Pinpointing Data

Oracle, others respond to call for geospatial integration.

Organizations looking to pinpoint the location of potential customers, create better delivery routes or site retail outlets in the most desirable spots are increasingly demanding better access to geospatial data to help them do those things.

Application developers such as Oracle Corp. and Environmental Systems Research Institute, known as ESRI, are responding with increased support for geospatial data—exact latitude and longitude coordinates—in their software.

Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., is readying several products that take advantage of its namesake 9i databases native ability to manage geospatial data. For instance, an upgrade to the companys Citizen Interaction Center—a call center for government agencies—will use geospatial data to permit someone to call in and report a problem (such as a broken gas main). The software could show the call center operator where the problem is (where the gas main is located). An upgrade to Territory Manager in Oracle Sales Online will get expanded sales territory capabilities.

Separately, venerable GIS (geographical information systems) software developer ESRI is readying ArcGlobe, a three-dimensional visualization application that enables users to add their own geospatial data on top of the images and terrain data that comes with the product. ArcGlobe, which the Redlands, Calif., company demonstrated at its Business Partner Conference last month, is expected to be a part of Version 9.0 of ESRIs ArcGIS, which is due to be generally available later this year.

While Oracle and ESRI are making geospatial data easier to manipulate, other vendors, such as Meteorlogix LLC, are providing easier access to such data. The Minneapolis-based company last month introduced MxInsight GIS Weather, which delivers real-time weather data through a subscription service.

The city of Tucson, Ariz., is using geospatial data in conjunction with ESRIs ArcIMS GIS data presentation software to produce a Web site geared for real estate agents and others searching for commercial property within the city.

The site describes parcels and buildings in a system that includes a variety of geospatial layers, including the street network and whether it falls within a development tax credit zone. Real estate agents can add more information in the form of geospatial or relational data, such as amenities and lease rates. Users query the Web site to find and evaluate the real estate when deciding where to situate businesses.

The Web site grew out of an effort by the citys economic development office to understand why it had excess industrial real estate, said Russ Riblett, business development specialist with the city. When Ribletts office displayed geospatial data associated with that project on a Web site, it quickly saw that other constituents could also use the data. Now he sees increasing demand for applying geospatial data to problems his agency addresses.

"Its ever-expanding," Riblett said. "We continue to add new pieces of information, like the electrical infrastructure."

Although Riblett doesnt track who is using the Web site, he has heard secondhand reports that people have found commercial sites using the spatial data. In addition, the time savings of allowing citizens to access the data on the Web rather than having his staff answer questions using paper maps in City Hall has produced a $250,000 return on investment, Riblett said.

The ability of applications to handle geospatial data, also known as SIM (spatial information management), will become ubiquitous within the next three years, thanks to the rapid growth of spatial capabilities in database management, application server and data access technologies, according to a report issued this month by International Data Corp. The Framingham, Mass., research company said that several factors will cause SIM capabilities to spread like wildfire. Open availability of basic spatial functionality in data access and database management software and a substantially lower cost of entry for SIM vendors that want to enter new vertical markets are two important factors, according to IDC.

Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Oracles server technologies division, said that geospatial data use in applications is becoming "pretty mainstream."

"Spatial data used to be something that just scientists did for oil search drilling," Mendelsohn said. But, nowadays, with the spread of wireless technology, spatial data has gone mainstream, he said.