It is interesting to watch the walls breaking down between consumer and business-oriented technologies. For example, we’ve recently discussed opening the corporate vault of business intelligence to consumers to streamline customer service and disintermediate some of the activities currently managed by call centers. Another example is product configuration technology, originally created for shop floors and now offered to public use, most remarkably by Dell and similarly by automakers and apparel designers.

 

Another example of the crossover is the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and what its users call location intelligence: the ability to connect multiple attributes of products or people to specific regional attributes. GIS has become a staple of the supply chain because of its ability to optimize sales territories, delivery routes and location-sensitive inventory. On the consumer side, a simple example of location intelligence is the service vehix.com, which allows users to find a used car with specific options, paint color and price point within a specified radius of their location.

 

In business-to-business and business-to-government, GIS is being used to highlight regional demographics for both sellers and manufacturers, and to point out the geographical advantages of rail, interstate and waterway transit. If you haven’t noticed the celebrity-endorsed commercials for “Come Back to New Jersey,” or “Michigan: Gateway to the World,” be assured this is a very serious business for local governments that offer tax breaks and other incentives to entice businesses to relocate.

 

Now, GIS is the hottest government tool for attracting commerce and frankly, it’s a boon to business decision-making. At the state of Michigan site for example, anyone can access a county-by-county profiler of population, labor force, education and transportation resources and maps of regional areas. Data can be sliced year by year for income, types of employment, municipal services and so on.

 

As I said, this is serious business. Just south of the Michigan border, a group of 11 Indiana counties have banded together as the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, a sort of extended chamber of commerce to compete with Michigan and other regions to attract business. On the chooseNEindiana.com site, users can also access a wealth of detailed and county by county or summary demographic information on employment by industry, income, education, ethnicity and other attributes.

 

The chooseNEindiana site takes location intelligence a step farther with a tool called ZoomProspector from vendor GIS Planning that specifies building or land type, lease or buy and configuration. Need a 10,000 square foot industrial building with 10-foot ceilings and a rail siding? Just pop the specs into the tool and a Google map returns with the suitable sites. Drill down farther and the site displays the neighborhood and even an overhead view of the physical building itself through Google Earth maps.

 

Erica McCutchan, marketing manager of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, told me that her group ran perception studies to better understand the information businesses are looking for. “But really, we want to hand businesses as much information as we possibly can at one sitting. We know that a lot of business decisions are made before businesses even contact us and we want to get into that loop. If we can offer them the demographics and spending habits of people in a radius of a site they’re looking at, we feel that’s helpful at least.”

 

Just by fiddling with the tool, it’s easy to see that users can flip its purpose to their own, and use the information to contemplate new product ideas or even a personal relocation that fits their lifestyle. Between the maps and cross-data referencing, it’s fairly simple to identify cross-business synergies, and almost identify the neighborhood you’d like to commute from.

 

GIS analysts have caught onto this trend as well. Location intelligence firm Gadberry Group just sent me their list of seven boomtowns from 2007. Gadberry uses U.S. Census data (the old demographic standard and currently eight years old) and updates it with current consumer and household demographics to track change. Who knew Dallas suburb Frisco, Texas has shown the most dramatic growth in 2007, or that Plainfield, Il, farmland and fishing holes when I was growing up in Chicago, also made the list?

 

Well, now I do. It’s easy to imagine new and creative uses for GIS will be popping up for everyone from risk managers to land speculators to retirees. It’s just another tool in the kit, but a valuable one we’ll be seeing more of in the future.

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