For anyone involved in building, leasing, marketing or selecting space in shopping centers, geographic information is as essential to decision-making as anchor tenants are to survival. Fortunes can rise and fall based on market demographics, long-term population forecasts, the locations of competitors and a host of other geodata.
Traditionally, this information has been available only from an internal researcher or an outside vendor, either of whom might take days or weeks to deliver the goods in the form of reports and maps. Today, there is a better solution: enterprisewide applications instantly accessible to anyone in your organization who needs them.
"Enterprisewide" can mean different things to different people, but at its core is the principle of connecting the information haves in your organization with the information have-nots. When you give your employees information,you arm them with the data they need to do their jobs - and get a jump on the competition.
Let's say you work for a commercial leasing company, and you are meeting with a major clothing chain interested in opening a store in a particular mall. When the prospective tenant requests market information, you simply turn to your computer, point your Web browser to your corporate intranet and punch in the center's geographic location.
Instantly, you see a list of all the apparel stores within a 5-mile radius, a map showing their respective locations and a complete demographic profile of the area, in a presentation-quality format that bears your company logo and is printable in color. No need to fill out a requisition. No need to put the prospect on hold and risk losing the deal while you wait for the data. Just hand over the information and move in for the kill.
The advantages of this strategy are enormous. You gain the ability to strike while the iron is hot, eliminate the time and expense of outsourcing the research and empower anyone in your organization with intranet access to get the same information at a moment's notice.
The same benefits apply, whether you are a mall developer interested in buying a piece of property, a leasing manager peddling space, a commercial real estate broker trying to make a deal, a mall marketing manager planning a campaign or a franchisor scouting new store locations.
Organizations now using enterprise-wide geographic information and mapping applications range from a commercial real estate brokerage with 30 offices across the country to the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute, which is allowing its 11,000 CCIM designees and candidates free access to a members-only Web site with demographic information, mapping capabilities and other analytical tools. The brokerage firm is combining its own property databases, sales territories and other proprietary data with commercial demographic databases for maximum functionality.
Here are some points to consider when deploying enterprise-wide geographic applications:
* Be sure you have a critical mass of users. You probably wouldn't build an enterprise application for only three users, but it can be a cost-effective solution for as few as 10 - particularly if each of those 10 is supporting another 50, 500 or 1,000 people.
* Build it your way. Every enterprise application is customized, so yours can include any database you desire, from Dodge building reports and Trade Dimensions data to mall floor plans, tenant lists, vacancy status, demographic databases, tax rates and available dirt. You also can specify the kinds of reports, maps and charts you want, down to the format and colors. Reports, for example, can be summary, radius-based and/or market-ranking documents comparing selected variables in a dozen or more different geographic areas of your choice.
* Include both default and custom mapping capabilities. Power users may require interactive maps that offer free rein in choosing colors, level of detail and so on, but one of the beauties of a customized application is that you can simplify the mapping process for the mass of users by configuring the system to produce default maps. This eliminates the time and skill needed to create custom maps, and it has the added advantage of providing a common view for easy interpretation.
* Insist on the ability to search multiple databases simultaneously. Even organizations with good information systems usually have islands of data that must be searched one by one. An experienced software applications developer can provide an engine that can search all databases simultaneously and consolidate answers in a single report, map or chart - or all three.
* Decide who should see what. Do your executives need to know or do more than your marketing or real estate people? Enterprise applications can be built with different privilege levels, depending on the specific functionality each user needs. In one company's system, managers can edit and manipulate the reports and maps produced by their application, but brokers in the field get standardized versions with common formats and colors for the sake of consistency and control.
* Deploy it your way. Your application can be deployed either over a corporate intranet or in a client/server environment where it runs on standalone "fat client" workstations, over a LAN or WAN, or in any combination that meets your needs. One application we built centralizes multiple databases in one server, then distributes the data to dozens of offices that run the application locally. Using an intranet instead of a client/server model eliminates the overhead involved in updating and supporting each client PC and saves on training expenses. Because every situation is different; discuss your needs with your developer.
* Use ROI to sell the concept. If you order hundreds of demographic reports and maps from an outside vendor every year, you can cut costs considerably by investing in an enterprise solution.
If you replace a client/server application with an intranet-based system, you can reduce the support staff needed to maintain the system, although you will still need workers to manage your databases, software and hardware.
These changes can add up annually to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. Couple that with the business returns made possible by the superior business intelligence of an enterprisewide system, and the return on investment can be dramatic.
When you consider the deals that can be made faster and the extra opportunities that can be captured by having the right information at the right time, you can't afford not to take your market information enterprisewide.