EP4 – Exploring the Huge Gulf Between the Possibilities of Location Analytics and Business Goals

In this episode

In this episode of On Point with Korem, I’ll be speaking to Lynne Schneider, an analyst with the market research firm, IDC. Lynne focuses her research specifically on the location intelligence market and speaks regularly with both companies utilizing the technology as well as vendors. We discuss the rise of data marketplaces, how providers of cloud-native technology are supporting geospatial data and the impact this is having on users of business intelligence solutions. I think you’ll find this a very informative discussion who takes an analytical and agnostic view of location intelligence market.


Joe Francica: In this episode of On Point with Korem, I sat down with Lynne Schneider. She’s an analyst with the market research firm IDC. Part of Lynn’s time is dedicated to the Location Intelligence market, and she speaks regularly with technology vendors. We spoke about the rise of data marketplaces and how this is impacting business intelligence solutions, as well as its users. I think you’ll find this an extremely informative discussion with someone who takes both an analytical, as well as an agnostic approach, to looking at the location intelligence market. Stay tuned for another episode of On Point.

JF: So Lynne, thanks very much for doing this. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover with some of these, so let’s just start off with maybe some of what your clients are seeing and how they’re using location technology and whether they find it a more critical part of their analytical process?

Lynne Schneider: Yeah so, what I would say is that what’s happened is that WHO the clients are, have really expanded. So it’s not just traditional GIS departments who are interested in things related to location, but I think there’s been a slow and steady drum beat where people who are maybe you’re more traditional business analysts, or I hesitate to say more traditional data scientists, but folks have really been expanding their horizons to look at what location, as context, can add to what they’ve been doing in terms of forecasting, customers, you know all sorts of different kinds of use cases.

JF: Do you think that’s as a result of the increased awareness of location technology? We see it every day in the apps we have on our mobile phones or is there something other, more intrinsic, that they see that they didn’t have before?

LS: Yeah, I think it’s something that, if we were to spin back the clock a full two years ago, if we put ourselves in the fall of 2019, that it was gaining some traction. Because people were becoming bigger users of B22C applications that included some aspect of location, whether that was Apple Maps, Google Maps, find restaurants near me, whatever it was. The period of the pandemic, when people and businesses were trying to view things, kind of within their box! Where they were sheltering in place or where they were working from home, or they were working from some alternative location. I think that just made it even more salient in people’s minds that location is an important aspect of how things happen, that people could use location intelligence and location related data to observe places where they were not physically.

JF: Yeah

LS: Not just transactions but tracking the pollution in China to figure out if the factories were back up and running again. Things like that.

JF:  Well and there was also a great deal of offices, on just general traffic analysis, because we saw cars leaving the road. You could actually see that there was a diminished amount of cars, that led to a diminished amount of pollution and I think people recognized by seeing whatever media that they were watching, whether it was the New York Times or whatever, that was exposing some of these things and exposing them visually as maps, that all of a sudden people went “Oh wow! I didn’t realize the spatial extent of what was happening”.

 LS: I think also there were limitations and rules that varied by geography. And, it wasn’t even big geography, like what’s the rule in the US versus what’s the rule in Canada but what’s the rule in the county where I live versus the county where I want to go get groceries or go to the doctor or what have you, because so many decisions were made at a very tight geographic level.

JF:  Yeah, well one of the things that people looked at, I know I certainly did, was the John Hopkins website that was stood up to look at everything and I think people understood the power of visualization but also because it was a dashboard they could interact with the data in particular, that got a lot of people thinking about how I can now visualize and analyze the data. I don’t know if you saw that or whether you think that was a factor, but it was viewed so many times, that I wonder that if you had all of these business intelligence users that are now coming into looking at a different way of analysis, whether it’s a Tableau user or whoever, that they too found that maybe I ought to try this in my BI tool.

LS: Well I think the point that you made Joe about the interactivity, I hadn’t even thought of it before you said that, but now when I see demos and I hear people talk through use cases, you know from vendors or even people showing their own best practices, one of the things that they really highlight is that interactivity. That it’s not just coming back and saying “well, to get to our store, people travel on average three and a half miles”. But to be able to click into that map and say “where are customers coming from”?

JF: Yeah

LS:  How long did they take to get there?

JF: So that brings up an interesting question, which is; now that people can interact, is that exposing either a lack of expertise that they didn’t formally know they lacked about having to analyze location data and now all of a sudden they go “oh I really want to analyze this deeper”! And it isn’t just a pretty picture anymore, it’s the analytics and the interactivity behind it.

LS: I think it just goes back to, in the abstract, I think folks hadn’t necessarily realized the important context that location plays.

JF: Okay

LS: But when they could physically see those things in front of them, it just it just brought it back to mind, and maybe I say that because I’m kind of a visual person.

JF: Let’s explore that a little deeper because that’s the most obvious part of location analytics, is the map. But there are some who want to go deeper into the analytics that say that ,it isn’t all about the map! It’s that deeper analytics’, that utilizes the technology under the hood, that exposes the information in a way that doesn’t have to be visual but really gets at some of the meat of true location analytics.

LS: Yeah, and I would say that you are right because I like to have things a little bit concrete, you know to pick on a use case, like you know you’re trying to figure out who’s shopping in a particular store. And what their commute time is and all those things. That could see a map that had a lot of car paths on it, but that’s not really analytics.

JF: Right, right.

LS: But, if instead what you see is physically where that store is on the map, then you see a chart to this side that shows kind of deciles of commute time and then you can click into those and learn more about the demographics or the affinity card use of the shoppers who are making that kind of trip to your store. I think that is the deeper analytics that you’re talking about but putting it in the context of location and adding that interactivity, which I think that you had in it to blow a click a power BI but it brings a new user friendliness and visualization to it. It adds that additional dimension.

JF: If we went to the other side of that, so back up from visualization, all the way to the data quality side, the data integration side, do you find that clients now realize that that’s a very critical part of the entire process and that it isn’t quite black and white, that “oh I’ve bought this data, now I can just look at it. I’ve now got to consider all of the implications of quality the authoritative sources of the data, etc…”?

LS:  I think that there is a huge gulf or stopping point between a business analyst or manager or an executive, looking at the interactivity or the possibilities, and the road map that’s necessary to make that a reality for their company. I think that most data scientists and data engineers are wise enough, in a certain way, that they’ve kind of stepped away from location and spatial related analytics and have said “You know what, that’s a specialty area, I can get to some of that, sort of “. But they kind of need the push from the end users to get them over that hump of it is more difficult.

JF: And that brings up the question of whether geospatial data is a special data type? Or, is it just another piece of data? Is there really any more expertise that you need to analyze; location-based information, then you would a spreadsheet of financial information?

LS: Well, I would say that it’s like adding any other dimension. Like, as you’re saying that, what’s coming into my mind is that we didn’t always do time series analysis, right? And, in a way, time is a special attribute, right? Because we count it, we got funny formats for it, not everybody uses the same format so you have to check the file, right?

JF: Yeah, that’s right.

LS: But now, could you find somebody who’s a data scientist or a business analyst, really of any worth, who doesn’t know there are some stickiness, but I need to have time.

JF: Yeah, yeah. Let me ask you about a report that IDC published on data marketplaces, and I know the one that I’m referring to, and you’re probably familiar with,  is the one sponsored by HERE, which is a partner of ours, but I’m wondering if you see data marketplaces like HERE, or data as a service rising? Because you only see the traditional player like HERE, but you see Snowflake and Amazon standing up data marketplaces and i wonder if that adds to whether the education of users or the confusion of users that they’re now seeing geodata in these marketplaces?

LS:  Yeah, I will say that geodata is probably most often found in a specialized platform, like HERE’s location platform, like things that are available through ESRI’s living Atlas, or even some of the other kind of more traditional GIS and spatial information. You go to a Carto they have data sets as well, if you go to an Amazon data exchange, to a Snowflake, to some of the others, there are some location related attributes and you’ve got AWS with the new location service. It’s definitely top of mind for a lot of people. I think that the marketplaces are providing exposure to more of the art of what’s possible. But I do think that for the bulk of users, but certainly the newer users, somebody like HERE or even ESRI is doing some, i hesitate to call it “quality control and standardization,” but they’re making the data sets more ready to analyze.

JF: And by saying that, you think that they can ingest the data into these platforms more readily and have some faith, that again, this is an authoritative source and it’s good data and i’m going to be able to use it immediately?

LS: Right and also when you can correlate it to points of interest or areas of interest, that it really happened in those places. And, it’s been standardized in a certain way.

JF: You know, I struggle with the data marketplaces because there would be an assumption, and I go back to my earlier statement that I’m a BI user and I automatically know how to process the data. And I remember going to a Tableau user conference and they make these wonderfully visual dashboards and their , that they call them, and yet I hope that people understand that they are more than just pretty pictures and that there’s meaning behind them and that there’s true analytical capability in these platforms. And so the question arises; Am I a Tableau user or am I an ESRI user?  And what’s the level of analytics that I can do with these platforms and where’s this Venn diagram of the overlap of the two, like “Oh, well Tableau is really just a GIS platform and I can use that?” Do you see any confusion in that space?

LS: Well, I would say that there’s even a third space, which is the creation of apps or dashboards where it really is more kind of a pick list. And people aren’t setting, truly setting up their own analytics. They’ve essentially set up a dashboard for review, that more the business operator can use. I think that it depends how sophisticated and precise, like do you need the full capabilities of a GIS in order to do the kind of analysis that you’re doing? Would I want to take data derived from spatial imagery to figure out deforestation and put that into tableau? Well of course not!

JF: Yeah

LS: I mean, it’s just not built for that purpose. Now, if I was trying to do something about the demographics of my shoppers from various different zip codes, I could display that on a map in Tableau. I could put that into more of a GIS visualization and I think then you’re talking about what is the organization more familiar with? Or, what do they want to be combining that data with?

JF: Well that’s a good point but if I look at some of those satellite companies today that are capturing remotely sensed data and they’re trying to turn that data into forested cover and even getting all the tree species data. And, I think what I’m seeing is that they finally recognize that they’re a data company and not a satellite company. What they want to do is have these derivative data sets provided to more users, not just the traditional GIS user. So there would be nothing to say that they couldn’t sell you a map of deforestation and import that into Tableau. And, I think that is what may be pushing even the Tableaus of the world, to creating more functionality in their platform.

LS:  Yeah, I don’t know that you can point to a general BI tool that doesn’t have some mapping and locational representation visualization today? And, that probably wasn’t true three years ago!

JF: Well, it certainly wasn’t true 10 or 15 years ago when I tried to talk to a BI company and going “Oh well, that’s just map stuff, you know we don’t really need that”, and as you say every BI tool today has some sort of map visualization. So that’s a great progression of our industry i guess, to the point where we’ve educated a broader level of users maybe, I don’t know?

LS: I think that education, and not like deep technical education, like do you need to go to a university and take a GIS course, but kind of the socialization and understanding of the possibilities is where you see the two different kinds of companies at a crossroads today.

JF: Right, right.

LS: Because you see companies who’ve been more associated with the term GIS or with those specialists, and even as you mentioned about the satellite companies or some of the derivative analytics and and orbital insights, somebody like that, they can’t grow just appealing to the audience who’s always bought those products. And at the same time, a Tableau or a Click, or someone like that, is saying well I’ve got this really great entrenched user base, why don’t I just grow incrementally, in functionality?

JF: Right. Does that put any additional pressure on people like Chief Data Officers, CIOs, to wrestle with a new type of data? And not just the type of data but the volume of data that they’re ingesting? I mean do you get any questions like that from CIOs or CDOs?

LS: Yeah, I mean the volume question is a big thing! I think that the other development here, that enables the greater utilization of location of geospatial intelligence and analytics, is the ability to have some of that data and processing in the cloud. That people just couldn’t deal with the space constraints, they couldn’t deal with the need for compute, if this wasn’t cloud based.

JF: Yeah, well you see that the companies that are very cloud native, the Data Bricks, the Snowflakes, being able to now manage geospatial primitive data points lines in areas. That’s a new development in and of itself, that now these companies know that they have to be able to process and analyze geospatial data

LS: Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve been chatting with my colleague who helps monitor the overall data sphere, and in addition to video and everything, so many new start-up satellite companies and where is all that data going?

JF: And that’s one of the questions that I raised just a while ago, which is there’s so much data being collected and they’re going to have to turn that raw data into usable data sets that they can buy and sell. Again, just from an economic point of view and a business model point of view, that’s great that you can collect all this data but how are you going to sell it?  And how are you going to educate a new crop of users that this is really valuable information? And to your point, you shouldn’t have to go to school to get a degree in GIS to be able to use the data, right, so we’ll see.

JF: But, maybe one final question for you is; IDC is now covering this market quite extensively. I certainly don’t see some of your competitors doing it quite as well, but do you think that IDC was forced into covering this area for obvious reasons, that there’s more of it?

LS: Well, I would say that we try to go to where our clients are. Maybe a step or two ahead of them! I’m not a hockey player right, but you skate to where the puck’s going, not to where the puck is!

JF: Right.

LS: Having worked in the general data as a service space, what we found was that over the past several years over half of the companies that were looking for data were looking for data that had a location component. Or, something related to that. That, if you’re just looking for information about businesses or people to market to, or even some other kinds of metrics and sales related things, people kind of know where to go and the change there is incremental. Whereas, the change in this location in geospatial space, it’s changing rapidly and I think it’s poised for you know just like a huge difference.

JF: Great, I’m glad you hear you say that! That’s job security for maybe both of us! Yeah, good, well we’ll leave it there. Again, thank you Lynne for doing this, this has been a great conversation, I appreciate your time.

LS: Always nice catching up with you Joe.

JF: Thanks again for joining us on another On Point with Korem. If you liked today’s podcast, please leave a comment in the comment box where this podcast is posted, which could be Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, or YouTube. I hope you’ll join us next time for another On Point with Korem, where we’ll get On Point.