by Taylor Courtnay
Recently, a transportation company rescued $20,000 worth of smart pallets out of a swamp. How the pallets got there and how they were discovered is an intriguing story of a technology called location intelligence.
Business Intelligence provides companies data on the who, what and when that drives their business operations. Location intelligence is the “where” of business intelligence that is frequently overlooked. It is the ability to take data and map it in intuitive, visual displays. For example, users can easily see the difference between looking at a columnar report of data and looking at a heat map. While location intelligence isn’t new, it is now becoming combined with powerful analytics software to help companies across many industries solve problems that were previously too expensive or even impossible to tackle.
Mapping New Opportunities
One of the biggest benefits of location intelligence is the ability to map out new opportunities. An oil and gas company we worked with used location intelligence to speed up response times to potential business opportunities. Utility companies in the city regularly receive calls from ranchers who have discovered natural gas hot-spots on their ranches. The first utility company to respond to the rancher with a viable plan for connecting to and pumping the gas gets the deal. Using an interactive map of its natural gas pipeline, the company is able to quickly locate connection routes between its pipeline and ranchers’ gas deposits. Now, the company can respond almost immediately to ranchers’ calls.
A retail company we worked with recently used location intelligence in the process of acquiring a smaller competitor. Combining business and geographic information, the company mapped out which of the competitor’s stores might cannibalize sales from its own existing stores and then it closed the competing locations. The company also used a mash-up of “ideal customer” demographic data and geographic information to pinpoint new locations to open stores.
Location intelligence is also highly useful for protecting existing assets. Recently, an insurance company sought our help in tracking hurricanes to determine, based on storm path, how many insured properties are at risk. Location intelligence can tell the company which of its offices will need to be ready and waiting to quickly serve and assist customers. In addition, reports of impending liability help the company estimate the amount of damages so it can re-allocate resources.
Finally, a transportation company we worked with is using location intelligence to better monitor the care of its transported cargo. The company uses smart pallets to ship perishable food from suppliers to stores. Each pallet is “smart” because it is equipped with GPS and an embedded cellular chip. At regular intervals, the chip calls home and radios its location by latitude and longitude. In addition, it can communicate the temperature surrounding the pallet. This became necessary when the company discovered that, in the course of moving the products from suppliers to stores, truck drivers would turn off refrigeration in order to save fuel costs. The lack of refrigeration during transit resulted in food that appeared okay upon arrival, but then quickly spoiled.
Using smart pallets and location intelligence, the chips began to report on these incidents, letting the suppliers know where their products are at all times as well as their condition. This was a clear win for the suppliers, but a source of frustration for the drivers. Some drivers attempted to get rid of smart pallets, even going to the extreme of dumping $20,000 worth into a swamp. However, the pallets’ cellular chips called home to report on their location and the temperature of the swamp.
Putting Location Intelligence to Work in Your Company
Location intelligence has tremendous potential to provide value in nearly any information-rich business. In fact, according to industry analyst firm IDC, more than 80 percent of the data collected by organizations has a spatial element. Companies whose data has a geographical component are candidates for Location Intelligence. One that has multiple offices, for example, could map out data geographically to reveal sales, age of equipment or marketing spend per office.
To many end users in your organization, the value of technology might be calculated by the speed of a new tablet, how much lighter their laptops weigh or how many more hours their smart phone batteries can last. Moving forward, however, with easy-to-use maps and visualization, location intelligence holds incredible promise for becoming a true problem-solver throughout companies.
Taylor Courtnay is the co-founder and vice president of sales at Decision First.