GeoBI Assessment

Technologies and Readiness for Implementing a Geo-enabled Business Intelligence Solution

Business Problem

Like many organizations, York Region uses Business Intelligence tools to measure key performance indicators and to support planning initiatives. Their data warehouses contain a rich set of facts and dimensions from the Region’s operational systems, but the geographic and spatial aspects of this data were either missing, incomplete or only loosely coupled with the Region’s Geographic Information Systems.

The BI tools used by analysts did not handle geographic analysis, which is an important component to many business units. This led to a number of inefficiencies. For example, some analysts would use their BI tools to read a large set of data from the data warehouse, manipulate this data within a spreadsheet, then request an ad-hoc map from the GIS department to visualize the analysis. Ideally, the BI tools would provide the ability to directly manipulate and visualize information in a geographic context.

York Region sought to develop a roadmap for implementing a geographic-enabled BI platform and toolset that could be used within any department, and enable analysts to easily leverage spatial information for planning and decision making.

Our Approach

A number of York Region stakeholders were interviewed to determine their needs for GeoBI: business analysts who develop and perform BI analysis; IT staff who are responsible for the data warehouse and BI platform infrastructure; GIS analysts who support the spatial data and published map services; managers who champion and provide strategic direction on the use of technology and BI.

Spatial DNA reviewed several commercial BI platforms to determine their support for geographic analysis and visualization. Platform capabilities were assessed alongside the requirements outlined by the stakeholders. The best solution was found to be a combination of technologies, but more importantly involved a number of changes to the way Region modeled and warehoused spatial data. Spatial DNA identified some key considerations for adopting a geo-enabled BI platform or tools, including:

  • How the technology could visualize the results of a BI analysis on a map. Many platforms supported point or polygon visualizations; less common was support for lines or networks, or advanced cartographic symbologies.
  • The ability for analysts to filter and update their dashboards based on map interaction.
  • Support for time-based spatial data. For example, modeling spatial data as slowly changing dimensions, as is done for other dimensions within the data warehouse.

Spatial DNA’s review also identified organizational readiness requirements. Modeling spatial data within the data warehouse, and developing the necessary ETL processes from operational systems, indicated the need for certain skill sets within the organization e.g. spatial data architecture and ETL, and the need for a strong spatial data governance model.

Results and Benefits

A multi-phase roadmap was provided to York Region to geo-enable their BI platforms. At each phase, an additional level of Geo BI capability is added, providing stakeholders with an on-going increase in capabilities available to them.

Though commercial BI (and GIS) platforms are continually improving their capabilities with respect to geo-enabled BI, at the time of this analysis there was no one platform that could meet all the requirements of the stakeholders. However, the Region now has a framework to assess the suitability of new GeoBI technologies as they come available.

Spatial DNA recommended data modeling and data warehousing approaches for the Region’s spatial data that will support geo-enabled BI regardless of which BI technologies are implemented. Departments that are implementing or expanding their BI platforms are utilizing the recommendations to design their data warehouses with geo-enabled analysis and visualization in mind.