I am taking the step to start a small business consultancy using digital map technology to assist retail business to better understand their environment and make informed location based decision. My focus is retail business and service planning, however, my challenge is the choice of software.

ESRI business analyst is not available to the part of the world where i live due to inadequacy of data but i don't want this to deter me from starting the business. I know there is always a way around obstacles if you work at it long enough.

While i work on solving the data adequacy issue i want to know if map-info professional will be a good software to purchase (I've never used it before). Any advice?

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    Could you add which part of the world you are in? I'm wondering if OpenStreetMap might be of use. – djq Feb 24 '13 at 14:17
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    Start by considering which analysis you need to run, to do "retail business and service planning". People I know doing such things rely on calculations, which they run outside the GIS package anyway. GIS is only used for preparing and visualizing the data. That being said, MapInfo is a great tool, been using it for many years. – Uffe Kousgaard Feb 24 '13 at 14:44
  • What part of the world do you work in? That may help people answer your questions concerning the data inadequacy part. – RyanKDalton Feb 25 '13 at 16:13

MapInfo would definitely do what you'd like it to do. However, in my opinion, the open source options have far surpassed the capabilities of MapInfo. Specifically, I suggest you look into QGIS. It can do everything MapInfo can do and more. I've never used it for retail business and service planning, but there are plenty of people on this site who could help out in that regard.

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    This as the answer that I was going to give :) – Nathan W Feb 24 '13 at 13:22
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    I would also look into network analysis tools to help allocate locations and plan logistics. You can do a pretty good job of this in GRASS via QGIS. The learning curve is a little steeper than with ESRI's Network Analyst, but the price is right and it gets the job done. – Jay Guarneri Feb 25 '13 at 0:18
  • its a matter of opinion. QGIS is still not very well designed for editing. Topology tools do not work well and nodes snapping neither. In my organisation we do a lot of data edition and we prefer MapInfo than QGIS, but ArcGIS 10 is definately the best for edition. – DemarsM Jul 26 '13 at 12:05

As a freelance GIS Consultant, I am confident that you can do almost everything you need using Open Source Software. If you can avoid borrowing a lot of money for software licences as you set up your business, it will massively help your cash flow. Then, when your business grows, you can show your appreciation to the Open Source Community by making a donation if you wish.

If you are new to FOSS4G, I would pay OsGeo a visit and have a look at the menu on the right hand side of the page where you will get a list of a lot of the FOSS4G software available to you. Also, if you have a look at my answer to a similar question here, you will get a list of the Open Source software I use in my consultancy. You will see I extend the philosophy to everything, so I don't even have Microsoft Office but use Open Office. I even use Thunderbird as my mail/calendar software.

Data can sometimes be more problematic, but there is a lot of free stuff out there (somebody already mentioned Open Street Map, whose coverage is amazing these days) even so.

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As mentioned you and other answers have already surmised, aside from acquiring customers, learning their needs, etc, etc, acquiring the necessary data to deliver useful analysis to your customers may be one of your most challenging efforts. From a business perspective, though, the most valuable thing that you have to offer is your service and knowledge of using software and data, not which software you choose to use.

The most valuable (and costly) thing that ArcGIS Business Analyst provides is the bundled data (like demographics, consumer spending, business locations), as well as the pre-built functions to use the data. Many of the functions can be recreated through other software and database applications, though. If you can afford to purchase additional data, you may be able to plug this data into other systems (with some effort on your part) and be on your way.

For open-source software, consider QGIS which is a great map viewer with some good analysis functions. For your database, consider PostGIS, the spatial extension to PostgreSQL, which has hundreds of GIS functions built into the database that you can use for analysis, and then view the results in QGIS. Yes, it will take you some time to learn these new technologies, but you can learn the basics at the BostonGIS website, along with questions tagged with business, business-intelligence, and geomarketing) here on GIS.Stackexchange, and others. With this combination of tools, I think you will find many of the functions needed to perform the types of analysis you are looking for. Given that the software is open source, you then also have the ability to modify, enhance, or hire consultants to enhance the software, and eventually even contribute your knowledge back to the greater open-source community.

As both @Fetzer and @MappaGnosis have mentioned, you can dramatically lower your cost of entry for software by going the open-source route for not only GIS, but also many of your other daily operations (like office, presentations, email, etc). Good Information/data will always remain a key need, though.

I recently watched a couple of video's by @PaulRamsey that I think you would benefit by watching, regarding the open-source business model:

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  • Could you expand on what kind of data comes bundled with Analyst and for which part of the world? – underdark Feb 25 '13 at 18:57

Manifold is a good one and its not expensive. Its a good choice if you dont want to spend a lot of money in ESRI products and are not willing to go in open-source. In my opinion, its more complete than MapInfo, and less expensive but you should know that no product is perfect. I hope this answer is complete enough. If you want to have more details visite Manifold website.

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