Geographic information systems (GIS) offer users an intuitive computer interface tool by assigning information to map co-ordinates. With the arrival of GIS technologies in the marketplace, businesses are able to use their data more intelligently to gain a more detailed picture of future business outcomes.
The result is that spatial information created by a GIS can now be easily integrated into traditional databases - effectively becoming a visual index for corporate intelligence. This new dimension overlaying the management information system (MIS) provides a snapshot geographical representation that links parts of the business to real-world locations.
At the forefront of this convergence between spatial information and business intelligence is Computer Foundation, a subsidiary of arivia.kom. Computer Foundation has for many years been a leading GIS player in South Africa, creating, enhancing and maintaining spatially enabled MIS for a wide range of customers in government and the private sector.
Computer Foundation specialises in putting spatially enabled MIS to work in the business context. The company's solutions combine business analysis, customised design and development, project management, system implementation, training and technical support - all key ingredients for an effective business solution.
"To run complex spatially-enabled systems, you first need to have the primary building blocks in place," explains Johan van Heerden, managing director of Computer Foundation. "This entails the basic mapping of land ownership and usage. For many years we partnered a government department in developing a comprehensive cadastral information system (CIS) that captures and provides vital information on every land parcel in South Africa."
In addition, a national government department uses an Internet-based system, designed by Computer Foundation, to allow small clinics and districts to notify the department the moment a new disease shows the first signs of spreading. Some diseases such as cholera are linked to an early warning system, which notifies key personnel via SMS, ensuring timely reactions.
All notifications are displayed in a nationwide map, and an extensive reporting system built into the system ensures fast reaction by the department to any health emergency. "This First World technology is ideally suited to solve the problems of South Africa and the continent of Africa," says van Heerden.
Computer Foundation has also begun work with the organisation to develop a system that monitors and measures the performance of state owned enterprises, both locally and across Africa. The Internet-based investment map will act as a decision support and planning tool for various departments and offices.
The system is unique in that it uses a map of Africa as a portal to a complete database of all investments by state owned enterprises in Africa. This means that users can see all investments, investment types and values on the map without actually having to open a database.
By clicking on investments shown on the map or by clicking on a country on the map, it is possible to get more information about such investments.
In addition the whole system uses an internet interface allowing the users to get full details of any investments done in Africa from anywhere in the world by simply going to a web page. The web interface reports can be drawn over the Internet allowing users to get access to all information any time of the day or night from any location.
In addition, the system reduces the workload of the department in that it allows for the state owned enterprises to enter details of new investments remotely. This reduces the time it takes for new investments to be approved by the government and improves the effectiveness of investment management by the company.
Computer Foundation has also completed an ambitious project in conjunction with a local municipal council to analyse the activities of informal traders in the area and the impact of these entrepreneurs on local economic development.
The council is implementing a new informal trading development policy, which is founded on three pillars - market development, training and support, and by-law enforcement. The purpose of this project was to map out where informal traders are active and precisely what they are trading.
The council conducted a survey in 11 regions of Johannesburg, and put together a detailed sample of informal trading activities, which included the types of goods being traded, as well as the stock value of the goods. The purpose of this survey was to see what contribution these traders make to the economic environment in Johannesburg, how many jobs have been generated through these activities and what impact they have on current businesses and infrastructure.
Computer Foundation was then required to construct a database from the information gleaned in this survey and to perform various analyses on this data. One aspect vital to the project was the ability to capture the exact coordinates of each trader using GIS to compare the relationship with other traders and formal businesses.
The reason they needed the coordinates of these traders was to try to establish where they should focus on high density or concentrated areas per product, which could then lead to the building of new formal markets; and discover where the demand is the greatest to maximise the benefits of constructing a new market. Additional data was then overlaid, such as taxi routes, which showed that a lot of trading was taking place alongside these routes. Other information such as how long they had been trading at their current locations, what goods they trade and what kinds of services they required the most was also entered.
Once the analysis had been done, the city council was able to pinpoint key areas in need of development. With almost 7000 informal traders in the database, representing an average stock value on the street of R5 million and an annual turnover of just over R60 million, this system has become an invaluable tool enabling the council to work efficiently around planning and development issues.
The quality of management information systems (MIS) is the 'make or break' factor in a company's endeavours to achieve, sustain and enhance its competitive edge. Computer Foundation MD Johan van Heerden concludes: "Without spatial enablement, traditional MIS can be compared to a blind person, who despite his blindness has skillfully managed to master his own world. Imagine though how his skills would increase if you could give him sight. At Computer Foundation we are in the business of sight - the foresight that allows our clients to see and work with the big picture."
For more information contact Johan van Heerden, Computer Foundation, 012 644 3300, www.cf.co.za