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What a concept Featured

10:47am EDT October 23, 2001

A brochure that crossed her desk in 1988 planted a seed for Connie Simmons that seven years later grew into her own business, MapConcepts. That brochure described software capable of doing pinpoint mapping -- without the pins.

"At that time, whenever someone wanted to see where locations were on a map, they would get a large wall-size map and they would actually put pins in the locations," Simmons remembers. "But when you do that, it's hard to tell exactly where an address is. It's hard to tell where the block is, and it's hard to tell which side of the street to put the pin on. A computer can do it in seconds and be very accurate about it."

Simmons already appreciated the value of having accurate information and using that information for strategic planning.

"I had always been interested in strategic marketing, and I thought, 'What better way to understand location and your customers than to look at a map?'" she says. "And if you can do that with a computer, it's all the more efficient, plus it can handle much higher levels of complexity."

As vice president of marketing at Health Management Services in the late 1980s, Simmons learned to appreciate "rather profoundly," she says, the importance of location.

"We had five urgent care centers and, from Day One, three of the centers went like gangbusters because they were in fantastic locations," she says. "But the two locations that did not have good visibility and good traffic volumes around them totally tanked. That really brought home to me how important it is for any consumer-related business to be in a location where people drive by and see you."

Currently an authorized reseller for Environmental Systems Research Institute's geographic information systems -- or GIS -- software, Simmons offers a line of products such as ArcInfo for servers and ArcView for desktop computers. She also sells a handheld product, ArcPad. The company has annual revenue "in the six figures," and has been growing at a steady 10 percent to 20 percent per year since its inception in 1995.

"This software can give you a very sophisticated map," she says, noting it not only plots street lines, but converts aerial photographs of an area into digital images.

Although the public sector has been much more aggressive in adopting mapping software -- similar software is being used by the state of Ohio and several Ohio counties -- Simmons says the private sector is starting to catch on to the power of using such analysis for planning and development.

"A bank could use the software for placement of branch offices and for understanding where their customer base is," she says. "And insurance companies can use it for risk analysis."

One of MapConcepts' clients, a Cleveland-area law firm, uses the software for commercial real estate development.

"It allows them to use this software to analyze data from the auditor's office," she says.

Sales and marketing departments could use the software for target marketing, response tracking and competitive, demographic and distribution analyses. Governments could use it for zoning, redistricting and crime analysis.

Because the complexity of the software can intimidate users, Simmons provides training. And although training lasts just two days, most people need about three months to feel comfortable using the software, she says.

"Most people have had no exposure whatsoever to computer mapping, and even when you're talking to engineers, the sweat pops out on their brows when talking about this technology," she says. "I tell people that if they can understand this software, they can understand any software." How to reach: Connie Simmons, MapConcepts Inc., 424-6684 or consim@aol.com

Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine, however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.