Friday, September 30, 2011

Location Intelligence and Civil War

Everything old is new again. Location intelligence seems to be the new kid on the block, but it doesn't take too much research to find clear examples of the effective use of location intelligence throughout history.

Susan Schulten, writing in The New York Times, tells us that Frederick Law Olmsted (perhaps best known as the designer of New York's Central Park), working with an abolitionist journalist named Daniel Goodloe, published an 800-page volume called The Cotton Kingdom that made the economic argument against slavery. At the same time, they used the 1850 Census to create a map of the cotton kingdom.

Although the motivation for the book and map were certainly moral, their arguments were economic, because their target audience was not like-minded abolitionists, but the British public, who were worried about the supply of cotton to their mills, and ultimately about their jobs.

The 800-page book had enormous influence, but the map, which summarized those 800 pages succinctly and communicated the authors' message in an instant, had immediate impact:
...the map used Census data to illuminate Southern strengths and resources. Olmsted and Goodloe identified two variables on the map: the relationship of the free and slave population and the production of cotton. They separated areas where slaves outnumbered freemen, and the reverse. Then they classed regions according to high, medium and low output, shrewdly leaving readers to conclude just how inefficient slave labor really was. In most cases, the areas of high production had relatively low slave populations. Those areas shaded as highly productive but without corresponding slave populations were, in their view, direct evidence against slavery.
...
Olmsted and Goodloe weren’t the first to say that slavery was a doomed system, but they were the first to use cartography to make their case, first to the British, and then to their fellow Americans.
The impact of this piece of location intelligence may have been a factor in keeping Britain at arms length in the U.S. Civil War.

Paul Krugman noted in his comments on the article that location intelligence was also used in the Civil War by General William T. Sherman to plan his famous (or infamous) March to the Sea. Instead of taking the most direct route as recommended by his superiors, Sherman studied census records to determine which route would best supply his troops and animals with food.

So the use of geospatial data to gain competitive advantage is nothing new. However, modern technology is liberating that geospatial data, making it available to enterprises of all size, and helping them realize competitive advantage.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Webinar Alert - Location Intelligence for Healthcare

Join for this educational and entertaining webinar on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 20ll. The webinar will focus on practical location intelligence scenarios for the healthcare industry, including:
  • Abuse Detection – using location to detect patterns in fraudulent behaviour.
  • Immunization Planning – organize immunization campaigns using demographics.
  • Service Planning Dashboard – identify regional and cultural healthcare service gaps using spatial analysis.
One of the greatest benefits of location intelligence is the revelation of geospatial relationships that are inherent within tabular data. Fraud or abuse that hides in spreadsheets can often be spotted visually within a thematic map. The strengths or inadequacies of a plan can often easily be seen by connecting the dots. Once you see an anomaly visually, you know what corroborating evidence to look for in the tabular data.
So its obvious that geospatial information can be very useful for the distributed delivery of healthcare services. You deliver services within an area, and location information is vital for timely delivery of those services, and for the responsible allocation of resources.
But there are other aspects of healthcare delivery that a location intelligence solution needs to take into account -- privacy and regulatory compliance, for example. No industry is as heavily regulated, and no industry has a greater privacy mandate.
At APOS, we define Location Intelligence as GIS +BI. The usefulness of the GIS portion of the solution is self-evident, but the need for the enterprise-ready business intelligence infrastructure is only apparent when you start to consider issues such as privacy and regulatory compliance. Enterprise BI solutions are designed with compliance and privacy in mind.
Your BI infrastructure is the key to making location intelligence an enterprise solution, rather than a peripheral software application.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cloud - What Is It Good For?

If you're in IT, and haven't been living under a rock for the past few years, then you're probably already caught up in the Cloud debate.

For non-technical managers, the debate is a minefield with no clear path marked, and no amount of debate will replace the due diligence required to make a decision to go with Software as a Service (SaaS) and online storage to enhance or replace existing enterprise application infrastructure and data services.

The question is this: Is the Cloud ready for business intelligence prime time?
At the risk of seeming indecisive, yes and no.

Deploying enterprise BI successfully is not easy, but the rewards are great. In a recent report, Forrester Research described BI as the "last frontier of competitive differentiation," meaning that most enterprises are equal in their deployments of ERP, CRM and most other enterprise solutions, but there is still room to compete in the BI sphere. All other things being equal, well managed BI can be the advantage that enables your enterprise to compete and win.

So deploying BI in the Cloud is not, and should not be, a trivial issue.

You need to be as diligent in your vendor/hosting service research as you would be in assembling your own IT infrastructure and resources, especially when the applications and data are mission critical. What about business intelligence? First, is BI mission critical within your enterprise? (Hint: it should be.) And second, what is your motivation for moving BI to the Cloud? (HInt: it shouldn't be just to save money.)

Your due diligence needs to answer some high-level questions:
  • What can we safely move to the Cloud?
  • Is it secure enough?
  • Private or public?
  • How will the Cloud affect the way we deliver information services?
  • How does disaster recovery work in the Cloud?
  • What effect will the Cloud have on our budget?

eWeek recently published an article on data center trends, concluding that monolithic data centers are on the endangered list:

If all your servers are dedicated, you're not using some form of virtualization or not using a cloud service somewhere in your IT establishment, then you've officially been passed by. Consider yourself warned.

As a related webroot article by Gary Frank declares, "IT is undergoing a virtualization revolution." In an article on BI and DR (disaster recovery) in the Cloud, they ask: "Is the cloud a good fit for the data-mining and analytical-processing technologies that BI relies on?" They answer with a tentative "yes," but their first justification is that the Cloud "can offer considerable cost savings."

As I hinted earlier, you should be wary of the cost-savings justification. It's great to save money, but it shouldn't be your sole justification for adopting any IT path. There's an old IT expression: No one was ever fired for buying a Cisco router, meaning that you shouldn't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Let your requirements drive the process.

The webroot article goes on to say that there are new BI vendors in the Cloud marketspace and that "Big players like IBM, SAP, BusinessObjects, and Tibco are now making BI for the cloud." Encouraging, but it sounds more like a developing trend than a mature option. Do these cloud offerings provide the same data analysis capabilities as their enterprise network editions?

SmartData Collective
looks more closely at the disaster recovery statistics for Cloud-based IT, and discovers that the Cloud is most comfortable for mid-sized companies (48%), followed by small companies (38%), followed by large companies (26%). These statistics seem to reflect both the level of effectiveness the Cloud has for different sizes of enterprises, as well as the level of trust.

Is the Cloud ready for BI? Yes, if you're a small- to mid-sized company just starting to roll out BI to the enterprise. Maybe no, if you're a large, established enterprise in which BI is already mission critical and requirements are complex.

Of course, at the speed of IT, this can all change very quickly.

If your enterprise, whatever its size, is considering adding geospatial capabilities to your BI system -- creating location intelligence -- then the Cloud is a completely viable option for hosting the GIS (geographic information systems) portion of the solution.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

APOS COO Allan Pym on Well Managed BI

Allan Pym, COO of APOS Systems, delivers a presentation on well managed BI at the SAP BusinessObjects New York Metropolitan Area User Group (BONYMAUG) one-day conference, today in New York City.

Well managed BI, aside from being the title of this blog, is the very reason for the existence of APOS. We help BI practitioners move from the curative (or reactive) practice of BI, to the preventive (or active), and eventually to the progressive (or proactive) practice of BI.

Check our solutions page to see how APOS can help your company achieve preventive and progressive BI platform management.

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