I spent a couple of hours this morning with a partner who wants to work with the Microsoft platform to deliver spatial business intelligence.  Unlike some companies who have BI skills they are trying to extend into the spatial world, these guys are spatial experts who want to understand Microsoft’s capabilities.  I mention this because they are concerned that in a few years their would be capabilities in SQL Server which would largely replace some of their offerings.  I am not going to speculate in any detail on vnext of SQL Server, but I think that while there may be more spatial features in the next release, there are a few of things that can’t really be fixed:

  • In each country there are differing spatial standards which you really need to convert to latitude/longitude as this is what GPS, Google and Microsoft understand. As I have mentioned before in the UK this means the eastings and northings in the Ordnance Survey and there is a paid for tool for this form SAFE
  • Some systems like UK postcodes boundaries are proprietary – they have to be paid for.
  • How can you clean this kind of data? compare one spatial reference with another and check for a proximity error?
  • As Simon Munro pointed out at SQLBits and on his blog, how do you put spatial data into meaningful hierarchies. For example postcodes might not be that useful to the RSPB if the data they are analysing is bird populations rather than customer marketing.

While spatial data is now a first class citizen in SQL Server and Report Builder surfaces this data really well, you’ll still need spatial expertise to get the underlying data into shape (pun intended). That’s where partners come in and I think this is very similar to the early days of BI : Businesses knew they wanted something and the vendors made various capability claims, but it was the partner ecosystem that made it work.  Later on as BI matured more self service offerings appeared and more of the presentation layer work was put into the hands of the user.  However after ten years of BI there’s a very healthy partner ecosystem out there and I see the same thing happening as spatial BI evolves.

I confess to only being an interested amateur in this field so if you want to know more check out the Bing Maps Development resources and follow blogs from the real Microsoft experts in this field:

‘Spatial’ Ed Katibah

Johannes Kebeck on the Bing Maps team