‘Canadian organizations invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually to acquire data about the land and its occupation, resources, inhabitants and uses. In the same way, practitioners in environmental health have developed several information systems, most of them using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and Web-mapping technology to support their different activities. Combining public health and GIS has led to the organization of several symposia over the last 15 years as well as scientific publications. Many projects have reached a high level of maturity. However, these systems have been developed with geospatial technologies that have a « transactional » nature and they don »t benefit from the advances offered by the most recent decision-support technologies offered in the field called « Business Intelligence » (BI).
BI technologies aren »t built to manage data transactions; they are built to support complex analysis and knowledge discovery. BI relies mostly on a different data structure, called hypercube, and encompasses technologies such as Dashboards, OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing), Data Mining, Datamarts and Data Warehousing. Nowadays, using BI technology has become common practice in several organizations since these technologies have been commercially available for a decade. However, it is only within few years that commercial software has appeared to allow users to bridge BI and geospatial technologies. In spite of university R&D going back to the mid-90s, it is only recently that integrated solutions have been made available on the market by small innovative companies as well as major software providers.
These new technologies allow one to perform in a very efficient manner (fast, easy) what is very difficult and time-consuming with typical GIS and web-mapping technologies, namely to produce summarized information, aggregated data, trends analysis, spatio-temporal comparisons, interactive exploration of data, geographic knowledge discovery, etc. Such technologies are not meant to replace GIS and web-mapping applications, but rather to add new analysis on data stored in actual systems and provide a better ROI (return on investment).
Since public health organizations collect significant volumes of complex data and need systems to monitor and assess the trends related to environmental exposures and related health problems, they need to provide their health specialists with the most efficient geospatial decision-support technologies. Furthermore, this may allow more of them to access appropriate information (cf. better ease-of-use) in a timelier manner (cf. much faster response times). This is true for public health planning, management and surveillance purposes in general. Some basic organizational requirements also need to be met for a successful implementation of those technologies.
In order to help environmental health practitioners and policymakers to assess the possibilities and difficulties associated with the emerging geospatial BI technologies, we propose this report. In this report we focus on the following technologies: spatial dashboard, spatial on-line analytical processing (SOLAP), spatial data mining and spatial data warehouse. Consequently, the report does not include a systematic review of traditional GIS of health practitioners.