How geospatial data is strengthening business decisions

A web tool that combines geospatial information with business intelligence can help companies make more informed decisions and enable public authorities to better allocate and manage resources. The software, developed through an innovative Eurostars project GEO Key, is already being used by French authorities, and we expect it to be sold globally.

“Our aim was to democratise geodata and make this resource available for all needs and all businesses,” explains GEO Key project coordinator Fanny Le Chantelier from Business Geografic, a business unit of France-based Ciril GROUP. “The strength of geographic information systems (GIS) is that they are interoperable with all kinds of databases. Now, anyone should be able to use them.”

Business Geografic specialises in GIS, which gathers, manages and analyses many types of data, including spatial location. An important aspect of GIS is its ability to assemble a range of data into a layered set of maps within business applications. This allows complex themes to be analysed and communicated to wider audiences.

GIS applications are increasingly being used across diverse fields. Small businesses that cannot afford to invest in powerful business decision software platforms, as well as large companies looking for more reactivity and adaptability, are opting to harness the flexibility of GIS tools on their smartphones or laptops.

In practice, this means delivery services achieve increased efficiency by mapping their routes, and police authorities can better target resources by mapping crime. Landscape architects and regional and community planners are other potential beneficiaries.

A better picture

The GEO Key project has taken GIS technology to another level by combining it with business intelligence (BI): web reporting, analytical processing and data mining tools. BI helps businesses make decisions, gain insight into new markets, assess the demand and suitability of products and gauge the impact of marketing efforts. Analysts forecast that the BI market will grow to 26.88 billion US dollars by 2021.

GEO Key project participants saw a new opportunity to combine BI with GIS, opening up a niche market by offering SMEs a competitive edge. “The tool we envisaged would be able to quickly analyse competitors in a given territory, and identify whether there is necessary infrastructure for customers,” says Le Chatelier.

“A user would simply open a dashboard made of maps, charts or tables on their GEO Key application. It would aggregate all the business data they require and display it visually. Decisions are much easier to make if you can visualise data through an interactive map alongside a chart or a table.”

To develop the tool, Business Geografic worked with Dutch BI specialists HippoLine. “This cooperation helped us to deliver the product we had in mind,” says Le Chatelier. “We were able to input their expertise in business intelligence, test the prototype and then correct and edit where necessary. It is not always easy to collaborate with partners abroad, so Eureka was really important here. Is there a better way to think outside the box than by collaborating with companies from completely different markets?”

While the team faced some technical challenges in integrating BI and GIS into an easy-to-use tool, the experience helped both companies reach new levels of expertise. “We have all grown from this experience,” says Le Chatelier. “For example, learning to code storytelling dashboards was something new for us. HippoLine helped us develop an intuitive tool aligned with market needs.”

Interesting applications

The final market-ready product (also called GEO Key) can connect to an unlimited number of base maps, like OpenStreetMap, as well as other web mapping services. The tool supports X/Y coordinates, making it simple to geolocate postal addresses. It also offers a range of interactive representation modes including pie charts, bar charts, flow maps and density maps. Data can be processed at every geographic scale, from global level to building level.

“These data layer statistics and analyses enable you to generate business intelligence maps according to your needs,” says Le Chatelier. “These maps are fully customisable, shareable and reusable with other users you are collaborating with. We’ve designed the tool to be intuitive, so anyone can use it.”

Two important case studies underline the tool’s potential to improve public sector operations. DECIGEOM, the business intelligence information system of the French Direction Générale des Outre-Mer (responsible for administering the country’s overseas territories) has been enriched with GEO Key to meet the spatial data needs of certain users.

“DECIGEOM needs to process and integrate spatial data covering various themes and territories,” Le Chatelier explains. “They make value-added information available to the public through web thematic maps enriched with indicators and statistics.” This might include information on healthcare or educational services. For professional decision-makers, high value mapping tools like GEO Key can help the management of local policies (demography, youth, health, education, training, etc.) by making data visually understandable.

Another interesting test case is being conducted in the southern French Department of Aude. Dedicated GEO Key software is helping road professionals manage and supervise road networks and obstacles or incidents (e.g. road works, accidents and traffic build-ups). 

“Mapping road accident data and statistics can easily be filtered, by road or year for instance,” says Le Chatelier. “The tool really allows you to drill down to specific data that might cover a very large territory.” Elected officials, engineering officers and other road safety professionals can use the tool’s interactive maps during meetings to highlight and explain the main problems and challenges, leading to clearer and more collaborative decision-making. This GEO Key tool is currently under development and will be released soon.

The GEO Key project was completed towards the end of 2018, and Business Geografic is continuing to work with HippoLine to bring the product to both public and private sector markets. “We work with a reselling partner network across five continents, and HippoLine is an integral part of this,” says Le Chatelier. “We are currently training several partners in Europe, North Africa and Canada. Our collaboration in this project has helped to ensure that our geospatial BI tool is relevant internationally.”

Partners: Ciril Group (France), HippoLine (the Netherlands)

Project ID: 10327 GEOKEY (Eurostars)

Project duration: August 2016 to March 2019

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Posted 20 September 20