BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 6, 2015–Educators, government officials, non-government representatives as well as business persons will be among those who will convene next Wednesday, May 13, and Thursday, May 14, for the Belize Esri User Conference 2015 – an event which showcases how the various sectors have been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to improve location-based knowledge as well as to improve the soundness of decision-making.
According to National Geographic, GIS is “a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and vegetation. This enables people to more easily see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.”
Grace Kennedy Belize Limited has been on the leading edge of GIS technology for the merchandising sector here in Belize. Marcello Blake, general manager of Grace Kennedy Belize Limited, told Amandala that they have been using the technology for the past three years, and it has certainly been worth the investment, since, he said, the company has benefited greatly from using GIS to improve in the distribution and sale of the 800 stock-keeping units (SKUs) which they carry.
“There are several areas that we utilize it, but I think the key one for us, besides the business decision making, is really for distribution coverage,” he explained.
He said that their priority is being able to reach as many points of sales as possible. So GIS allows them to get a geographic picture of all the stores nationwide, and they can assess which stores carry particular products. They can also use the technology to track sales at the various locations, and to tailor marketing campaigns by location.
Grace Kennedy has been able to observe, for example, that canned fish, such as sardines and mackerels, sell fairly well in southern Belize, which would highlight the need for increased marketing efforts in the north.
Blake said that with the technology on hand, the company’s bottom-line has certainly increased.
GIS has helped by allowing them to see information pictorially, and to be able to execute on their marketing plans in a way that is specific to the consumer or to the region.
“We embrace technology here at Grace Kennedy,” Blake said.
He told us that whereas the tool has been available primarily to the company’s managers, they will now be rolling it out to their sales team, so that they can gather data on points of sale with their mobile devices, making more data available to the company for better decision-making.
The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMA/I) has been using GIS for decades, and the technology has most recently helped to inform the Coastal Zone Management Plan, which should be implemented later this year.
“We now recognize that GIS is probably one of the most important tools that any organization, whether government, public, private, business, could use or should use if they want to improve upon their efficiencies, their effectiveness and their ability to look at data in a meaningful way to shape policies or make decisions about important issues,” said the CZMA/I CEO Vincent Gillett.
Gillett said that it is one of the most fascinating tools that they in the scientific community have ever come across.
He said that since they started the program in the late 1990s, they have been using the technology, and over the past few decades, he said, there has been considerable improvement in software and competencies of GIS technicians. Their GIS Data Unit is headed by Maritza Canto.
The institute uses Esri software, and they get regular updates from the local distributor – Total Business Solutions Limited (TBSL).
“They have been very smart in terms of marketing of programs, communicating through e-mails and internet and making us aware of what is available, in terms of licenses and software,” Gillett said.
The institute will participate in next week’s GIS User Conference, sharing its experience with using GIS and also learning from what others have been doing with the technology.
Gillett explained that while they have always had access to anecdotal information about the changes taking place in the southern coastal areas, such as erosion, GIS has allowed them to generate maps with detailed information, identifying exactly where those changes have been occurring over time.
This feeds into a wider coastal zone plan and the recommendations which they make for addressing those changes, which, Gillett notes, can also be further exacerbated by climate change.
“With that kind of information and that kind of knowledge, we make recommendations on best use of those coastal environments and coastal systems or ecosystems which may be modified through proper usage or development or indeed preservation,” he explained.
The institute’s board is scheduled to meet for final discussions on the proposed Coastal Zone Management Plan, after which it will be presented to the public for a period of 60 days for review before it goes to Cabinet and then to Parliament for approval. The hope is that the plan will be formally introduced later this year.
The theme for this year’s GIS user conference is “GIS: Designing Our Future”. TBSL says that “…combining the wealth of data available with cutting edge analysis and management tools is the solution for understanding and shaping the future of our country. 80% of data has a location component.”
TBSL explains the practical application of GIS in business. It says that their goal is to show businesses how to get new insight into critical data by utilizing location intelligence and analytics, which show how things are connected based on their location.
“Every transaction that businesses process each day does not only capture basic sale information about the customer and the product, but it also contains information about how they are related, such as address and customer type. Location analytics allows us to zero in and look at the ‘who, what, where and when’ in order to make strategic decisions,” TBSL says.
At next week’s conference, a new mobile app will be unveiled, and participants will also receive expert training on the latest software through technical workshops and the hands-on learning lab.