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Location takes on innovation dimensions

This article appears in the issue January 2007 [Volume 16, Issue 1]


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We are rapidly moving into a world where location context is becoming the foundation for the next generation of killer applications. By definition, location is the extent of space occupied by a person, place or thing (Oxford Dictionary). When it comes to indexing, integrating and retrieving information, people naturally use place names and addresses to orient themselves, whereas mapping systems are oriented around mathematical models for location.

Today, most information systems, Web sites and enterprise applications have no sense of location. Historically this so-called "location intelligence" has been limited to specialized mapping software, geographic information systems (GIS) and the engines used to power Web mapping services from companies like Google (google.com) and MapQuest (mapquest.com).

Location intelligence can answer three big questions:

  • Which place (that is to say, correct address)? More than 24 percent of all mail in the United States is incorrectly addressed, according to a recent study by the U.S. Postal Service. Gartner and PricewaterhouseCoopers report that errors on address records in corporate systems are trending toward 30 percent.
  • Where is it? Location is a mathematical concept described by latitude/longitude or the geographic area described by a city boundary, requiring specialized indexes and software algorithms.
  • What is there? According to IDC, more than 80 percent of all computerized information is associated with locations. Creating a location-centric index on that information constitutes a new dimension for enterprise and Internet search.

With the emerging Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture (SOA) approaches in the enterprise, location is finally starting to surface as a mainstream concept. Today, for example, every online credit card transaction captured will soon authenticate the cardholder's billing address. That real-time validation is bound to spread to other Web applications. The location of point-of-sale transactions can be derived by cross-referencing the credit/debit terminal ID with accurate address and location data. Imagine, for instance, the FBI being able to monitor purchases of nitrate fertilizer from a nationwide chain in real time. Crime detection and analysis based on location-based purchasing patterns are evolving rapidly. The rapid growth of Wi-Fi hotspots and GPS technology built into wireless devices is increasing our ability to dynamically associate location with Internet users and transactions. And, of course, don't forget those coupons for a cup of coffee.

The race is on for location innovation as possibilities arise when technology emerges, by fusing the concepts of a unique identifier for a place—as well as its address, name and location—in a single key called a USL (universal spatial locator). That key will enable content associated with a place, in corporate databases, documents, images, URLs, directories, blogs or Web pages, to be tagged or linked to a location-smart index for retrieval. That will power a rich user experience for search, in a more natural context, and generate more precise and comprehensive search results. It also will power analytics for business intelligence and provide a new lens into operational data. Finally, it will provide a means to reorient the Web's content for discovery using a location dimension.

We will also soon find that location intelligence is ubiquitous in our personal and business lives. According to Calvin McElroy, CEO of Cquay, a market leader in on-demand location intelligence services, "The possibilities of location intelligence are endless. The Holy Grail will be when we finally cross-reference the addresses and place names in our business data and Web content, with location."

Telecommunications company Bell Canada has implemented Cquay location intelligence technology in its enterprise data warehouse, to enable location-centric data integration and analysis within BI tools—supporting network investment and marketing campaign planning. MapInfo, a location intelligence software vendor, claims that location is the foundation for making critical strategic and operational decisions in business and government.

Because everything has a location, and location is a fundamental organizing principal for our lives, a day will come when location technology permeates business systems and the Web. We will soon be looking at our cell phone to complete all of our purchasing transactions, doing a Google to find a special gift currently in stock at a local store, and zooming in to track the real-time location of our children walking to the nearest ice cream store.

The one constant is change and soon location will take on disruptive innovation dimensions. Is your organization prepared to take location and place to higher performance levels? Few are aware of location as the next killer application and its power to enhance product and service differentiation.


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