Tag: business GIS

Business Analyst 10…Now Enhanced with Maplex!

by David Palomino

Business Analyst 10 provides two default MXDs as a gateway into the application: Business Analyst.mxd and Business Analyst Web.mxd. However, we have expanded on Business Analyst.mxd to create a third MXD, Business Analyst Maplex.mxd. This is a cartographically enhanced MXD available for download here. Continue reading

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New report styles for Business Analyst 10

by Jeff Hincy

With the upcoming release of Business Analyst 10, I thought I would give you a sneak peak at the new report styles.  We are revamping some of the existing templates, removing some of the redundant templates, and adding new ones. Here is what the new Demographic and Income report will look like (note: this is currently available on BAO with 2010 data).

This is page 1 and you can see the new header and footer styles are completely customizable and you can duplicate the style for your custom templates.

Here is page 2 with the new charts and graphs style.

Now you may be asking which ones will be removed and why. After installing Business Analyst Desktop, you will immediately notice that some reports are no longer available. These were removed to reduce redundant data and replaced with new, better designed reports that more efficiently cover all the data.  

Here is a list of the reports that will no longer be shipped with the product.

  • Age
  • Comprehensive
  • Comprehensive Trend
  • General
  • Household Summary
  • Multi-Area Report
  • Population
  • Race Report

Jeff

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"Your Mission: Make Business Analyst Look Better and Perform Faster"

by David Palomino

This article is the second in a series “Cartographic Design and Optimization Methods for Business Analyst”. Click HERE to read the first article.

The Mission
It was a cozy winter evening in 2008. Mellow conversations in French, German, Spanish, and Italian could be heard in the background, and the chalet fireplace matched the warmth I was already feeling – that content feeling you get after two full weeks of skiing your heart out in the French Alps – when a mysterious “stranger” approached with an audio message from the top. The message was simple and direct: “You’re mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the Business Analyst MXD look better and perform faster.” Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t that dramatic and maybe I fudged the details of this otherwise true story a little. Nevertheless, this was an exciting and challenging endeavor set before me, and I accepted with alacrity.

BA 9.2. and 9.3
The Business Analyst Desktop product for 9.2 and 9.3 were very good. But the product needed a face-lift so to speak and needed to get in shape. Some of the cartographic designs were out of date, and draw speeds were at times pretty slow.

Mission “Business Analyst 9.3.1” (Code name BA931)
Hence, the new assignment. Upon diving into this endeavor, I was quickly introduced to Cartographers Tim Daley and Corey Lamar in Redlands, and these two were a great resource and helped with cartographic design ideas and suggestions. (Anyone with a cartographic background reading this knows that projects are rarely if ever a one-person thing.) Soon, the design was looking good, but what to do about the draw speed? Corey and Tim suggested simplifying queries for labeling (more on that shortly) among other things. To drill down more, I needed to test and diagnose refresh draw-speeds, find out where the problem layers were, and analyze this for multiple scales and datasets. In addition, this needed to be done comparing 9.3 with the emerging 9.3.1 product. How to do this? Well, there is the old “stopwatch” method, where you sit at a computer and record each draw time. But this is cumbersome and time-consuming, and is not the level of quantitative analysis we needed.

Fortunately, a tool that addresses exactly this was already created! Andrew Sakowicz from the Enterprise Implementation Services Team created the “MXDPerfStat” tool. (This is an ArcScript tool which can be downloaded for free HERE.)

One of the really cool things about this tool is that you can identify specific problems with layers and labeling, and at which scales these problems occur. It even gives general recommendations for editing layers and labels for better results.


Figure 1: Example of a problem layer, along with general editing recommendations.

Initial edits were made, but there were still problems. One issue was simple labeling of features were not feasible because of the way certain datasets were built.


Figure 2: Example of street dataset. All components of the street names are in separate fields. Bad!

For example, in order to properly label streets (e.g. “West 1st Street” as opposed to just “1st”), complex queries were required because several parts of the street names were in different fields. With this scenario, the label query would have to read à [Dir]&” “&[Street Name]&” “&[Type]&” “&[Dir2]. As you can imagine, labeling hundreds of thousands of streets this way for each refresh bogged down processing and slowed the redraw speed considerably. Either that, or you would be stuck with incomplete street names, as was the case in Business Analyst 9.2 and 9.3.

Therefore, these fields had to be combined into one field. The easiest way to do this was to convert the existing dataset, which was in SDC format, into a File Geodatabase (FGDB). (This conversion not only aided in consolidating the pertinent fields, but converting to FGDB also decreased the size of the datasets themselves.)


Figure 3: Combining all the street name components into one field. Good!

In addition, street layers shouldn’t be labeled all at once, but must be scale dependent by type of street. For example, interstates can be drawn at most scales, but alleys and small roads (which are more numerous) should only be drawn at larger (zoomed in) scales. An example of a query that targets larger streets might look like this à “FCC” LIKE ‘B1%’ OR “FCC” LIKE ‘B2%’. Ugh, more complex queries!!! Therefore, layers like streets were simplified down to their parts by “street type” for easier scale-dependent display. Also, the 9.2 and 9.3 versions were labeling non-streets (alleys, driveways, etc.) further slowing speed. Combining the component name fields and excluding the non-street names from the street name field during the FGDB conversion noticeably sped up the refresh draw times.

Finally, the Table of Contents folder structure was simplified for better organization and intuitive ease of use.

RESULTS
These are just a few of the optimization methods that were employed for the 9.3.1 product release, but the basic results were faster draw-times, a better look, and a more organized folder structure.

The Speed – Quantitative Results
The results of the draw-time speeds showed an overall 77% increase in draw speed!

The Look – Qualitative Results
Business Analyst 9.3.1 was created with a more modern design and cartographically better look. Here are a few “Before and After” screenshots. (For a more complete slideshow of before and after shots, please click HERE.)



Overall, Including the Table of Contents Design:

The mission for 9.3.1. is accomplished. These edits and changes had the input from almost everyone on the Business Analyst team, and we are working ever more on the future Business Analyst Products to make them even faster, easier, and better looking than before. However, we rely not only on the input from within ESRI, but we rely especially on input from users like you. We look forward to hearing from you and serving you to make our products easier, faster, and better. We really appreciate you and your input.

Next
Please stay tuned for the next in this series “Cartographic Design and Optimization Methods for Business Analyst” as we look into map projections, how they work, and how best to work with them.

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Identify Investment Opportunities in Markets with the Business Analyst Benchmark Report Service and its Simplified XML (S.XML) Output Format – Part II of II

Yup, It's real.  B-)by Tony Howser

  

Thumbnail of Demo Application
Welcome back!

In my previous discussion, I described a scenario where you are working with economic development agencies in the city of Lawrence, Kansas to identify and market the region to investors in order to get commitments for matching funds required with federal stimulus grant applications. I also described how this can be done in a simple, efficient, and cost effective manner by leveraging the ESRI Business Analyst Benchmark Report service and its Simplified XML (S.XML) output format.

As promised, I will continue where I left off previously and will discuss the Business Analyst Benchmark Report service and actually demonstrate how quick and easy it is to develop with its Simplified XML (S.XML) output in the context of of “marketing” Lawrence, Kansas to potential investors.  As a bonus, I will provide access to a Web browser-based Flex demo and its complete and documented source code that leverages the tools that I describe today.

Lawrence, Kansas Study Areas
Polygons created with the ESRI Business Analyst Summary Reports service and mapped with the ArcGIS API for JavaScript

Let’s review our study areas again: You decided to provide easy access to data to potential investors describing the current and future socioeconomic, purchasing, and other characteristics of the underlying populations of Lawrence’s five ZIP codes. You could easily obtain and provide data in smaller and larger geographic areas but you chose to showcase Lawrence and highlight opportunities at the ZIP code level in order to keep it very simple and intuitive. You can also specify custom geographic areas. The choice is always yours based on your individual use cases.


So easy, it's almost magical!
Walkthrough: Submitting an Analysis Request to the ESRI Benchmark Report service and Binding the S.XML Result to a Flex DataGrid Control

In this next section, I demonstrate making a request to the Business Analyst Online Benchmark Report REST endpoint and dynamically binding the resulting S.XML data quickly and easily to a Flex DataGrid. This will give you a good feel for how easy it will be to develop the flexible and powerful application for attracting economic development dollars to the city of Lawrence and its five ZIP codes.

(1). Business Analyst Online Benchmark Report REST Request
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This sample URL below is an actual Business Analyst Online REST API Benchmark Report request which compares twelve Business Analyst summarization values for Lawrence’s five ZIP codes. 

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Summarization variables can be used to analyze, describe, and compare the current and future characteristics and trends of the underlying population—in this case, the citizens of Lawrence, Kansas’ five ZIP codes. 

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Once submitted, the output response is returned in seconds. (This REST request can be submitted through a Web browser’s URL field but requires a valid Business Analyst Online API token.  The actual output of the REST request is given further below.):

http://baoapi.esri.com/rest/report/BenchmarkReport?
BenchmarkOptions=useAverageValues&
FieldSortType=sortNone&
StandardReportOptions={“ReportFormat”:”S.XML”}&
Summarizations=TOTHH_CY;TOTHH_FY;AVGHHSZ_CY;AVGHHSZ_FY;AVGHINC_CY;
AVGHINC_FY;AVGNW_CY;AVGDI_CY;N33_Bus;G27_Bus;X8001_X;X8002_X&
TradeAreas=[{"StdLayer":{"ID":"US.Zip5",
"GeographyIDs":["66044","66045","66046","66047","66049"]}}]&
TAinRows=true&f=json&Token=YOUR_BAO_API_TOKEN

(carriage returns added for readability)

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Twelve summarization variables are simultaneously queried in seconds from a list of thousands

 
  1. 2009 Total Households – TOTHH_CY
  2. 2014 Total Households – TOTHH_FY
  3. 2009 Average Household Size – AVGHHSZ_CY
  4. 2014 Average Household Size – AVGHHSZ_FY
  5. 2009 Average Household Income – AVGHINC_CY
  6. 2014 Average Household Income – AVGHINC_FY
  7. 2009 Average Household Net Worth – AVGNW_CY
  8. 2009 Average Household Disposable Income – AVGDI_CY
  9. 2009 Healthcare/Social Assistance Businesses by NAICS Code – N33_Bus
  10. 2009 Health Services Businesses by SIC Code – G27_Bus
  11. 2009 Health Care Consumer Expenditures – X8001_X
  12. 2009 Health Insurance Consumer Expenditures – X8002_X
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The five ZIP codes of Lawrence, Kansas are analyzed in this request.  Other options include custom geographic areas, Census block groups, Census tracts, counties, states, CBSAs, DMAs, and more.

 
  • 66044
  • 66045
  • 66046
  • 66047
  • 66049
(2). Benchmark Report Simplified XML (S.XML) Response
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The raw Simplified XML (S.XML) output of the sample request above is shown in the following screenshot.  Notice how lightweight and compact the XML schema is and how each study area is represented by a single XML record (node).  The attributes associated with each XML record represent the associated summarization values selected in the REST request given above. 

- Download the raw output file here.

(3). Binding the Simplified XML (S.XML) Data to a DataGrid Control
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XML is an extremely popular, widely supported, and platform independent data interchange format.  The new Business Analyst Online Simplified XML (S.XML) output format enables application developers to easily, quickly, and efficiently consume the rich analysis output of Business Analyst with only a few lines of code.  Thanks to the extremely simple, lightweight and compact schema of S.XML output, binding data to dynamic controls, such as data grids, charts, and graphs, requires minimal effort.

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- Believe it or not, the code in the screenshot below is all that is required for the *entire* Adobe Flex program shown in the link above.  The DataGrid is dynamic and sortable.  Notice how little code is actually required thanks to the Simplified XML (S.XML) output format.  The lightweight schema facilitates rapid and easy application development in Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, JavaScript, and many other development frameworks.


Marketing
Conclusion and a Complete Business Analyst Online Flex API Application

I hope you see the value of the Benchmark Report service and S.XML output format. I have shown you the underlying “engine” of what can power your analysis and application to market Lawrence, Kansas ZIP codes to investors around the country (and around the globe) and, how quick and easy it will be to implement.

ESRI Business Analyst to the RescueI am extremely happy to announce that the S.XML format will soon be available for most Business Analyst Summary Reports as well. This will make it even easier to leverage the Web APIs of Business Analyst Server and Business Analyst Online to build enterprise-grade Web applications.

To conclude this short discussion of the Business Analyst Online Benchmark Report service and its associated S.XML output format, I am including a complete working demonstration application and its source code to further communicate their value. This Web app is platform independent, can be made widely available, and is infinitely flexible for a variety of use cases—not just the real-world scenario which I discussed today. It is powered by the ESRI Benchmark Report service and it consumes its Simplified XML (S.XML) output. I am providing the fully-documented source code so you can study, execute, extend, and adapt it to meet your own needs.

Flex Demo Application Screenshot

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  • The user is able to select multiple (up to 500) Summarizations variables
  • The user graphically defines an analysis area using a freehand buffered line segment or freehand polygon tool to analyze and retrieve information about different areas in Redlands, CA. 
  • The application uses demo Business Analyst Online API account credentials that are geographically restricted to Redlands.
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Identify Investment Opportunities in Markets with the Business Analyst Benchmark Report Service and its Simplified XML (S.XML) Output Format – Part I of II

 by Tony Howser

 

Sowing Seeds
We Want Those Stimulus Dollars but It Takes Money to Get Money!

Let’s say you are a consultant and your business is currently working on several opportunities to assist local, regional, and state economic development agencies with getting their hands on those federal stimulus dollars.  Each and every one of them has been eyeing those dollars but they need to find matching funds to qualify for the grant money.

ESRI Business Analyst to the RescueIn our example, you are going to be helping out the city of Lawrence, Kansas by developing a Web application which leverages the ESRI Business Analyst Benchmark Report service and its Simplified XML (S.XML) output.  With Business Analyst’s Standard Geography Levels, you have many options for the types of geographic areas to analyze and describe however; you decided to keep it very simple and work with Lawrence’s five ZIP codes.

Lawrence, Kansas Study Areas
Polygons created with the ESRI Business Analyst Summary Reports service and mapped with the ArcGIS API for JavaScript

It’s kind of like the classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario, right?!  Chicken-or-the-egg What your clients are basically faced with is a situation where, it takes money (which is in very low supply these days) to get some of that federal money.   Every one of those areas has ready-to-go and long-deferred maintenance and upgrade projects with anxious local contractors, workers, and other businesses waiting in the wings.  Your job is to attract private investment to get enough matching fund commitments to apply for those stimulus funds.  What shall you do?


Marketing
Highlight the Opportunities in Your Areas by Identifying Desirable Characteristics and Trends

Well, roll up your sleeves and market those areas! Make the strongest case you can and build investor confidence in each of them with high-quality data describing the current and future socioeconomic, purchasing, and other characteristics of their underlying populations. Quickly help the investors identify valuable opportunities in Lawrence and make sound business decisions.

ESRI Business Analyst to the RescueESRI Business Analyst Online Benchmark Report service and its new Simplified XML (S.XML) output format provide simple and flexible programmatic access to ESRI Business Analyst Data and spatial analysis. It can be an integral part of a system to drill down into, investigate, and compare current data and trends of interest to businesses, organizations, agencies, and investors.


Uncle Sam
Can’t We Get the Data from the Government?!

QuestionOK. Identifying and highlighting valuable investment opportunities backed up by powerful data to potential investors sounds great to me but; can’t I already get this kind of data from the government?

AnswerYes, some “free” data are out there but; to make the strongest and most convincing arguments, you need access to some fairly specialized data which can be very costly to obtain on your own. How many local, regional, and state governments and chambers of commerce have had the funds and resources to amass such data? How recent and comprehensive is the information contained within it? Is there a sufficient variety of information to meet your current needs and your future requirements? Can the data provide a comprehensive snapshot of the current and future trends of the areas you are trying to market?

QuestionIn that case, it sounds like the data from the U.S. Census meet a lot of these requirements, right?

AnswerData from the U.S. Census is extremely valuable and can be very useful however; the U.S. Census is only taken every 10 years and then takes several years to completely process. Do you have the time to wait for the next federal snapshot of our society or are you able to use the older data from the 2000 Census? Additionally, a lot of consumer expenditure information and other data of interest to businesses, organizations, and agencies are not captured by the Census. ESRI Business Analyst data is obtained, compiled, and produced from many different sources. The most successful organizations leverage the most current data and data from a variety of sources in order to make well-informed decisions.

QuestionWell, how about those regular federal economic reports? We already paid for them through our tax dollars. Can’t we use them?

AnswerThink back to your original objective here: You basically want to simply and comprehensively describe and market areas to potential investors in order to attract matching funds which can be included in federal stimulus grant applications. What kind of geographic resolution do the data in those federal reports provide? You are helping the city of Lawrence, Kansas describe characteristics and opportunities in their five ZIP codes. Regular federal economic reports are invaluable tools to economists, academicians, and legislators however; they are macro in scope and provide a broad snapshot of the *entire* economy. In most cases, they are poor tools to effectively and comprehensive describe relatively smaller geographic areas and regions like ZIP codes. And, finally, how about “custom” geographic areas specified by coordinates defining an analysis boundary?

ESRI Business Analyst to the Rescue ESRI Business Analyst Data obtained through the Business Analyst Benchmark Report service can come to the rescue with thousands of summarized variables describing the current and future socioeconomic, purchasing, and other characteristics of the underlying populations of areas as small as the Census block group to as large as the entire U.S. In addition to standard geographic areas, the Benchmark Report service also supports the analysis of custom-defined areas. The Business Analyst Benchmark Report service provides extensive, flexible, timely, and detailed data which can be easily requested and consumed through the ESRI Business Analyst APIs.


Green CFL
How Do We Widely Distribute the Data in a Rapid and Cost Efficient Manner?!

OK. So you now see the value of this effort. How do you make it simple, efficient, and cost effective for your clients, their potential investors, and for you? Well, thick reports are so “20th Century” and are costly to produce and resource intensive in many different ways. Additionally, with so many competing distractions, you have little time to loose in presenting data about Lawrence to potential investors. Their time is precious and you want to be able to provide them with access to powerful and comprehensive data in a fast and efficient manner. You also want to be able to respond to several other opportunities in different cities and localities since you made the initial investment with setting up the system (and your consultancy) with Lawrence. You want to minimize the re-engineering necessary with a regularly-updated, dynamic, and “scalable” data source and sustain your system.

ESRI Business Analyst to the RescueIn Part II of my discussion, I will conclude by describing to you and giving you the complete working application and source code to a Web browser-based Rich Internet Application (RIA) developed in the ubiquitous Adobe Flex framework (New to Flex?  Check out this flagship implementation of the Business Analyst Online API in Flex here!). The sample application will offer hints and suggestions on how you can offer potential investors (and analysts, other organizations, legislators, decision makers, members of the public, etc.) the ability to easily and interactively look up the current and future socioeconomic, purchasing, and other characteristics associated with the underlying populations of different geographic areas.


What!?
It’s Over Already?! What!

I don’t want to get my boss angry at me for posting a blog that is too long (even though I have actually seen technical blog posts that look like theses or dissertations.)

In Part II of this blog, I will discuss the Business Analyst Benchmark Report service and actually demonstrate how quick and easy it is to develop with its Simplified XML (S.XML) output in the context of your task of “marketing” Lawrence, Kansas. As a bonus, I will provide access to a Web browser-based Flex demo and its complete and documented source code that leverages the tools that I discussed today. See you soon!

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Transitioning 2009 Business Analyst MXDs

 by Jeff Hincy

With clients starting to receive their shipments of Esri Business Analyst with 2009 data I wanted to share some tips on how to transition any old MXDs built on previous versions of Business Analyst.  Some users like to save a lot of different MXDs, as another way to organize their work or other good reasons.

Each year our team makes strides to improve the performance and usability of Business Analyst. Based on critical customer feedback and some changes made by the data providers, we completely overhauled the default Business Analyst MXD to provide an enhanced cartographic look and feel of our maps.  While we were at it, we thought we would increase performance as well.

So, if you’re someone with a few (or a few dozen) ‘old’ MXDs lying around which could benefit from some fresh cartography and faster performance, read on.  Note: a less-bloggy version of this is posted as a Knowledge Base article on our Support Site.

All you will need to do is remove the group layer associated with older versions of Business Analyst and add in the new group layer we have posted on our support site. I will detail the steps below.

If you have installed the new version of Business Analyst, the first thing you will notice when launching an older MXD is that many of the underlying basemap layers have red exclamation points ! next to them.

These red exclamation points indicate that the file locations where these layers were stored in previous versions on Business Analyst have been either removed or moved as part of our efforts to update and upgrade the MXD. Although it is possible to repair some of these data sources it is much quicker to simply remove the older Business Analyst group layer and replace it with our new one.

Here are the steps to update your map documents.

Make backups: Back up your MXDs before modifying them. Save any custom labeling or symbology associated with Business Analyst data layers to apply them to the new group layer if needed.

Step 1: Open up an ‘old’ MXD.

Step 2: Right mouse click on the appropriate Business Analyst group layer (typically either the Business Analyst Detailed Map  or the Business Analyst Map group layer) and select Remove

Step 3: Download our updated 2009 Business Analyst group layer from our support site and save the group layer to the file directory recommended in the article.

Step 4: Go to File-Add Data or click the Add Data icon to navigate to the new group layer you just downloaded and add it to the map and you are done.

The updated map document will look something like this (excluding your specific layer files).

Note: We recommend that you do not mix data vintages (ie. 2008 and 2009) in your Business Analyst MXD as this may affect the tools dependant on these data layers.

Hopefully these tips will make transitioning older map documents much simpler.

-Jeff

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Improved Wizards in ArcGIS Business Analyst 9.3.1

 by Garry Burgess

Time is ticking down to the delivery of the 9.3.1 release of ArcGIS Business Analyst.  Here is another nugget from the upcoming release that you should enjoy.  We have updated every dialog with new images that are reflective of the output that will be generated.  Imagine that – an image that actually looks like the output from each tool!  Each dialog also includes an updated set of tips and descriptions that will provide information about how to use each tool. 

Cheers – Garry

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New Business Analyst Online Beta Released

 by Brenda Wolfe

 

Last week the beta version of the next generation ArcGIS Business Analyst Online was released.  Current subscribers were offered the opportunity to kick the tires on this new version and provide feedback.  The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Here are a few of the quotes from users…

“Wow, looks great!” 

“I like the new look and feel.   

“I just looked at the new program and am thrilled with the new color coded map.”

And my personal favorite, “All the cool kids are using it.”

Many loved the new color-coded mapping capabilities that make the data in Business Analyst Online come alive.  In this example, the highest per capita income areas of San Francisco pop out (bright green areas).

    

If you have questions about accessing the new Business Analyst Online beta, you can e-mail me at bwolfe@esri.com.  Look for a generally available release of Business Analyst Online around mid May.

Remember, all the cool kids are using it!

 

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David Letterman's Top Tens (Business Analyst edition)

  by Kyle Watson

Conan O’Brien is coming to LA soon, but it was David Letterman who paved his way in New York.  Letterman, famous for his nightly “Top Ten” lists inspired me to apply the concept in ArcGIS Business Analyst.

I can use the Market Ranking Report in Business Analyst to quickly rank areas.  The output is a nice report and map layer to show a quick snapshot of high or low ranking areas, regions, trade areas, etc.  Could be the top 1,000 most populated counties in the U.S.  Or your top 50 fastest growing trade areas by sales.  

For Dave’s sake let’s show a few examples of Top Tens below.

Top Ten projected 2013 median household income for ZIP Codes in Colorado:

 

 Top Ten largest counties (square miles) west of the Mississippi:

 

Top Ten television and radio markets (DMAs) with highest concentrations of people aged 25-29 years old.

 

 

So there’s a few random examples.  Hope this sparks some interest on how to apply this concept to your business.  If not, we’ll have Dave consider some Business Analyst-inspired Stupid Pet Tricks skits.  So tune in next week…

Stay classy,

Kyle

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User Experience – We get it or we might have…

  by Sooria Jeyaraman

Usability: “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” (ISO 9241-11)

Major goal of our latest release of Business Analyst Online is to improve the usability and user experience of the product. Exposing our vast sets of data in our products has always been a challenge, to say the least let alone do some analysis with it. Most of you would agree with me that no design could be perfect until it serves the purpose effectively. We as a company have realized that and user experience is very much in ESRI’s radar these days (Woo hoo!!). We’ve incorporated some of the user centered design principles for this upcoming release of Business Analyst Online 9.3.

 

Let me explain the process a bit. A small window of opportunity was created within the project schedule to accommodate designers (user experience architect and visual designer) early in the product cycle. Designers along with the product management made use of the situation by incorporating these three simple steps.
1.    Listen to the users
2.    Usability testing and listen to the users
3.    Listen to the users again.

We actually listened (literally!) to the customers through our numerous customer interviews and tried to analyze the user’s goals and expectations of the product. Sample personas were created to bring life to our users and numerous white boarding sessions happened over months. Finally after several redesigns a working prototype was created.  This prototype was given to the actual users in the form of usability testing to initiate our second step of listening.

Usability testing as expected served as a great eye opener for the stakeholders of the project and for us designers too. We watched and listened to the miseries of our users actually trying to use our prototype. There were times we wanted to go across the one way mirror and show the user where that particular link was.. hey, but there were occasions where the users  were delighted about our design as well, so there was something to boost our egos :)

After these sessions, we got back to the drawing board to analyze the reasons why certain design elements didn’t work with our users. After remedying those issues, we tested it again with our users and repeated the process multiple times. The beta that is going to be out soon might not solve all the issues but we are hoping to hit a field goal ;) at the minimum. Having said that, there is always room for improvement and as I mentioned earlier no design is perfect until it solves the user goals effectively and efficiently. We still might go back to our drawing boards based on what we hear from you.

- SJ

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