Six Sure Signs Your Online Site Selection Technology is Outdated

GIS technology continues to advance rapidly, with useful new tools and data coming out regularly. The relentless pressures of competitive markets drive businesses to incorporate these advances to reduce risk associated with their location decisions. 

Leading economic development organizations, recognizing these competitive pressures and the growing demand from businesses for cutting-edge data and tools, respond by ensuring their online site selection app stays up to date.

Up-to-date apps incorporate the Esri data businesses are looking for, as well as advanced tools designed to make it as easy as possible for site selectors to stay focused on that EDO’s territory. Above all, modern apps continue to advance by incorporating new GIS technologies on a continuous basis.

Legacy apps, in contrast, make occasional minor incremental changes but don’t reflect the rapid advances in underlying GIS technology. As a result, EDOs continuing to use legacy apps are falling further behind in the competitive game of business attraction and retention.

In an earlier blog post I wrote about why these legacy technologies are falling behind (hint: legacy providers treat these products as cash cows). That post mentioned a few specific examples of advanced features legacy apps lack, but it did not tell an economic developer exactly how to judge whether his/her technology is falling behind.

There are lots of advanced features and data lacking in legacy apps, but here are the six most important signs that your technology is outdated:

1. Your app ignores traffic. Traffic is a fact of life for the vast majority of locations, yet legacy apps do not allow users to take traffic into account when doing analysis. Instead, they simply provide an average drive time, making no distinction between rush hour and any other time. In most places average drive times bear little relation to real life and result in inaccurate analysis. For example, a business wanting to look at workforce data within a 30-minute commute time is simply out of luck, because the average drive time offered by the legacy app does not reflect typical commute times.

Modern technologies, on the other hand, allow the user to specify the day of the week, the time of day, and the direction of travel for the analysis, ensuring the most accurate results possible. The business user has more confidence in the analysis and in the resulting data, and therefore confidence in the EDO’s territory as a potential location.

Modern apps also allow users to do analysis for trucking times, incorporating differences between trucks and passenger cars in speed limits, bridge weight limits, and other factors. Legacy apps, in contrast, do not offer trucking time analysis at all. Users have to accept an average car drive time as a proxy for all types of analysis.

2. Your app cannot display all properties.  The technology to include all properties on the map has existed for years, yet legacy apps still load only a batch of 20 or 25 properties at a time. This creates two important problems for users. First, a user zooming into an area of interest will see few properties in that area -- only the portion of the 20 or 25 that happen to be in the area of interest, which is usually just a few and often zero. Other properties in that area that are not in the initial batch of 20 or 25 simply are not displayed. The result? Users conclude, erroneously, that there are few properties available in the area that interests them. So the user moves on to another economic development territory and the EDO misses an opportunity.

Modern apps, in contrast, load all properties on the map, ensuring that a user zooming into an area of interest will see all properties available in that area, eliminating the risk that the user will assume few properties are available when they zoom in.

The second problem with loading properties in batches? Users have to hit the “next” button again and again to load more properties. This type of experience all but invites users to leave, since most people quickly tire of hitting the “next” button repeatedly.

3. Your app shows every Opportunity Zone in the country. Would you show competing territories’ available properties in your online site selection app? Not likely. Yet legacy apps show Opportunity Zones as a national layer, meaning a user can literally see every opportunity zone in the county. In contrast, modern technologies show Opportunity Zones as a local layer, displaying only those Opportunity Zones inside your territory. 

You work in a competitive market and want to keep site 

selectors focused on your territory, and your online site selection technology should do the same.
Just as you would not show competing territories’ properties, your app should not show their Opportunity Zones.

4. Your app cannot make layers interactive. When users see local layers like Opportunity Zones they instinctively want to click on the layer to learn more. With modern technologies they can do just that:  clicking on an Opportunity Zone, for example, opens up a configurable pop-up box that contains whatever the economic developer wants to show:  data for the Opportunity Zone, a narrative about the investments the particular Opportunity Zone is suited for, even images and videos showing the Opportunity Zone in detail.

In contrast, legacy apps show these layers as simple, static shapes on the map. When a user clicks on the shape nothing happens, because legacy technologies cannot make these layers interactive. Users cannot get the information they are looking for to consider your territory.

5. Your app requires you to email shapefiles. In today’s competitive world economic developers must include the local data that highlights their communities’ strengths and helps tell their stories. Good examples are local incentive zones, transit, zoning, infrastructure, and quality of life data.

These layers are all built locally by your government and utility partners’ GIS departments on the Esri platform, and modern technology on the same Esri platform can import these into your online site selection app on a fully automated basis. You should not need to do anything more than connect your provider with the local GIS department on a phone call.

So why is your provider asking you to get the local GIS departments to produce shapefiles, have them email those shapefiles to you, have you forward them to the provider, repeat the process when there is a problem loading the shapefiles, and then do it all over again next quarter or next year when the underlying layers get updated? One client of ours referred to this as “shapefile email bingo.”

None of this is necessary. Modern apps built on the Esri platform can automate the integration of local layers built on the same Esri platform by your government and utility partners. No need to play shapefile email bingo.

6. Your app does not include basemaps designed to allow you to produce imagery in high quality. Increasingly, economic developers are differentiating by including high-quality, map-based imagery in written responses to inquiries from businesses and site selectors. Modern GIS technologies provide 

basemaps specifically for this purpose. Light gray canvas, for example, allows heat map data to stand out visually, while dark gray canvas emphasizes point and line data, like educational institutions and rail infrastructure. These canvases allow an economic developer to 

produce visually striking imagery to include in written responses, creating differentiation from competing responses. Legacy technologies, however, include only two or three basemaps and do not include canvases at all, making them all but useless for creating imagery to include in written responses.

Technology never stops evolving, and to compete and win economic developers need a technology platform and technology provider that never stop innovating. To learn more, just drop me a note at ron@giswebtech.com.

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