From booking a hotel in Chicago to locating a flower shop in an unfamiliar neighborhood, consumers need location-based information at every turn of the road. Increasingly, they want it on the go. Companies also rely on geographica

l information for operations, client service or facility management.   Joe Francica, the Location Intelligence conference chairman and editor-in-chief of Directions Magazine, kicked off the event held April 16-18 in downtown San Francisco with a personal story. “I was on the Big Island in Hawaii recently when two earthquakes hit. My Garmin GPS device was no use and I did not have my cell phone with me. I would really have liked some timely information about escape routes!” Consumers and enterprises are clamoring for location-based services (LBS) according to conference speakers and exhibitors. Concretely, Jennifer Lemus of ISO Innovative Analytics described a system currently under trial which would help insurance companies calculate more meaningful auto insurance premiums by factoring in the conditions within a 10-mile radius of the client’s home (road conditions, presence of schools, weather patterns,…). “This modelling would make companies 8% better at predicting risks. Accidents are random, so every bit helps”, said Lemus. deCarta is a company that helps Web sites integrate location intelligence as a differentiator. Among their clients are Zillow, an online real estate community which relies heavily on mapping to provide information about home values, and “It is possible today to go on to book a hotel somewhere and then find a 3-star restaurant within a certain radius with a table for two at 7 p.m.,” said deCarta CEO Kim Fennell. “It is great for consumers on the Internet, but enterprises want to provide the same thing to the customers and employees.” Consulting firm CH2M Hill has a successful practice in spatial services. “We are helping with construction sites being built in London for the 2012 Olympics. Using Google Earth, one can visualize the progress of the work,” explained Austin Ivey. “In the field of emergency response, we have helped the 911 folks in the Pacific Northwest route the closest team to accident sites. In government, spatial applications help with asset and facility management.” Mapquest was probably the attendee with the best name recognition. “With 173 million users in the U.S. and 16 million maps and directions delivered every day, we have become part of the culture,” acknowledged Christian Dwyer, direction of operations at the AOL subsidiary. Besides helping end-users find their way, Mapquest provides mapping services to 1,200 clients in the travel, retail, and real estate industries. Mapquest recently made it possible to send directions from a PC to a cell phone. “There are 170 millions handsets which are data-enabled. Cell phones are going to become our digital remote control to find places on the go,” predicted Christian Dwyer. “Today 12 millions cell phone subscribers pay for location-based services. It will grow to 315 million in five years,” added his co-worker and general manager of Mapquest Mobile, Alan Beiagi. Among the challenges is the difficulty of typing information into a cell phone, a problem that voice recognition could remedy. Another issue is the pricing structure. Does a subscription model or an ad model make sense? Shouldn’t the flower shop that gets the business after the customer found its address on his cell phone be charged? “Selling ads on a map is starting to happen. We call it mappertising. Advertising is moving to the local level because small businesses don’t want a shotgun approach,” said Christian Dwyer of Mapquest. “Half of the carriers support GPS right now, but Cingular and T-Mobile should join in by early 2008,” said Sean Murphy from TeleCommunication Systems. “You will personalize your navigation and send it to any device.” In the future heralded by the Location Intelligence community, getting lost will become a thing of the past. Isabelle Boucq for atelier