SAN DIEGO—Esri is working to plant its multi-layered digital atlases inside the workflow processes where business analysts live. At its annual user conference here, the company unveiled plans to embed Esri mapping software in SAP Business Objects business intelligence dashboards and Salesforce.com’s customer relationship management system.
With the launch of Esri Maps for Business Objects due by the end of July and an edition for Salesforce by November, Esri representatives said they are continuing a push to expand their list of location analytics offerings. In the past year, the geographic information systems vendor has released Esri Maps for IBM Cognos and three Microsoft products: Office, Dynamics CRM and SharePoint. An edition for MicroStrategy’s BI system is also in the works. Esri also has developed its own business analytics tools so that existing Esri users can perform location-based queries within their map-based view of the world in ArcGIS, a desktop, server and cloud service. Support for mobile applications is part of the plans.
In a related announcement at the conference, SAP said it would broaden the capabilities of its HANA in-memory data processing platform to enable real-time queries of Esri geographic and spatial data. David Jonker, senior director of product marketing for SAP, said the use cases for these applications will grow as geocoded data from smartphones, sensors and other machines proliferates.
All of this analytics energy comes at a time when the world around Esri—think of 1 billion smartphone users, or millions of motorists with GPS devices, or the rising popularity of data visualizations in media and business—has become more map aware. Privately-held Esri has been doing maps for more than 40 years and has built a business that sells $921 million a year in software and services. Now anyone can plot points or ask questions using a Web-based map. And while founder Jack Dangermond expresses genuine excitement about the technology’s pervasiveness (“Nobody is lost anymore,” he told 13,000 attendees from more than 100 countries), there was also some tension at the event about the proliferation of Google Maps.
When an insurance executive asked an Esri representative during a session on analyzing risk whether it was possible to use Google Maps with a location analytics package, there was a pause, followed by a polite response: “There are no plans” to do that. Later, a journalist giving a demonstration on using Esri’s applications to analyze California voting patterns mentioned working on a less-robust mapping project using tools from “a company who shall not be named.”
As maps have become ubiquitous, Esri has sought to go both broad and deep with its technology. Last year, the company launched the cloud-based ArcGIS Online service that combines map-making layers with datasets and tools to analyze them. It has opened an area on the Github code-sharing site for displaying geospatial applications—and to lure new developer talent to the location-based field with contests and other projects. In April, it launched GIS tools for Hadoop to connect its user base and technologies to the big data trend. The company also plans to set up an application marketplace so that third-party developers can offer add-ons to Esri’s geographic information systems platform. It plans to add datasets related to market demographics and landscapes, as well as social media tools to its platform. And it is building capabilities through acquisitions and partnerships.
And without citing competitors, Esri asserts its work is different from the field of map mashups—that there is deeper meaning that comes from correlating location data with a range of other datasets and designing queries that allow analysts to make projections.
“Our mission is to geo-enable the enterprise,” said Arthur Haddad, chief technology officer for location analytics at Esri. He said one of the core tenets of his group is to provide “mapping visualizations that are more than dots on a map,” adding: “The point is what you can do with it.”
Haddad said that his group’s work for commercial customers is the company’s fastest-growing segment. He spoke in a glass-walled space within an expo floor at the San Diego Convention Center within the “Location Analytics Island,” a new feature at the user conference this year with desktops loaded with Esri, Microsoft and IBM Cognos software set up to test-drive applications.
Esri’s approach to analytics is to embed its capabilities within the tools that business analysts know, and to make location-based queries straightforward, Haddad said. He demonstrated by embedding an Esri map in an Excel spreadsheet. And he showed a preview of the Esri Map Designer for Business Objects application, where he pulled data to simulate the process of examining customer demographics, such as household incomes, within a 10-minute drive of a retail store.
Haddad said Esri is working with technology partners including QlikView to add capabilities such as sentiment analysis and machine learning technologies to its location analytics. And he said Esri wants to connect its location analytics tools to data warehouses. “We need to work with [database architects] and work our way into the back end, and ETL processes. And then make it simple as apple pie,” he said.