Top 10 Location Intelligence Mistakes

And How to Avoid Them
By Arthur Berrill | Published May 25, 2011

Location intelligence (LI) looks different on your smartphone than integrated with your legacy enterprise systems. Is implementing an LI solution for your organization as easy as consumer applications and vendors make it seem?

Location intelligence projects look different across organizations. Whether championed by non-techies or techies within an organization, there are many things to consider in realizing the expectations associated with pursuing a location intelligence strategy/project. Often-times, challenges arise from setting too narrow a focus with what are perceived as plug-and-play applications, or too broad a focus with inadequate internal resources to achieve the intended business objectives. Below is a list of the Top 10 location intelligence mistakes made by companies that learned the hard way.

Mistake 1. Unrealistic Expectations

Google Earth and Bing have set expectations that visualizing data on a map is easy. The problem is that implementation of data, databases, and the business logic required to achieve the intended business objectives is often more complicated than anticipated. The expectation is that a few techies can cobble together a GoogleEarth application that will transform the business. The reality is not so simple, but also not as complicated as many IT professionals and geospatial consultants lead the business visionaries to believe.

Unrealistic expectations also arise from oversold technologies when the business objectives were not clearly articulated. Business visionaries are particularly susceptible to this mistake when their technical/mapping and geo counterparts are not familiar with modeling business assumptions.

What is the scope of the project? Is it to answer a question, to define a new focus within a department, or to form a new corporate initiative? Without clear expectations of what the application or system is intended to do, and without understanding of the capabilities and limitations of particular technologies employed, end-users can, for example, become frustrated by the performance of the system. The user may expect a 10-second response time to a query such as “Show me all sales territories for each of the $10k sales people and overlap that on demand territories,” and the system is still running after 30 minutes. The mistake here also arises from miscalculating what it takes to move from a small, manageable R&D or pilot project to a full enterprise integration.

Recommendations:

  • Have big ambitions but start small; define a small business problem and solve that.
  • Set realistic expectations by understanding what is possible with the resources and data available.
  • Outline a clear scope of work that supports the business assumptions.
  • Educate and solicit the buy-in of the user community.
  • Audit the project requirements for clarity and achievability.

Mistake 2. Lack of Focus on the Business Objectives

It is very easy for people to be seduced by the map, especially when it comes with all sorts of bells and whistles such as animation, heat maps, themes, temporal analysis, interactivity, zoom in and out, and search. Often, as a result of the visual effects, people can lose sight of the business objectives—what are the end-user and the business trying to achieve by visualizing data on a map and conducting spatial analytics? More importantly, whose business problem is it?

Who is driving the business objective? If the business objective is driven bottom up by analysts, managers, and directors, then they have to sell it to upper management; if the C-suite is the driver, then it needs to make sure that the business objective can be implemented and adopted by the organization. Without the business objective front and center, and constantly reinforced as progress is demonstrated on the role of the project, the project runs the risk of being viewed as yet another technology project.

Recommendations:

  • Make sure all the stakeholders involved are clear about the business objectives.
  • Develop a business case. Share why the location information is needed from the business perspective.
  • Ask the hard questions. Is a map really needed? Is the cool stuff too much of a distraction? What is the minimum “readout” needed to achieve the business goal?

Mistake 3. Lack of Understanding of Data Availability and Usage Rights

Companies are awash in internal data and data licensed from third-party data providers. Different departments may source the same data from the same or different providers, resulting in different data models or variables. Departments may have different IT infrastructures and databases that complicate enterprise integration and correlation of enterprise data.

The data that feed the system are critical in reaching your business objectives. For example, if the objective is to understand real-time market changes, then outdated census data will be of no use. Access to and visualization of household demographic data will help a food beverage company better understand the demographics that surround the store to determine if it is the right customer profile for their product. However, it will do little for the company if it is trying to maximize store promotions without the local store data.

Understanding the data required and accessibility and timeliness of the data are critical to successful experience with the LI system and with any third-party data provider.

Understanding the usage rights associated with the use of free or purchased data is essential. Often, people start using apps and data available off the Internet, and they don’t read the license agreement, which can result in additional fees or infringement if improperly used.

Recommendations:

  • Make sure you undertake a data assessment before committing to a particular technology platform.
  • Develop a central data repository if one does not already exist in your organization.
  • Manage the usage rights of the data sources required for the solution.

Mistake 4. Spatial Data Ignorance, a Common Architectural Mistake

As a result of primarily consumer location-based applications, many users have come to believe that they don’t need to know anything about geography in order to implement enterprise location-based applications or systems. This belief results in the inability to differentiate when spatial data is special and needs to be treated as such, and when it is not special, depending on the business objective and ultimate output and usage of the data. Some users will tell you that geographic data, or spatial data is just data; there’s nothing special about it. Well, there’s nothing special about it until your map shows your factory in the middle of Lake Michigan, or your logistics routes 150 miles off. Mistakes like these are the fastest ways for users to lose confidence in your system. There are some basics that someone on your implementation team needs to know.

Recommendations:

  • Size of the data: Spatial data is the most voluminous type of data that can be consumed. This has implications for database storage and performance.
  • Accuracy of the data: How accurate is the data? How do you know the data you are using is right? How precise do you need to be in pinpointing a location for a business objective?
  • Currency of the data: How old is the underlying map data—the roads, topography, aerial/satellite imagery? Is it 3 days, 3 months, or 3 years old? Can your system handle real-time information, and how is that defined—as updates every 3 seconds, every day, or every week?
  • Translation of the data: If you are visualizing data onto a map, geocoding is only one piece of the puzzle; you need to ensure that you have an accurate projection system (or even the correct reference system) so that the points are accurately displayed.
  • Make sure you have geospatial/location intelligence programming experts on your team. When you don’t, costs rise, because it takes more time to figure out the technology than to build the application.
  • Develop a location intelligence or location awareness roadmap.

Mistake 5. Unanticipated Time, Costs and Maintenance

Depending on how people become exposed to implementing location-aware enterprise business applications, either through specific technology vendors, consultants tied to specific technologies, or location technology publications and resources, the total time and cost of implementation, including total cost of ownership or maintenance of LI applications and services, are often miscalculated.

The data costs associated are typically 35-45% of the cost of an LI project. Also, 30-35% of the initial data investment needs to be factored for annual maintenance of the data. Time spent structuring the data is also generally underestimated, which usually turns out to be 20-50% of the implementation time to make sure the analysis results in insightful information. If the data are not maintained, all of these upfront investments are lost and the credibility of the system is compromised. Data maintenance is the most critical component, yet is where most companies cut costs. Accuracy of the data is where the data costs rise; the more dynamic the data, the more often you have to update the information.

Recommendations:

  • Develop a business case with all costs and benefits associated with maintaining an LI service or application. Ask your technology providers for business cases and ROI on their technology and services.
  • Develop a detailed scope of work and project plan.
  • Design and architect the system with maintenance as a key factor. Spatial data for analytics is rarely static, and stale data is usually worse than no data at all.
  • See recommendations for Mistake #4.

Mistake 6. The Project Becoming an IT-led Initiative

When this occurs, the project is defined as a system implementation when it is actually an organizational change in doing business. Location awareness is a mindset and a business culture, and they need to be instilled throughout the organization. It is productivity, business intelligence, management, decision-making, decision-support, knowledge, and technology all bundled into an enterprise solution to achieve effective collection, distribution, analysis, and communication of mission-critical information. Very few modern IT organisations have the skills alone to effectively implement a location intelligent project.

Recommendations:

  • Develop a location awareness change management initiative.
  • Design location-based business process frameworks.
  • Assign a diverse core team that represents the key business functions and business objectives.

Mistake 7. Location Insights Remaining Silo’d

Buried within particular departments, insights are not easily shared across the organization. Corporate politics will remain corporate politics, but as long as the benefits of an LI application remain in one silo, the organization will not be able to reap the enterprise ROI benefits, and time, costs, and technologies will have to be duplicated in each silo.

Recommendations:

  • See Recommendations for Mistake #6

Mistake 8. Belief that LI Can Be Disconnected from IT

It is no secret that business functions have become frustrated with IT, either because of undelivered promises or of difficulty in working with IT on new information queries or new ideas. Many software and service providers will claim “information nirvana” without having to deal with the IT department. This is not entirely true. If the only objective is to be able to visualize your spreadsheet data on a map, then yes, this can be accomplished without involving IT. But once you get into correlation of enterprise data, your IT team is critical.

Recommendations:

  • Make IT your friend.
  • Location intelligence is generally outside the scope of most IT departments, and is viewed as another project on top of many other priority projects such as ERP, CRM, and BI. Instead, position location intelligence as IT friendly. It is an opportunity to extend legacy systems, but requires access to corporate data that may reside in multiple databases across multiple systems.

Mistake 9. The Wrong Technology

The right location technology that will result in a successful implementation is one that is aligned with the business goals. There are a number of options available for businesses to explore, from complex full-featured geospatial platforms, to simpler, less complex platforms. Which one is right for the business depends on the business objective, including the type of data that is required.

There are many commercial solutions that purport to be all things for everything location. There are actually no commercial solutions that really are all things for everything location. Every business will have a provable benefit from astute use of location intelligence but every business will have different goals and opportunities. The technology choice determines whether things start in the right or the wrong direction.

Companies that wish to own their own system have two options: they can build it from scratch using a combination of off-the-shelf and customized technologies, or they can retrofit their existing enterprise systems with a geospatial visualization component and with LI acting as a bridge to existing data systems.

Managed services are becoming increasingly popular. With a managed service, a company can take advantage of the spatial/location analytics of the provider’s location intelligence platform, and the company doesn’t have to worry about the most important and expensive component of a location intelligence system—the external third party data, including the mapping data.

Whether a company decides to build or outsource, evaluation of the technology to meet their business needs is critical. Absent a roadmap for the use of location technologies within the enterprise, an uninformed decision to go with a particular technology platform could restrict a company’s ability to meet future goals.

Recommendations:

  • Invest in an independent review of the technology options within the context of your business opportunity.
  • Develop a location intelligence strategic plan and roadmap.

Mistake 10. Lack of an Enterprise Location Awareness Vision

Geographic information continues to underpin many of the organization’s functions, from operations to marketing, from sales to finance. Lack of vision results in not having the proper oversight in place to ensure that the solution is virtualized, automated, cloud-ready, and sustainable to anticipate and address future user and technology expectations.

Recommendations:

  • The notion of a Geographic Technology Officer, or Location Intelligence Officer, is needed to ensure that resources are effectively utilized, internal data is effectively leveraged, departmental systems are seamlessly integrated, and the business and technology objectives are being met.
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