When the Web becomes the World

CAPE TOWN — Scientists, engineers, governments, utility companies and police departments all use it; more and more, private business is using it, too. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the dynamic overlay of data on digital maps, has moved out of the scientific community and into private enterprise. South African company AfriGIS hopes to capitalize on GIS functionality offered by developing location based services for companies and government, both here and abroad.

The company’s business is split 60/40 in favour of Government, a ratio that Magnus Rademeyer, MD of AfriGIS, believes they will maintain as they grow. Putting Government aside, AfriGIS’ main business offering is what Rademeyer calls Executive Management Systems (EMS).

Rademeyer uses the example of a large retailer – apparently AfriGIS counts quite a few retail companies among its clients — to illustrate the two different uses of EMS: decision support and operational assistance.

Let’s say Retailer A wants to open a store in Area B. They insert the available data from surveys and such into their GIS solution, which then generates a map detailing consumer activity or traffic congestion, or similar, at specific points in time. That’s decision support.

Let’s say the same retailer wants to know how its national network of stores is doing. With an EMS in place, the CEO could put in a query and look at a national map visually representing the profit of each store. He/she can then click on each store and get detailed information on stock levels, sales, etc. That’s operational assistance.

Of course, client access it all through a point-and-click web-interface.

AfriGIS is also entering the Supply Chain Optimization market through a joint venture, e-logic, entered into with LHA Management Consultants. Instead of focusing on warehousing, however, it will focus on delivery optimization determining what vehicles, which routes and what times are the best to deliver.

Rademeyer believes Supply Chain Optimization becomes more important as e-commerce becomes entrenched. Online buying results in many small orders delivered across a broad geographic area. A GIS solution can not only pinpoint clients, but also give a demographic breakdown of orders. Tracking this data can even result in a proactive delivery system, with orders theoretically being anticipated for advance warning.

A future focus area for E-logic is the wireless market. Rademeyer states that wireless location-based information delivery services and wireless payments are areas of interest.

Rademeyer calmly cites the difficulty in obtaining geographic information as a significant barrier of entry for competitors. But as IT improves and rich media filters down, no doubt competitors will mushroom into existence, servicing the desire of business and consumer to see what the world looks like when viewed from cyberspace.

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