WELL CONNECTED GEOGRAPHICS

by Larry Daniel

Vice President, Research & Information Systems

Castillo Company

Phoenix, Arizona

(from Business Geographics January 1995)

When looking for where business geographics is heading, it can useful to study where some early innovators are today. A lot of "visionaries" see the technology heading toward enterprise-wide configurations and a broader range of software applications. A significant set of innovators in other industries are leveraging its value in a different manner - by integrating it with other systems and presenting their end users with systems that combine the best of several technologies. If you are looking for ways to offer your users a more potent product, it might be useful to consider coupling GIS with other systems.

Perhaps the most pervasive "neighboring" technology is currently imaging. Workstation GIS packages have long enabled aerial photos to be integrated as raster images behind digital maps. With several staellites now up in the skies, users also have several options for providers of digitial imagery, the most prominent of which is likely SPOT Image Corporation (Reston, VA).

On the desktop, ESRI's ArcView allows the integration of aerial imagery in a manner similar to workstation- based ArcInfo. Other major Windows packages like SMI's Atlas*GIS and Mapping Information's MapInfo don't necessarily provide for background imagery integration, but can support the display of standard image formats through connections to DLLs (dynamic link libraries) or connections to PC imaging tools. These connections are also nice for displaying site photos, layouts, or contract images. And they're effective, where "a picture paints a thousand words", an image can solidify the sense that the corresponding digital data and analysis are grounded in reality.

An interesting extension to images is moving video. Years ago, while working with Andersen Consulting, we developed a GIS-based prototype that incorporated footage of railroad tracks for demonstration of GIS-based railway management. The effect was gripping. Today, similar power is being developed at GeoSpan (Minneapolis), where fleets of vans are shooting neighborhood "drive-throughs" to support real estate software (see Business Geographics July/August '93).

When thinking of fleets of vehicles, we can also consider ties to GPS. Across the country, transit departments are gradually adopting GIS/GPS systems that optimize how public transportation is monitored, allocated and assigned. In Phoenix, for example, Castillo has participated in the development of a GIS/GPS based paratransit rideshare application. GIS World has chronicled the use of GIS/GPS extensively (most recently in its July '94 issue), while Business Geographics highlighted the development of GIS/GPS at Denver's Rapid Transit District (May/June '94). The GeoSpan Geovans mentioned above use GPS to locate the position of the corresponding footage. Wherever moving assets are deployed across a wide span of geographic terrain, the GIS/GPS link can provide unparalleled management and inventory of their locations.

Another emerging linkage appears to be information kiosks. The September '93 issue of Government Technology, for example, featured the role of GIS and information kiosks in promoting the state of Kentucky. In this marriage, GIS is the chief integrator of a multimedia approach to information dispersal. Kiosks deliver the information at State Parks where users can examine maps of local attractions and watch promotional footage of events like the Kentucky Derby. A similar configuration has been used to manage state employment information in Texas (Government Technology, May '94). The early lesson is that touchscreen data is hot. The remaining hurdle appears to be in developing durable kiosks. With providers of communications and kiosk technology, like Pacific Rim Network Systems (Anchorage), working in this area, the integration of GIS and information kiosks are likely to surface with even greater prominence.

Personally, I have often felt that some of the most compelling possibilities are for pen-based GIS laptops, like that being developed by PenMetrics (Corvallis, OR) or the PDAs, such as depicted by Tony Buxton in the July/August '93 issue of Business Geographics. So many companies are undertaking sales force automation initiatives -- imagine the power if seasoned salespeople could reference powerful maps, charts and reports without having even touching a keyboard. There are price, durability and technical issues in capturing meaningful power in such a small unit, but this area is evolving rapidly. Soon, salespeople could have all the technical capabilities that they've always sought, without having to pitch the tool (pen/pencil) that they've already mastered.

Several other technologies also offer powerful extensions to business geographics, particularly in the area of telecommunications. The important point, I think, is to shed a GIS-centric view of business geographics -- it's most powerful when presented as part of an integrated solution.