Set a course for success with geographical information systems

Entrepreneurs are always on the look-out for ideas that can help them improve the performance of their business for minimal investment. Recent advances in analytics software have created new functionality which may provide exactly the insight you are looking for to help you generate new sales and to streamline processes. Modern day Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are now easy and straightforward to use and can help SME’s analyse data to plan and manage expansion.

The process is simple. Companies of all sizes have access to vast internal and external data sources, and virtually all of it has a location dimension which can be analysed to extract insight and improve performance. GIS can help a business assemble this data in one place and analyse information in an easy to use fashion. This provides a wide range of customer insights – such as understanding the quickest or most cost effective route from A to B, identifying how to maximise the use of assets, highlighting potential supply chain issues or mapping the location of existing customers and identifying areas of additional sales potential. As such, the use of geospatial data it is something more small businesses should be looking to tap into in 2016.

SME’s are in an advantageous position to use GIS. Although larger businesses may have access to bigger budgets and greater economies of scale, smaller organisations can be more agile and adaptable, allowing them to quickly carve out a niche in even the most competitive of markets. So how can GIS help?

The first, and perhaps most obvious benefit of GIS, is its ability to show an SME where things happen. By plotting data visually on a map, it is far easier to spot patterns and trends than by trawling through rows and columns of data on a spreadsheet. By harvesting information from multiple sources and storing it in one place, an SME can also increase the accessibility of data for staff, enabling them to share it quickly and conveniently – leading to a more efficient workforce. It can also be arranged in layers, enabling the business to set who sees what according to roles or territories. By creating a holistic view of operations, an SME can make informed decisions to meet customer needs and pre-empt future issues.

GIS can also help SMEs by allowing them to harvest data from multiple external sources to understand why things are happening. Exploring what’s happening in an area you do business in is of great value to decision making. By plotting freely available data alongside internal insights, an SME can begin to make informed decisions from the likes of planning applications, census data or even weather systems.

This brings me to my final point, understanding what to do. SMEs can use GIS to save time and money by getting quick answers to a plethora of questions from “Where is the best place to advertise my services?” to “Who is within one mile of my outlet?” It goes without saying, but it’s crucial to use the right information to answer specific questions.

Today SMEs have potential to access so much data but often overlook the important question of how to use it. By combining in-house data, external feeds, sentiment analysis from social media or performance metrics via a CRM system, all data within a business is now ‘Big’ allowing a business to accurately assess what it needs to ask and answer. Visualising and analysing this information with the use of maps allows an organisation to focus on locations where performance gaps may occur and to implement preventative measures in near real time, allowing them to be more agile.

With customer expectations soaring for businesses both large and small today, many don’t even realise the goldmine of data that is available at their fingertips. Through the use of GIS, a business can unlock patterns, trends and behaviours that they previously wouldn’t have been aware of to help them inform what matters most: keeping customers coming back and moving on to the next level of growth.