COLUMBIA, SC — Businesses, in one of the most challenging economic environments in decades, might get a competitive edge by teaming up with a couple of Columbia “techies” who have opened a market research and analysis business.
Beitz & Daigh Geographics Inc. recently opened its doors near Richland Mall in Forest Acres, at 5610 Landmark Drive, to provide GIS-based consulting and professional services.
In simple terms, the technology can help companies compare sites for locating or expanding by quickly compiling data on the number of people who live near those locations, how much money they make, their education backgrounds or other demographics.
The technology also could be used to help companies understand if advertising in a specific location could be beneficial or by health care providers to target populations that don’t have adequate access to medical facilities.
David Z. Beitz and business partner George Daigh started the small firm after recently leaving commercial real estate company Edens, where the two established and handled that firm’s geographic information systems (GIS) work for years.
“I’ve always been excited about what this technology can do with computer mapping and demographics and have always wanted to help other companies to use GIS,” said Beitz, co-founder and president of the unique, new GIS firm in Columbia.
GIS is a system of data and mapping that helps to tell a story using location information.
The technology mainly has been used by governments because of the expense and training required to use it. Its primary application has largely been real estate based.
Software has evolved, though, and is less expensive. Beitz & Daigh recently gained approval to use California-based Esri software, which is widely considered the world leader in GIS.
“It’s just a good way to gather the data and to outsource it more accurately and more efficiently than you would any other way,” said Daigh, referring to GIS. “It saves you (loads) of time.”
While the duo focused on real estate at Edens, they said they feel there is a lot of potential to use the information technology in health care and banking, especially with all the assets banks have on their books in this economy.
Beitz says his company is able to help banks map out and study such assets and present those portfolios to investors. For example, they could pinpoint a group of foreclosed homes a bank owns within a 20-mile radius that need about the same amount of work and market that group to investors.
“We think there is a huge opportunity there,” Beitz said.
With health care, GIS is able to figure out, for instance, areas of town where people don’t have access to quality health care, Beitz said. Or, using health statistics, are able to map out areas of town where residents have a high rate of return to hospital emergency rooms – the most expensive brand of health care on the market, experts say.
Beitz & Daigh is a pioneering firm in South Carolina in terms of taking GIS technology to the market on a mass scale in the form of a stand-alone business, Beitz said.
The firm can do the work for a company or can get a company up and running with its own GIS capability and training, Beitz said.
Fourteen years ago, Beitz started the GIS function at then-Edens & Avant, which has since grown into one of the largest shopping center developers and managers on the East Coast. What started with basic mapping of the company’s portfolio evolved into mapping out markets for retailers looking to locate in the area. The team mapped out the market for recently opened organic retailer Whole Foods, which Edens recently brought to Columbia.
They also identified population growth and housing trends, and compiled that information into a system that would enable instant presentations and accommodate fast but thorough research, Baitz said.
That provided the real estate company with an advantage, he said. In cases, for instance, where certain companies have known criteria requirements for establishing new stores, the real estate firm was able to recommend locations that met or exceeded the company’s criteria, backed up by research, Beitz said.
The tech-savvy duo is betting they can save other businesses time, too – and money – by sidestepping a company’s need to staff, train and maintain an in-house GIS team, the theory being companies will pay to have such competitively-advantaged research gathered, delivered and explained on an as-needed basis.
“I think (the future is) pretty wide open,” said Paul Amos, managing director of the Wharton Geospatial Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Even though I think more people are utilizing it, I think it’s still under-utilized and there is a lot of opportunity for someone like (Beitz & Daigh) to come in.”
Amos incorporates business-focused GIS courses into the School of Design’s curriculum and said he met Beitz last year at Esri software conference in San Diego.
Beitz & Daigh’s lengthy GIS experience and business skill background give them an edge, Amos said.
The high learning curve associated with the technology means many companies may want to outsource, he said, and experienced geographic analysts can get in quickly, do the research mapping and analysis and publish results in fast order, Amos said.
Most national retailers – Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreen’s among them – have some type of GIS person in-house, typically in their corporate headquarters, Amos said. Once analyses are run, the results are pushed out to people in the field.
GIS use has started to filter down more to regional companies – those that may have stores only in a few states, he said.
Since the cost of GIS has started to come down some, the technology is more affordable to the smaller operations.
“As it’s gotten better and the data has gotten better, a lot more businesses have adopted the technology to help them make better business decisions using GIS software technology and data,” Amos said.