“Where” is the Location Intelligence Officer?

Location Data Requires Strategic Attention
By Marc Gill, President, Lightship Consulting Group LLC | Published March 30, 2011

Location Intelligence Officer

Executive level officers within an organization —CEO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CIO, COO—all bring specific skills to operate a business. These skills include at a minimum organizational management, budgeting and finance, technology, sales and marketing, and industry knowledge, as well as the ability to leverage operational, customer, and marketing data. Most successful executives are good at knowing how to extract, analyze and act upon that data; after all, these executives learned it either in business school or on the job.

But the new data kid on the block is location data, which presents some interesting opportunities and challenges for executives unfamiliar with it. Location information is generally not part of any business’s strategic plan, and is also generally not a core competency of an organization. Therefore, as location information becomes more readily available, and as organizations embark on incorporating location applications, who within the organization and within the C-suite is responsible for ensuring that location is being used to meet the company’s strategic goals?

As my first assignment in the Coast Guard on the first day of my reporting to the engine room, I was handed a pencil and paper and was told to trace every pipe in the engine room. It was my first exercise in understanding the importance of “where.” I didn’t know how any of the systems worked, but after I finished crawling through the bilges and every level of the engine room for days, I did know where everything was and how everything was connected. This exercise was critical to understanding all the systems on the ship—water, electrical, steam, fuel, ballast and pneumatic systems. (I was on a WWII vintage ship that had no electronics.) My job was boilerman and my main responsibility was for the steam generation side of the engine room, but as part of that function I needed to understand how all the systems on the ship interacted and affected each other. I have maintained this practice of “tracing” the business throughout my career.

Most white collar workers and newly minted MBAs come in at a managerial level in a business and they get, at best, a high-level or very specific departmental view of the business; to be successful at becoming a more effective manager of the business, they need to understand where things are, how they are connected, how all the systems function and how the team works together in order to get the “ship” to go in the right direction.

As location information and location-based technologies become more pervasive, businesses that are impacted by location are forced to rethink how they will accomplish their mission, along with what kind of supporting infrastructure will be required to support the mission. Businesses that need to market or operate across vast geographic footprints are inherently location dependent. If a company has a need to incorporate location information to achieve its goals, then it needs that expertise at the top of the organization to spread that experience across the organization and enable the integration of location information across the company.

Integrating location information and location-based technologies is not just about the data and the technology. We are not talking about a market research project or a technology project. Integration of location intelligence into an organization is not just operational, or about implementing the “right” system or applications; it’s a mindset and a game changer impacting the culture of the business. Integrating location intelligence is about leadership and organizational culture. This requires a Location Intelligence “Officer” (LIO).

The LIO must bring a skillset similar to those of the other CxOs, along with location information experience, including how location information is developed, managed, provided, maintained, used (how it shouldn’t be used), and integrated into the business process. The LIO needs to understand the culture of the business and how it operates.

What to look for in a LIO candidate

Whether recruiting at the CxO, VP or Director level, the candidate profile is someone who understands every component of the business. Similar to when CIOs and CTOs were introduced to align technology with the mission and goals of the company, the LIO will also have to show that he or she understands how the business operates end to end and have the ability to work across the company to align location information with the mission and goals of the business. A person such as a general manager or line of business manager with P&L responsibilities and specific industry knowledge most adeptly reflects this converged skilled set.

If you haven’t picked up the “where” component or location experience, it is difficult to understand how to integrate it intothe business. Just because you can develop a location-based application, plot data on a Google Map or Bing, or manage a geospatial application doesn’t mean that you have location experience. These are all superficial skill sets (relative to the experience required of a Location Intelligence Officer).

Location experience is about understanding the content and context of location, the way you use it, how it’s integrated into a business and most importantly its impact on the business. Location experience has at a minimum two required components: the location information influence on the components of business processes, and knowledge and understanding of location data and location technologies.

  • Location influence on business processes: Understanding the business is not about walking the halls; it’s about getting out into the field. The candidate will need to demonstrate his or her knowledge of business processes or the ability and willingness to learn them. This will differ by industry, but for example, in my past experience in telecommunications, getting out into the field was a critical component of understanding the customer, the network infrastructure, where and how things were connected and the processes driving the business.
  • Location data and technologies: Location data and supporting technology experience will come from engaging and working with data and technology providers such as satellite and aerial imagery, demographics, econometric, geospatial software, and value added location applications companies. If you know the business but don’t know location data and its supporting technologies, go out and educate yourself through various organizations, conferences, courses, and companies that do business in the location space. They are readily available and the industry as a whole encourages and supports location education through these options.

Profile for a Location Intelligence Officer

When integrating the “where” component or location information into the business, it is important to remember that the person or organization using the location data or developing the geospatial system in most cases is not providing the source location data. That data will come from someplace else; therefore it is important to know what type of location data you need, where to get it, and how much you should be paying for it, either internally (what are the resources required?) or for 3rd party data, and finally, what the business case is. Location-based applications have a very seductive appeal to companies. The most important question to be able to ask and answer relative to any location project is, “What is the benefit to the business beyond business as usual?”

Companies are at different stages of their lifecycles from start-up to mature; they are at different levels of financial health, with different strategic and tactical imperatives, and range from innovative to conservative in culture. Despite all the hype around location intelligence and all the competitive advantages claimed, all these characteristics play a role in whether a company is ready for a Location Intelligence Officer.

To date, companies within the telecommunications, utilities, real estate, retail, natural resources planning, oil & gas, and mining industries have established geospatial departments because mapping and knowing the location of the assets of their business is a mission-critical requirement. Today, the nature of the extended enterprise (think outsourced services and manufacturing), the global supply chain, the location-based market drivers (who are your customers, where are they located, what do they want or need, and what other choices do they have?) and asset management is not just about knowing where your plant and facilities are located. It’s about the other assets that were in some cases traditionally managed as accounts receivables. Today the customer asset is about how to get the right product or service to the right customer at the right time. If the growth of your business depends on effectively managing an extended enterprise, a global supply chain, and effectively identifying, creating, and maintaining customers, then your organization requires a Location Intelligence Officer.

It’s not in the title

The reality is that location-based services, applications, and mobile devices are changing the way people do business. When individuals embrace a game changer, then the organization has to take notice. Location intelligence just needs to be treated strategically; the location information officer doesn’t need to be at a CxO level. He or she can be a Vice President or Director, but the C-suite DOES have to champion the role of location intelligence in the organization.