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Charting a new course

By Wallace Immen | July 7, 2014
Charting a new course

Businesses have instant access to more data than ever. But Mike Branch, Founder and CEO of Oakville, Ont.–based Inovex Inc., which makes custom-designed software for the healthcare and energy sectors, kept hearing the same thing from clients: they faced challenges using data in timely and effective ways.

The challenge

“Spreadsheets full of numbers don’t tell a dynamic story until they’re presented in a visual way,” says Branch. Traditionally, geographic visualizations had to be done by graphics specialists who were so busy that the job would end up in a queue. The result was a static map that might be out of date when it was finished. 

So, in 2012, Branch challenged a team of software developers at the privately held Inovex to build a solution. The result was Maps BI (for Business Intelligence), an easy-to-use program for generating interactive colour maps of performance and potential opportunities directly from data spreadsheets.

The strategy

The rapid growth of mobile apps that provide GPS information has made it possible to collect location-based data from many sources. There are programs that visualize data, plot logistics and map sales geographically, but none of them combines these functions interactively, Branch says. 

The Maps BI team created proprietary algorithms that let users in any sector convert spreadsheet data into an onscreen dashboard with overlays showing multiple variables and how things shift over time. For instance, the software can project how the market for a consumer product or a healthcare service may evolve due to changes in demographics and help identify bottlenecks in logistics and technical support, Branch explains.

Customers can embed the Maps BI dashboard in their existing management software, he notes. The cloud-based product is available by monthly subscription at various rates, depending on user need.

The results

“This gives a way to see trends and provide referrals that we were not able to do before,” says Ravi Jain, Toronto-based Director of Ontario Osteoporosis Strategy at Osteoporosis Canada, which is testing Maps BI. “Even when we plotted the raw data on thousands of patients on a map, it would only give us a static picture of what is going on,” Jain adds. “Using Maps BI, we can use a slider to see trends in patient flow over six years. It’s like a weather radar map, and it gives us a more dynamic picture of how the patient base is changing over time.” 

But that’s only scratching the surface, Jain says. “Next we took the step of saying, ‘How can we identify local health services [where] we could refer them to make it more convenient to screen and do follow-ups?’” – which can play a key role in preventing subsequent fractures. Colour coding and the ability to plot distances between patients and health centres make it possible to provide information immediately on the phone. “In the past it would have required putting patients on hold for a long time to search through three sets of spreadsheets,” Jain says. 

Through a partnership with Geotab, Inc., an Oakville-based leader in fleet management and vehicle tracking, Maps BI converts GPS data into useful business intelligence. Clients can identify and track aggressive drivers, thereby reducing the maintenance, repair and insurance costs associated with such behaviour – and improving driver and public safety. The Maps BI dashboard shows a heat map of a particular region that lists the top offending vehicles and breaks down their infractions by category.

The future

When the product launched in November 2013, Maps BI had spun off from parent Inovex. Branch serves as CEO of both companies. Canadian business automation firms Audaxium, Inc. and Virtual Logistics Inc. have already partnered with seven-employee Maps BI to integrate its data mining capabilities into their own offerings. “We believe partnerships will become a significant part of the business model – as much as 50 per cent,” Branch says.

Maps BI is working on a light version for small business that handles fewer numbers and locations. The company is testing the prototype to track a regional theatre’s patronage and a technology association’s membership growth.

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