Most data warehouses have a load of textual data at their fingertips; customer comments or correspondence, employee notes, and other types of written messages. But the technology to analyze textual data is not available yet. So you have all this data, which could provide some valuable information, that can't be analyzed.
So while these piles of unused data are eating away at your psyche, there is actually another type of untapped data that you do have access to but are probably not using for analysis: geographic data.
Most warehouses are going to contain a wealth of geographic data. From customer addresses to supplier locations to retail outlets, there are many physical locations contained in your data. These physical locations can be formed into maps that can provide you with a valuable two-dimensional analysis tool.
For instance, according to an article from data warehousing pioneer Ralph Kimball, a GIS enabled warehouse can help you answer questions like:
- Do your customers come to your store because it is located near their home or near their work? What does that mean to you in terms of hours of operation and reducing instore queues?
- Have you located your distribution center optimally between your suppliers and your customers, taking into account expected growth in the next five years?
- What factors explain the obvious disparities in profitability and customer retention
- that you see when we plot these factors against a national map of all U.S. counties?
Utilizing your data in this way would require you to GIS-enable your warehouse. This may seem like an elaborate project, but some GIS vendors' tools can integrate with a data warehouse fairly easily. As described in an article entitled Spatial Enabling Your Data Warehouse, Ralph Kimball describes his experiences with GIS software, which, with a working knowledge of Visual Basic, he was "able to create a data warehousing application from scratch."
You can experiment with some free GIS tools available from ESRI at http://www.esri.com/company/free.html.
For more information, check out searchCRM's Best Web Links on Data Warehousing.
This was first published in November 2001