In visual analytics, too, one size does not fit all. That is why SAS allows you to customize, among others, your geographical reports. And one way of doing that is by creating your very own custom polygons. A custom polygon, in simple layman’s terms, is a type of geographic variable supported by SAS Visual Analytics (SAS VA), along with custom coordinates and a number of predefined geographic variables.
Using predefined geographic variables, as listed here, you can easily visualize your business data to create, for instance, an insightful map of the countries, regions, provinces, etc. you are operating in. But what if your business is not organised according to these predefined variables? What if (part of) your sales organisation is specifically geared towards, say, South-West Flanders, the Kempen or the Rhine area? Then those custom polygons sure come in handy!
SAS Visual Analytics: objects and maps
When creating maps in SAS VA, there are multiple object types to choose from:
- Geo bubbles allow you to place a bubble with a size and a color value in specific places on the map.
- Geo coordinates allow you to place dots on the map indicating the places of interest.
- Geo regions is the one we will use for our polygon images.
Each of these object types requires a geographic variable, which is a variable with extra information attached to it. Sometimes longitude and latitude values serve as such, in other cases a polygon does. (You can find out more about geographic variables in this SAS blog about geo maps)
Custom polygons: what’s in a name?
When we talk about custom polygons, we are referring to regions, sectors or other geographic variables that are not available as a standard feature or function in SAS Visual Analytics. Lots of businesses and industries in fact have their own specific map divisions, such as the regions in which their stores or agents operate, to give but one example. The polygons for these are not available for download. They are, however, very easy to build yourself. You really don’t have to be a techie at all to do so successfully.
How to create your custom polygons
First things first: to create your own custom polygons, you need a good point to start off from. Fortunately, there are always shape files you can find, retrieve or buy which contain standard polygon information about a nation’s geography, such as regions, provinces, municipalities and communes. Based on those polygons, you can now start to create your own custom polygons by grouping some of the aforementioned shape files together.
SAS has provided several functions you can use for this:
- MAPIMPORT imports the available shape files.
- GREDUCE redefines the outline of the polygon.
When finished, the new polygons need to be loaded into the system. In one of our upcoming blog posts, we present this and other parts of the polygon creation process in more technical detail.
Custom polygons in SAS VA: use case
Suppose you have organised your activities based on a number of regions in Belgium that are specific to your business. The map on the left below presents you with a standard overview of your business activities in all Belgian municipalities. It probably won’t take you long to realize that it will be fairly hard, if not downright impossible, to gain actionable insights from the way those activities are represented here.
Now take a look at the map on the right. It contains the same information about your business activities from the same Belgian municipalities. Only now they are grouped by region: those regions, to be precise, that are specific to your business. A colour range, indicating high and low values, now clearly shows you – in the blink of an eye, so to speak – how your different regions are performing. Since the polygons used to achieve this are nowhere available, they had to be custom-made.
As this example of custom regions created from lower-level existing regions also shows, polygons can be used in hierarchies, allowing you to go from a lower level (e.g. Municipality) to a higher level (e.g. Region) – and vice versa. Very often custom polygons fit in some middle layer, were they will open up to the lower structures from which they were created.
In this particular use case we stayed within one country. Another benefit of deploying custom polygons is that it is easily possible to create regions while not looking at country borders.
Did we spark your interest in custom polygons? Great! In deploying them whenever required, your reports are guaranteed to be more adapted to the specific (business) needs of your company or client.
- Custom polygons are structures that are not readily available for download, neither bought nor free.
- The creation of custom polygons requires some technical steps.
- SAS provides functionalities to help with the creation of custom polygons.
- Visualizations can now fully adapt to business needs.
Now that we have established how useful custom polygons can be, why not learn a little – or even a lot – more about how to create your own? Having whetted your appetite with this blog post, we are pretty sure our other posts will fully satisfy it! Check out our blog within 5 weeks and allow us to take you immediately to the next level.
Rather discuss the possibilities of custom polygons in SAS VA with an expert?
SAS Technical Expert at LACO
Bart Van Win
Senior DI Consultant / Data Visualization Expert at LACO