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GIS in retail marketing & distribution

Rakesh Verma
ComputerEyes Infosystem Pvt. Ltd.

Even as technology advances and business needs propel corporate India towards a new era of interdependency, CE Info Systems Computer Eyes- has its mission clearly drawn out : we create software products which are used to build business solutions that vastly enhance the competitiveness of our customers. Computer Eyes’ core competence lies in enabling operational business solutions using advanced spatial technologies. Computer Eyes has developed the software tools, development methodologies and the business knowledge to conceptualise, develop. Deploy and support such applications.

Our flagship product, Mappls, is a platform that integrates a GIS engine with traditional RDBMS capabilities, enabling high-performance, high-availability, enterprise-wide solutions with full spatial capability. Major applications based on Mappls include such business-critical systems as major multinational companies’ distribution and other operational systems. The development of the Mappls product has proven that we are one of the very few software companies in India with the ability to implement a successful software product development process and develop a mature and dependable product.

The success of Mappls has underlined the critical role that GIS-based systems can play in the competitive conduct of modern business. Let’s examine why GIS capabilities are so crucial to business. A system that understands that the real world in which a company goes out into the market to distribute and sell a product makes the companies much closer to the real world than is otherwise possible.

Consider the following self-evident, axiomatic statements: Customers buy from shops that are near their homes. Shops serve a certain area around their location. Distribution is cost effective when trucks follow logical routes. The operative words in these statements are ‘near’, ‘area’, and ‘routes’. Each of these words has a spatial meaning, that is, they refer to a geographical relationship. Isn’t it obvious that the business software that is used to manage sales and distribution should be able to deal with such concepts? And, if it can do that, it will be of great competitive advantage? But obviously, conventional business software cannot. All it can do is answer textual and numerical questions like which shop has the highest sales or which sales territory has the highest growth. GIS software like Mappls, in contrast, can solve real world problems like which areas of the city are more than 2 km from any shop selling my products? How many households does a particular shop serve? What is average household income in the areas that this shop serves? What route should my distribution trucks take to minimise delivery cost and time?

Maools, is a platform that integrates a GIS engine with traditional RDBMS capabilities, enabling high-performance, high-availability, enterprise – wide solutions with full spatial capability

Spatial software like Mappls combines a conventional database with a spatial database that can store and understand maps as well. Mappls-based applications can thus that an address is location in a city, and has the capability of figuring out whether a given address is in one area or another. It also incorporate other map concepts like roads; the capability to calculate distances and areas as well as figure out routes optimised according to any criteria.

The smartest distribution-led companies in the world are already using GIS-based software to plan their operations. Conventional database-as pointed out above-store only texts and numbers. For example, an address stored in a conventional database is only a set of numbers and alphabets. Such a database cannot be programmed to perform any task the requires an understanding of spatial concepts.

The functioning of GIS-based software like Mappls is based on a computerized, digital map of the area, which it is handling. ComputerEyes has digital maps that comprehensively over the country with 00 cities and towns as well as rural areas. Mappls applications use this map as the base for all their functioning. ComputerEyes customize maps for individual Mappls users by adding to them specific information like population characteristic and income as well as anything else that may be relevant for the user.

To this base, relevant dynamic data like sales, volumes and type of product per outlet, salesman identities is continuously be added. Mappls then becomes the base for all kinds of sales planning by generating analysis of ratio like population per retail outlet, per capita consumption, number of outlets and sales s a function of incomes in an area as well as similar analysis.

The enhancements that can be brought to route planning are also nothing short of revolutionary. Most companies have sub-optimal routes for their distribution vehicles, whether these routes go right to the retailer or just to distributors or warehouses. Route planning has many factors like number of outlets, vehicle capacity, vehicle fixed costs, and vehicle running costs. These can be very complex. For example, different outlets can be near each other and yet have very different requirements of volume and replenishment frequency. Seasonal variations in demand also add another dimensional of complexity to these. Special factors like the transit time taken by refrigerated and insulated vehicles can also be handled.

Creating a detailed route plan that takes all these into account and yet does the job at a minimum cost is something that, cannot be done manually. Typically, companies have one or two employees that know an area well and they figure out a route-plan that appears optimal. There are two problems with this- there is no way of working is overly dependent on knowledge that is locked up in a few employees’ head and which cannot be duplicated.

Mappls route planning functionally is capable of taking all these into account generating a highly optimised route plan. The route planning module takes into account all of the above factors and can be modified as often as needed. In a real-world distribution network, things are continuously changing. New products are added. New sales outlets are added. Traffic restrictions can be imposed without warning. Vehicles can be replaced with larger ones. Mappls automated route planning and design can regenerate routes to take into account all these.

Besides operations, Mappls-based GIS applications also Mappls’ map based displays offer a powerful tool for managers to instantaneously see patterns in the data that would otherwise be lost. For example, one look at a map on which all your retail outlets are marked in different colours by sales volume and all residential areas are marked in colours according to household income can tell you more about how to locate outlets than any number of tables and lists.

ComputerEyes has been at the leading edge of Business GIS in India since 1992 when it commenced development of a suite of comprehensive seamless, integrated digital maps and data sets of the entire country which went down to the city street and village levels. It then leveraged this by formulating a business strategy that was based on the fact that GIS and Digital Mapping are technologies that could have revolutionary impact on mainstream business applications. It is our vision that by the year 2000 AD 50% of the business and government applications will use the power of GIS in the same way as most of the applications today use some form of RDBMS.

To enable our mission, we have formed strategic alliances with industry leaders like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Bentley, MapInfo, and the National Remote Sensing Agency as well as an institutional alliance with BITS, Pilani. The Mappls product family includes Mappls BasicTel- a complete spatial software solution for the Basic Telecom Services industry; Mappls CellNet-a Cellular Telecom Network Planning and Marketing System; Mappls Sales, Marketing, Logistics & Distribution system for the Retail and Distribution industry; and Mappls Suraksha-an Integrated Crime Tracking and Management System for police forces.