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Tech Explained: Location intelligence

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How the analysis of location data is helping businesses innovate

The notion of analysing location information to gain insights in not new. One early use of location intelligence came during London’s deadly cholera outbreak in 1854. Physician John Snow documented instances of cholera laid over a map of public water pumps to pinpoint the single water pump where the outbreak originated. Today, cell towers, RFID and GPS, combined with smartphones and the Internet of Things, provide the potential to track the location of almost anything. At the same time, software tools can analyse this information in great detail.

So, what is location intelligence and how can businesses use it to innovate?

What is location intelligence: At its most basic, location intelligence is the analysis of location data. Data collected from apps and sensors is analysed and mapped by software to help companies and researchers see patterns and trends.

Of course, we already use location intelligence for many everyday purposes. Think of apps that show the location of the nearest restaurant or locate a particular brand of cereal on a store shelf. Apple’s new credit card app can map spending over particular locations. Police departments also use mapping tools to analyse crime statistics and decide where to place officers and other resources.

As people and things become further connected, the location information collected becomes much more detailed. This is opening up new opportunities to use that information in creative ways.

Benefits: By visualising information as maps, location intelligence can reveal relationships between data sets that could be used to reduce costs, improve customer experiences and enhance community engagement.

Videocon developed an app that alerts drivers in Delhi to traffic jams caused by urban-dwelling cows and suggests alternate routes. The cows are fitted with GPS collars that map their location. Fast-food chain Wendy’s used location intelligence software to find out how far customers would travel for their food. This information helped the company identify potential new restaurant locations.

Financial institutions can use location intelligence to prevent fraud. For example, banks can track customer activity to create profiles of where individual customers tend to shop and flag transactions that appear suspicious.

By mapping weather information over location data, insurers can also better estimate which policy-holders may be affected by major storms or other weather events. These people could then be contacted with information on how to prepare their homes and limit damage.

Retailers are using using location intelligence to create heat maps. These use customer location data and customer feedback at different points of the retail experience to compare the performance of different stores, employees and departments.

Things to keep in mind: In retail, the first challenge is getting customers to download and use apps that can track their location. Consumers also tend to limit the number of retail apps they are willing to share their data with. To get around this, retailers need to ensure their apps contain functionality that is compelling enough to download and use in the store.

Another obstacle is convincing enough customers to provide feedback that can be used to create things like detailed heat maps. Gamification of the feedback experience may help with this.