Location intelligence: Where you’ll need it

Knowing the geographical location of an individual or their dwelling is indispensable intelligence for say, an insurance firm, which may need to perform fraud detection on policy claims it receives.

“Companies can find out ‘if that claim is near a natural hazard, was it near that flood zone, was it in the path of that hurricane?’” said David Ower, managing director for Canada at MapInfo Canada, a Toronto-based provider of location intelligence products.

Besides fraud detection, it’s a competitive advantage, he said, for such businesses to be able to provide “very close to real-time” quotations to customers by collecting risk data in a person’s residential area.

Collecting that data, otherwise known as location intelligence — the integration of location into daily operations to help achieve analytical and operational advantage — may not be a novel idea, but with the advent of wireless devices, interest in the technology has heightened, according to an analyst.

“The global information system (GIS) industry is quite mature. It’s the marrying up of GIS and global positioning systems (GPS) with wireless that makes it a hot new technology with significant business applications,” said Tony Olvet, vice-president of communications practice at Toronto, Ont.-based research firm IDC Canada.

Location intelligence was “pretty niche” before mobiles with GPS-enabled chipsets could transmit that intelligence back to the carrier, said Olvet — not surprising, the communications industry is where most of the activity and interest is happening.

Actually, the technology is great for business operations that may need to connect in real-time the location of a device, asset, or a person to a back-end database, said Olvet. It’s great, he added, for making processes more efficient and effective, like managing the distribution of a fleet (trucks, inventory, machines), or delivering products and field services.

Location intelligence has business benefits in other sectors as well, said Ower, like retail organizations that can decide, based on customer demographic, where to locate facilities, or types of services to offer. Similarly, in finance, an older demographic might mean having to offer more RRSP, investment or mortgage services.

“Location intelligence has a strong value proposition to each of these verticals,” he said, adding that this is especially relevant given that organizations are collecting more customer data than ever before.

Looking forward, he added, businesses can forecast revenues from particular services, and benchmark between branches.

According to Anne Skinner, account executive with DMTI Spatial, a Markham, Ont.-based provider of location intelligence products, 85 per cent of corporate information has an associated spatial component.

This applies to businesses in general, she added, but particularly for telecommunications companies. “Most of their business processes involve delivering something somewhere, or determining serviceability or provisioning. Location is incredibly important to that answer and that business process,” she said.

In Canada, she said, the largest telecommunications and cable companies “have adopted [the technology] at an enterprise level, or have it pretty strongly integrated.”

The oil and gas industry, too, given it’s “so hot and busy”, said Skinner, may need to know who’s in the area and how to contact them in the event of a gas leak.

The idea of location intelligence, said Skinner, has been known to professionals at the operation/support level, but it’s only now gaining interest among the senior executive level for the purposes of better business planning.

Before this, she said, location-based tools were implemented within disparate business processes in an organization, like marketing and customer service. “But the industry is moving to look at it from an executive perspective and say… ‘why not suck all that together into a corporate approach so that I’m sharing information among those operational bodies?’”

Olvet, noted one “dark side” to location-based services. The commercial application may be to increase efficiency, but there are concerns about the privacy of those working in the field. That might impede future adoption, and “that’s something that the developer and service provider community will have to address.”

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