professional career requires knowledge that can't always be learned in the classroom, especially in this fast-changing technological age.

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Using Business Analyst Online, the winning team of the Association of Information Technology Professionals' Business Intelligence Competition was able to select the best three sites for a fictitious mega store. Here, the red rings show the primary trade area have very little cannibalization and are prime for opening new stores.

College students studying information technology received some "real-world" experience this spring when they took part in the Business Intelligence (BI) Competition at the Association of Information Technology Professionals' (AITP) National Collegiate Conference in Memphis, Tennessee. Their challenge? Decide where to locate a new big box chain store in the Kansas City, Missouri, metro area. The software technology they used to make their choice? Esri's ArcGIS Business Analyst Online, a Web-based solution that applies GIS technology to extensive demographic, consumer spending, and business data to deliver on-demand analysis and presentation-ready reports and maps.

Central Michigan University (CMU) and the Central Michigan University Research Corporation (CMU-RC) hosted the BI Competition at the conference, which draws sponsors and exhibitors such as Microsoft, State Farm, Wal-Mart, and the Institute for Computing Professionals. The BI Competition's objective: introduce the use of GIS and BI software tools to a large audience of future technology leaders. "We chose Esri's Business Analyst Online software because it is a true BI tool that combines GIS technology with extensive business, consumer, and demographic data to deliver relevant reports and maps," says Roger Hayen, professor of information systems, CMU-RC. "The software was also easy for us to integrate into the competition because it is a Web-based solution and doesn't require that any additional software be installed on the participants' computers."

The data is updated by Esri annually to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. Because Business Analyst Online is hosted by Esri, companies don't have to worry about managing data or technology updates.

This was the second year the conference held the BI Competition at the conference incorporating GIS software and data.

Sixteen undergraduate and four graduate teams were given four hours to solve a prepared business problem. Each team received an in-depth history of a fictitious big box chain store interested in opening up a new location in the Greater Kansas City metro area. Students prioritized potential retail store locations from a list of six available sites. A budget of $85 million per site and a set of key factors were part of each analysis.

Primary factors included

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Drive time analysis around the same three selected sites also shows very little overlap between the stores' primary trade areas.

Other than the information provided in the problem statement, competing teams gathered all other data exclusively from Business Analyst Online. Participants used Esri's Business Analyst Online trade area analysis tools, such as drive-time and buffer analyses, and the reporting functionality to generate demographic, consumer spending, market potential, and retail marketplace profit reports to derive revenue-to-asset ratios based on primary, secondary, and tertiary service areas for each potential site. Contestants used the Excel data retrieval feature in Business Analyst Online to make the query results readily available for their continued economic analysis in a spreadsheet.

The participants' task was to use Business Analyst Online and the included data to determine the retail site location or locations containing the highest revenue-to-asset ratio that could be constructed within the $85 million budget. Most participants had no experience using GIS software prior to preparing for this competition; however, they found Business Analyst Online to be an intuitive software tool to use because of its easy-to-understand user interface, tools, and provided templates.

After determining the locations that best met the requirements for new stores within the total budget amount allocated for the area, each team completed a three-page executive summary to present to the 'board of directors' of the supercenter for their final review and approval. The summary had to support executive decision making, using illustrations as appropriate. All decisions had to be supported, and, in addition to the executive summary, a one-page summary of the key mapping, data features, and any additional assumptions used in arriving at the proposed solution had to be compiled. "Business Analyst Online comes with comprehensive documentation and well-organized tutorials that made it easy for most of the students, who had never used the software, to get up to speed quickly," says Tim Pletcher, director of applied research, CMU.

The undergraduate winners were

The graduate winners were

AITP has created a network of close to 200 student chapters at colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. These chapters offer opportunities in IT leadership and education through partnering with industry, government, and academia.

"Esri is proud to partner with AITP and the National Collegiate Conference," says Simon Thompson, commercial business industry manager, Esri. "We are committed to providing the best education for future business leaders and are pleased to offer hands-on experiences to show how the geographic advantage benefits companies."

Esri continues to offer more GIS education in the business environment. Esri teamed up with the University of Redlands to develop a special academic track featured at the 2008 Esri Business GIS Summit. The academic track was specifically designed for universities and academic professionals looking to develop or expand GIS education in traditional business curricula. A special session also explored the potential creation of a national business certificate in GIS program. The academic track took place on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. To learn more, visit

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