Everything Has a Location: Integrating Geographic Information Systems into Business Applications



The digital era has irreversibly changed the way businesses run. The ability to track customers' movement and behavior in real space now facilitates new strategies for management, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Todd J. Schuble, Manager of GIS Research for the University of Chicago’s Division of Social Sciences, spoke recently at the Booth School of Business on effective ways to utilize location-based data for business solutions.

Traditional business data, organized only by zip code, provides little insight into the habits of customers. Collecting home addresses only paints a static picture of customers' locations — it doesn't track movement over time. By integrating geographic information systems, businesses can more effectively solve problems like finding customers, pinpointing optimal locations, managing marketing campaigns, organizing sales territories, and delivering services. Geographical data can also help businesses better map competitors' actions and respond accordingly. Schuble gave an example of a location-based business strategy that even predates mobile technology: Burger King originally grew its business by opening locations next to as many McDonald's restaurants as possible.


Most of the population already uses the technical infrastructure needed to collect geographic data. Internet service providers, mobile and otherwise, know the location of each connected user. Many mobile apps, like Google Maps, use GPS locations in their core functions. Businesses can tap into this readymade structure by encouraging customers to download a custom app that reads location data and offers services or advertising accordingly. Using GIS can help businesses target their markets more effectively and dynamically, by engaging with them in real time.

Despite its many uses, GIS is not yet widely used across businesses, Schuble explained. These systems must be efficiently integrated into existing business infrastructure, and such integration has only recently become a focus in the GIS industry. But when used effectively, GIS can be a powerful tool for amplifying business strategies — or developing new ones.