How the telcos use mapping data

With growth starting to slow, some of the country’s biggest telecom companies are turning to location intelligence technology to better target customers and drive future business goals.

At this week’s Intelligent Enterprise Expedition (IEE) 2008 in Toronto, companies from across the country got together to share their experiences in utilizing geographic information system (GIS) technology within the enterprise environment. And while the conference featured GIS adopters from a wide variety of industries, it was telcos such as Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp., and MTS Allstream Inc. that seemed to be at the forefront in their integration of location intelligence technology.

In his keynote speech, Terry Canning, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Business Networks, said that his company turned to the spatial technology in its effort to move from a mass marketing approach to a targeted marketing focus.

“What we need is pictures,” Canning said. “Maps allow us to really visualize our marketplace. And by overlaying customer data, it gives us the opportunity to understand more about our customers and where they live.”

GIS is a mapping tool that allows users to capture, store, analyze and manage data related to positions on the Earth’s surface. For instance, a typical system might be able to offer the crime statistics, income level, and unemployment rate of city at a street by street level.

Canning said that by interconnecting physical locations with customer attributes, location intelligence has empowered his company to look at customers on an individual level as opposed to just a “point on a map.” Using the system, Rogers can now “zoom in” on any address, pick out the socio-economic characteristics of the entire community, and use the information to accurately predict what the potential customer might want.

“Because we can now look at details down to the street level, we find ourselves asking questions we never would have thought of previously, such as, ‘how come nobody on that street is buying our services,’ Canning said.

But Rogers isn’t the only telco to get on the GIS bandwagon. With MTS Allstream’s location intelligence system, the Winnipeg-based company can filter data using 53 different map layers ranging from network availability to incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) boundaries.

“So, whether it’s sales, marketing or network planning, they can choose the type of report they want with the map and have it delivered instantly,” Andrea Dawkins, GIS manager at MTS Allstream, said.

But despite the company’s success with the system, Dawkins did cite some technical challenges that enterprises thinking of adopting location intelligence should keep in mind.

Address formatting issues, she said, can create serious headaches due to the fact municipalities, postal and police services all use different formats. To get around this, MTS Allstream assigns every home or business with a location ID that takes into account all the characteristics needed to identify an address.

“Accuracy is also a big deal in GIS because every location means a potential sale,” Dawkins said. “If you can’t locate something or have incorrect data on a location it will have a big impact. Because of this, data costs are significant and it grows exponentially.”

Speaking of costs, over at rival Telus, the Vancouver-based company estimated it’s spent about $40 million to develop its GIS-based system – an expense that Gordon McElravy, Ontario manager at Telus Geomatics, said has been well worth the money.

“Despite what we’ve spent, the system is such an integral part of our business now that we’ve created a whole division (Telus Geomatics) to market it to our clients,” McElravy said.

And costs might not be an issue for very much longer, according to Rogers. It said the biggest opportunity for the future of location intelligence technology – and what will hopefully help to alleviate the cost concerns that come with implementing the system – is the idea of shared databases.

“A courier company has different reasons for the information it uses than a cable company does, so a shared database strengthens our data intelligence as well as with cost efficiency,” Canning said.

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