Thursday, March 31, 2011

AI - BI - LI - "Watson - Come Here..."

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Business Intelligence (BI), and Location Intelligence (LI) -- how are they related? LI is a convergence of BI and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and according to a recent article, we should expect a similar convergence of AI and BI in the near future. What will that convergence look like? And what will IBM's Watson have to do with it?

Bangalore-based Manthan Systems, a firm specializing in Retail Business Intelligence, believe the day of this convergence is approaching. But is this just another empty convergence promise? (I'm still waiting to do word processing on my toaster while I'm fixing breakfast.) Or are we actually moving toward "agile, intuitive and interactive solutions" that "will allow users to explore information freely rather than confining them to a predefined path of inquiry," as Manthan CEO Atul Jalan says in the company's press release?

Manthan's article asks the question: Can Watson Change Business Intelligence? Watson is, of course, the IBM-built computer that beat past champions on Jeopardy! You may wonder, why should we be amazed by a computer that can win a popular game show when other computers have been trouncing chess masters for decades?

The answer is heuristics. According to Wikipedia, heuristics "are strategies using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem solving in human beings and machines." What this means, essentially, is that the human ability to solve problems is inextricably linked to our ability to learn and to apply experience. Traditionally, this ability has separated us from computers.

A computer plays chess using a body of human knowledge applied to precise movements within a limited scenario. Watson's capabilities need to span language comprehension, complex search of a large and broad range of data sources, and heuristic analysis to produce the most appropriate answers -- and to do it quickly.

Watson won at Jeopardy! not because of an out-of-the-box algorithm that gave it superior problem solving skills to its human competitors, but because its handlers "taught" it (or it "learned") how to play the game.

Is that real AI? Well, I don't think it would pass Alan Turing's test. But it may still have far-reaching effects on human-machine interactions. As the article points out, in the recent past, we've seen developments in search algorithms, mobile analytics, unstructured data analysis, predictive analytics, and collaborative BI. All of these developments point in the right direction.

I believe the greatest benefits of this gradual convergence and evolution will be "quality of insight" and "speed to insight," and the key to achieving better insights faster lies partly in the way the machine interacts with our queries, and partly in how it presents the various layers of applicable information for our consumption. Insight is not just about receiving information: you have to be able to grasp its significance and context as well.

Curiously, the Manthan article makes no mention of one area of BI convergence that is occurring now, and really is providing better quality of insight and speed to insight, and that is location intelligence. It's curious, because I can think of no market sector that will benefit more from LI than the Retail sector. Location Intelligence creates speed to insight by presenting complementary sets of intelligence (i.e., geospatial and textual) that allow the individual's very different left brain and right brain processing capabilities to work together, using whole-brain analytics to achieve a "Eureka" moment -- a flash of insight.

It's not AI, but it is a significant evolutionary step in the history of BI.

Judgment: the Manthan article is guilty of undocumented hype ("Experts say…"), but it makes a valid point about the evolution of BI as a more agile, intuitive and interactive medium.

*Alexander Graham Bell's first utterance into the newly invented telephone is reported to have been "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

APOS LIS Integrates With Safe Software

Now that Safe Software supports the flavor of JSON used by Esri, APOS LIS is now able to integrate with layers developed using Safe Software's GIS data translation and conversion tools.

This integration opens up new vistas for companies using APOS LIS. Normally, LIS users are restricted to opening base maps and layers from ArcGIS Server or a geospatial database in the APOS LIVE Viewer. Now they can add layers created using Safe Software's tools, which can read from approximately 280 different sources.

What's more, these additional layers do not have to be uploaded to the ArcGIS server, but can be accessed by the LIS user on the fly from a database external to the system. Using Safe Software layers in this manner provides flexibility for all LIS users, and for users of the Cloud edition of LIS, it increases speed and data security.

APOS and Safe Software continue to working together to develop even deeper integration. In the near future you will be able to use the Select tool in the APOS LIVE Viewer to run geospatial selection against Safe Software's tools, in addition to using Safe Software as a source for visualization.

Call your account representative to find out how APOS LIS / Safe Software integration can help you increase the effectiveness of your location intelligence solution.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Esri Partner Conference, 2011

APOS is an Esri Gold Partner, so we were excited to attend this landmark conference. The theme of this year's conference was "Charting Our Course Together" -- essentially, taking partner relations beyond partnering to full collaboration, to build a community of partners.

Community has become the focus for Esri and its partners: how we can all collaborate to bring the analytic power of GIS and location intelligence to a broader audience, and how that audience can collaborate to get more out of their collective investment in geographic information.

As part of this initiative, Esri is:
  • Making it possible to build discrete, purpose-driven "widgets" that perform specific functions or spatial analysis for a user or group of users;
  • Making GIS and location intelligence more pervasive through mobile- and web-based applications; and
  • Making it possible for communities to share GIS content through ArcGIS Online -- data, geoprocessing models, and maps.
Esri is also encouraging its partners with vertical-specific expertise to collaborate in building markets by tackling the specific workflows in those verticals.

Monday, March 28, 2011

SAP BusinessObjects and APOS Product Update Timelines

We've been getting enquiries asking when we expect APOS product updates will be ready for the new SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 (released Feb. 23, 2011).

 APOS develops its products against SAP BusinessObjects SDKs. These SDKs are developed in parallel with SAP's products, but are generally not released until relatively late in the development cycle. SAP has scheduled the release of most of these SDKs for the final calendar quarter of 2011. As we receive patches and SDKs, we will begin to update the related APOS products, and we expect to start releasing those products during the first calendar quarter of 2012.

At this time, we have the SDKs we need to update two APOS products for SAP BusinessObjects Release 4.0:

  • The View Time Security product will be available upon 4.0 general availability.
  • The APOS Location Intelligence Solution (LIS) is under development for 4.0, but our development team has outstanding support tickets with SAP Support, which must be resolved before we can determine a delivery date for this family of solutions.
Stay tuned for more information. Click on the Follow link to the right to receive notifications of new posts on this blog.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Business Intelligence Goes "Mainstream" - Again

Cindi Howson says business intelligence went mainstream at info360 this week, but the title of her article is a bit misleading. I don't think she's saying that BI, which was already a US$3.6 billion industry 10 years ago, has suddenly become a viable industry. What she is really saying is that BI is now regarded as mainstream by the content, knowledge and records management professionals who organize and populate info360.

To those professionals I say: Welcome to the party.

The four topics that Howson identifies as subjects of presentations certainly do represent some of the biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities in the BI world:
  • Pervasive BI - getting the appropriate BI to all of the places in the organization where it will make a difference.
  • Mobile BI - get the information you need when and where you need it.
  • BI in the Cloud - addressing budgetary, resource, and scalability issues with software / platform / infrastructure as a service.
  • Social media BI - making BI a two-way conversation, and turning information consumers into information conduits

These topics (plus the notably absent topic of location intelligence) are the BI sizzle. We'll know these content, knowledge and records management professionals are serious about BI when they start spending their time discussing the far less flashy, but very pragmatic, integration issues - how to make business intelligence available to content management workflows.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Location Intelligence - What's the Catch? - Barriers to Adoption

Location intelligence adoption may seem like an easy decision, especially for companies that are already using one or more of the component technologies, business intelligence (BI) systems and geographic information systems (GIS). What could be stopping companies from integrating these systems and realizing the combined benefits across the enterprise?

No BI vendor would advise their customers to neglect due diligence in considering such integration, and when those customers examine pros and cons, here are some of the barriers to adoption that arise:

Perceived Complexity
The novelty of location intelligence hides the fact that it is created through the integration of two mature technologies with experienced users. To enterprise BI users who are unfamiliar with the product of this integration, it seems as though location intelligence is adding a layer of complexity to something that is already complex enough. To GIS users, who tend to be planners isolated within organizational silos, it seems as though location intelligence is putting them in an informational straight jacket. BI users need to be convinced that the learning curve is justified by the "speed to insight" provided by location intelligence. GIS users need to see the benefits of operating according to the same informational playbook used by the rest of the enterprise.

Actual complexity
BI platform managers and power users may see risk in the integration of two technologies that continue to develop. If BI and GIS conceptualize and analyze data in entirely different manners, then what are the appropriate integration points? How does analysis step through the data? The fact is that integration for location intelligence is not a one-time event, but an ongoing solution development issue that needs to take progress in both GIS and BI into account.

GIS expertise tends to reside within organizational silos, and expanding that expertise to the enterprise level may seem a daunting task. Initial consulting and third-party contractors may be required. Another option is to look at a hosted option such as the APOS Location Intelligence Solution: Cloud Edition, which can host all or part of the location intelligence solution and reduce or remove the need for internal GIS and/or BI resources.

Organizations must determine the ROI of location intelligence against their capital and operational budgets. If upper management is not completely convinced of the benefits of location intelligence, and thus not completely  committed to its implementation across the enterprise, it may be hard to get a line item in the budget. Proof of concept may be required. If so, a partially or fully hosted solution may be the answer, provided there is a clear migration path to an enterprise implementation.

All of these barriers to adoption point to the importance of finding a location intelligence integrator with a deep understanding of both BI and GIS, and an ongoing commitment to the development and maintenance of an enterprise location intelligence integration solution.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

APOS Location Intelligence for Utilities

When: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Session 1: 7am PDT (Vancourver), 10am EDT (New York), 3pm BST (London)
Session 2: 1pm PDT (Vancourver), 4pm EDT (New York), 9pm BST (London),
March 30 - 7am AEDT (Sydney)

Utility companies have already been using Esri GIS for a long time for planning, design and other infrastructure purposes. Their use of GIS in these capacities has been so successful that line-of-business managers have started to notice.

The key to unlocking spatial intelligence for line-of-business users is combining corporate business intelligence with the spatial content from the GIS to create location intelligence. This webinar will look at how business intelligence users in the Utilities sector can use location intelligence for business planning and process improvement – for asset tracking, workforce management, infrastructure planning and much, much more.

The APOS Location Intelligence Solution (LIS) enables true bi-directional integration between Esri GIS and your business intelligence system, so you can realize the benefits of location intelligence with no need to replicate or duplicate existing infrastructure.

Please join us for this 60 minute webinar to see the APOS Location Intelligence Solution in a Utilities-specific demonstration of how spatial intelligence and business reporting can work together effectively.

Register here

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Monday, March 14, 2011

What Is Well Managed BI?

The whole point to implementing a business intelligence system is to improve operational efficiencies within your organization by delivering timely, accurate and relevant information to all stakeholders and decision makers. BI systems extract the most relevant information from your mission-critical systems and deliver it as actionable information to the people who need it.

You use business BI to judge the health of your enterprise, and to decide on appropriate courses of action. Your BI system monitors your Enterprise solutions, but how do you monitor your BI system to ensure the information being delivered is timely and accurate?

Well managed BI:

  • Ensures that you have the Insight into your system to know that it is working within established parameters;
  • Notifies an Administrator when the system is not functioning within those parameters, and provides the means for quick and easy remedial action;
  • Enables Pervasive Distribution of personalized reports across the Enterprise; 
  • Uses data visualization technology such as Location Intelligence to gain greater speed to insight; and
  • Makes regulatory compliance easy through Storage capabilities that archive documents securely and enable selective restore. 

These are some of the subjects I hope to discuss on this blog.

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