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Pitney Bowes On Where The New Opportunities Are In Geospatial Intelligence

"It's no surprise that we're collecting more location-based data, but the applications continue to evolve and businesses are leveraging the technology because it's becoming easier to collect and distribute data," says Pitney Bowes Managing Director Joe Francica.

Last week, Pitney Bowes assembled a range of executives and academics to discuss the future of location intelligence in a series of webinars under the rubric of Geography Week and GIS Day.

The use of geospatial technology to underlie tools involving Big Data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Internet of Things, are influencing the way companies manage sales and marketing, as well as risk management, government planning, smart city services, and more.

Those tools have helped reposition Pitney Bowes from a century-old  maker of “hand-cranked postage-stamping machines” for businesses to global technology and software company focused on operations built around data and analytics.

We checked in with Joe Francica, managing director, Pitney Bowes’ Location Intelligence Solutions, for a recap of the company’s webinar series as well as taking a look at where the company itself sees the role of geospatial intelligence.

GeoMarketing: What is the importance of Geography Week and GIS Day for Pitney Bowes and its clients?

Joe Francica: It presented us with an opportunity to speak to our clients and potential users. Given that other solution providers and educational institutions are recognizing the day, we wanted our webinars to be informational and to reach beyond what we typically do from a promotional sense.

We had Keith Masback, CEO, US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, Dr. Dennis Bellafiore, senior lecturer for Geospatial Intelligence from Penn State University, as well as Google and Mapbox executives taking a higher level approach to the current issues in the space, where the career opportunities are – is GIS beyond the usual scope of governmental career tracks? Keith talked about the growth in the military and intelligence space, while Dennis sees more openings for students beyond the traditional applications.

How has the role of GIS in a business and marketing context evolved and how has Pitney Bowes’ location intelligence capabilities responded to the marketplace’s changing needs?

I’d say that the role has been elevated to become a more strategic and fundamental technology for business analytics. It’s no surprise that we’re collecting more location-based data, but the applications continue to evolve and businesses are leveraging the technology because it’s becoming easier to collect and distribute data… think APIs. They’ve allowed the non-GIS professional to utilize data and visualization capabilities in ways that are always seem innovative.

We’ve been responding to our users with the introduction of our geospatial big data solutions that work natively in Hadoop.

Users are both experimenting with Hadoop frameworks; some have them in production. However, there was a recognized need to process very large amounts of data and we’re responding with our software solutions. But also we recognize that not everyone can geo-process data and hence we have just released US address-based data sets that are not only pre-geocoded but they contain attributes that are industry specific for insurance and others.

What are the biggest misunderstandings or mistakes marketers make when attempting to employ a GIS strategy?

We don’t train marketing students in location intelligence. There is perhaps one MBA program in the country that teaches the fundamentals of business geography. So, if you’re coming out of Harvard or Tuck or Kellogg you’re not trained in spatial thinking. Wharton used to have courses but I’m not sure that they still do. Penn State taught a course on Location Intelligence for Business but it was taught from the geography department.

Thinking spatially. It’s not the software that they choose; it’s understanding the fundamentals of what’s possible with the software. If you confine yourself to creating the “coolmap” with lots of pie charts and thematic maps, like you see presented in today’s BI solutions like Tableau, you might miss the opportunity to utilize geospatial modeling that further refines analysis.

How has the rise of AI and machine learning, along with voice-activated digital assistants like Alexa and Okay Google changed the way companies like Pitney Bowes approaches location intelligence?

This goes to the very point I was just making. We ask spatial questions every day, but how we are relying on AI devices to decipher what we say simple semantic statement but now we have Alexa to translate that query into spatial reasoning. We at Pitney Bowes are adapting to providing the fundamental technology that powers some of the AI technologies like geocoding and other processes like distance calculations.

What trends in GIS emerged in 2017 will have a greater impact in 2018 from a marketing standpoint?

Geospatial technology continues to be embedded into more business applications and enterprise computing. Apps were just the beginning of levering geospatial data and visualization. BI finally recognized this two years ago; in 2018 you’ll see more things like spatial processing of big data.

More sensor data both ground-based as well as Earth observation, both satellites and UAV. That’s from the traditional side. You’ll continue to find uses for mobile trace and footfall which is being used for more than just marketing. I heard of one use case where footfall data is being used to determine projected sales of retailers and then financial institutions look to short or go long on the stock.