TORONTO – Location-based data is becoming a more important part of customer relationship management programs, but some users question the need for expensive geographical information systems (GIS), according to one industry analyst.

“”Spatial data is becoming a lot more available,”” said David

Sonnen, a senior consultant for spatial information with IDC. “”Not too many years ago, if you wanted a digital map with all the streets in Canada, you’d be looking at $30,000 to $40,000.””

Sonnen made his remarks at a seminar — dubbed “”Leveraging Location-Based Insight to Supercharge Your Customer Relationship Management Investment””– held Friday by Troy, N.Y.-based MapInfo Corp. Sonnen said software that lets users select regions and get information on their populations is getting less expensive, but some potential buyers are wondering what value they can get from the information.

“”Businesses are asking really embarrassing questions — ‘How much money will I make? What’s my return?'”” Sonnen said. “”In the past, we’ve been able to say, ‘It’s really good stuff, and you get these really cool maps.’ The finance guy, meanwhile, is sitting there saying, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t need maps. They can get them at the service station for three bucks.'””

Sonnen added some major companies are using geographical information systems to make decisions, such as where to build a new branch office, but some industries use location information for different reasons.

“”If you’re in transportation, your problems are very different from someone who is processing insurance claims,”” Sonnen said. “”They’re (also) very different if you’re manufacturing steel.””

One example of a company that uses GIS is Cadillac Fairview Corp., which owns several malls, including the Toronto Eaton Centre. MapInfo says Cadillac Fairview uses two of its software packages — MapInfo Professional and MarketMath — to analyze demographic data near existing and potential mall locations.

Cadillac Fairview wanted to cut costs, standardize the methods that it uses for site selection and improve relations with its tenants, Sonnen said.

Another Canadian company that uses MapInfo products is the Royal Bank of Canada, said Don Penfold, product manager for Toronto-based MapInfo Canada Inc.

He said the Royal Bank wants to get information on areas in which it could potentially open new bank branches. Census data provides useful information, such as income, on people living near a bank branch, but the bank also needs information on the “”daytime population,”” the people that work in a selected areas.

Penfold used the seminar to demonstrate MapInfo’s latest product, Target Pro Canada, which is scheduled for release during the next few months. Target Pro is designed to let users create reports on their customer databases, he said.


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