Development and deployment of a Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS) for inward investors to London
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentBusiness and Management Studies
Summary Impact TypeEconomic
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Information Systems
Economics: Applied Economics
Summary of the impact
The development of a decision support system in close partnership with
London's Inward Investment agency (Think London) enabled the latter to win
strategic high-value and competitive inward investment projects to the
city. The technologies developed played a key role in building the
business case for London as a destination for inward investors and were
estimated to have contributed towards 45% of 600+ successful completions,
leading to the creation or retention of over 18,000 new jobs and the
contribution of £2 billion to London's economy. Among the hundreds of
successful outcomes was the establishment of Microsoft's Search Technology
Centre in London.
As one of the leading `world cities', London is particularly reliant on
sources of foreign direct investment (FDI). In the face of increasing
global competition and a difficult economic climate, London must continue
to compete to attract and support such investors. Through collaborative
research undertaken between 2004 and 2010 with London's official FDI
promotion agency (then called Think London), this project addressed the
need for a coherent framework for data, methodologies and tools to inform
business location decisions and hence deliver relevant support to inbound
The underpinning research was developed over a six-year relationship
supported by Think London through their sponsorship of a Knowledge
Transfer (KT) Partnership (2004-2007) and a part-time EPSRC EngD
(2005-2011) at the Department of Management Science & Innovation and
its predecessor, the UCL Centre for Enterprise and Management of
Innovation. The project was led by Dr David Chapman (researcher at UCL
since 1985), working with Patrick Weber (KT Associate and later EngD
candidate) and led to the creation of an innovative Spatial Decision
Support System (SDSS) to support the complex, multi-criteria,
decision-making processes of inbound investors.
This SDSS provided a range of interfaces to enable both investors and
Think London staff to interrogate key dimensions of London's complex
polycentric business landscape, including established business clusters,
commuting catchments and workforce characteristics, property stock
availability and costs, `socio-economic' and `quality of life' indicators,
and accessibility to major transport hubs. Data inputs draw upon more than
50 variables relevant to the FDI location decision-making process that
were aggregated to service areas around sub-regional economic areas
defined by previous UCL "town centres" research. Data reduction and
aggregation through principal component analysis was used to reduce these
to a more parsimonious model of the key characteristics to enable
meaningful characterisation and comparison of target neighbourhoods [a].
In order to enable these data to be rendered, analysed and ranked in the
context of specific location decision-making enquiries, the research
provided a range of interfaces to support different queries at a range of
different levels of sophistication, ranging from `where are' to `what if'.
Such provision necessitated the development of novel neighbourhood
classifications to divide the capital in meaningful socio-economic units
before developing profiles for each region that enable investors to make
meaningful comparisons [b].
For more complex analyses, the EngD project based on this research
developed a sophisticated decision support suite based upon the Analytical
Hierarchical Process (AHP). This enables end users to implement complex
multi-criteria analyses and decision ranking through trade-offs between
criteria to develop sector and customer specific profiles that captured
the relative importance of key components within the decision space.
References to the research
The publications listed above were in rigorously peer-reviewed journals.
They emerged from the following KTP and a part-time Engineering Doctorate
(2005-2011) sponsored by Think London. The KTP end-of-grant report
received a grading of `A' (Outstanding).
KTP partnership KTP000525.
Partnership Aims: To develop an in-house GIS capability to complement
existing data analysis
strategies and provide more effective marketing and support to inward
investors in London.
Grant Holder: David Chapman, Management Science and Innovation, UCL
Total value: £110,528
Industrial partner: Think London
Partner contribution: 40% (£35,600)
Details of the impact
The interdisciplinary research described in section 2 coupled management-
and decision-science expertise with GIS technology to develop tools for
London's inward investment agency, Think London. As a result, the agency
was able to offer its clients across the world enhanced location analysis
to support business needs, to help make a stronger business case and to
facilitate relocation to London. For example, a technology company may
require a location which is close to major research universities, has good
transportation links with North America, and offers a cultural environment
which is attractive to the young urban professionals it seeks to hire. The
tool developed at UCL sifted through these, and dozens of other factors a
company would take into account, to provide profiles of suitable
The business location decision support tools which emerged from the
research were used to develop three services, provided to Think London:
- A spatial database that captured the key dimensions of London's
business landscape, which enabled Think London analysts to provide
customised advice to businesses seeking to relocate to London. This was
accompanied by UCL-training for all Think London Business Development
staff members in the effective use of this tool.
- Customised business location data generated for key clients. As a
special service for major Think London clients, UCL trained members of the
marketing team on the spatial analysis techniques required to generate
highly customised spatial analyses and reporting.
- Development of a web-based tool for end-users. Following the success of
the original KTP, Think London co-sponsored an EngD for the KT Associate
to expand the decision-making tool and bring a version of it online for
remote users to access business location data without going through Think
Economic benefits and job creation
Prior to the merger of all inward investment functions into London &
Partners in 2011, the tools and techniques developed in this research
formed an essential part of Think London's services to potential
businesses considering investment in London. From 2006-2011 they played a
significant role in developing the business case to support many of the
600+ inward investors attracted and hence contributing to the creation of
more than 18,000 jobs created . Even in the midst of the economic
downturn, London retained its place as Europe's number one business
location, facilitated by the services provided by Think London and London
& Partners .
Representative cases that specifically cite the value of such analyses in
support of business relocation and/or inward investment decisions are
In June 2008, Microsoft announced its intention of opening a European
centre to invest aggressively in the search and advertising market through
its new product, the Bing search engine . In choosing a location for
Microsoft's European Search Technology Centre, Jordi Ribas (General
Manager) stated: "It is critical for an organisation like ours to be able
to tap into the best talent — and Think London worked with us from the
very start to help us find it" [4, p.26]. In January 2009, the centre
opened in Central London, and became Microsoft's largest research and
development centre on search in Europe. This subsequently became a locus
for innovation in developing the Bing search engine; for instance, in May
2013, the release of its innovative `People Autosuggest' tool developed in
London, which helps narrow down searches for individuals .
Samvo Group, an entertainment and gambling company, was seeking to open
its first retail outlets in London following an innovative new `café'
model seeking to attract younger and more affluent customers. Tapping on
Think London's `latest research on location and talent clusters' [6,
p.14], Samvo opened two retail outlets in Camden and Hammersmith in 2011,
of which the latter was awarded an industry design award .
In the midst of an economic downturn, the tools developed at UCL also
helped to prevent business flight from London. In 2008-09, for example,
KDDI Europe, a telecoms inward investor from Japan with headquarters in
London since 1972, was considering moving. As its director stated in a
Think London annual report, "We were evaluating our European locations and
one potential option was to move out of London. Think London's
intelligence and bespoke mapping technology created a convincing case for
staying in the City" [4, p.26]. As a result, KDDI opened a new base in
east London which was both more affordable and close to its client base,
retaining 92 jobs which would otherwise have been lost, and expected to
hire 28 new staff members in the following three years .
Supporting Think London's investment goals for the London Olympics
Think London was mandated by the Mayor of London and the London Olympics
Committee to generate 100,000 additional jobs over a 10-year period. Think
London's strategy was to emphasise the business opportunities immediately
around the Olympics, and the potential for growth even after 2012, and
provide the business intelligence and support to apply for Olympics
contracts. Given the dispersed Games sites and the investment
opportunities across the city which were available, expert and accessible
location analysis was an important part of this strategy.
The web tool developed by UCL was an intrinsic part of the London
Business Intelligence Dashboard, launched in 2007, which provided an
interface to a wide range of data to support investment decisions [8,
p.14]. This in turn was a significant component of Think London's Route to
2012 business road shows. Starting from 2007, Think London used a London
cab fitted with the Business Intelligence Dashboard as an iconic symbol of
the city and its business offering. This travelled across the US and
Europe, and a Mandarin version was launched to coincide with the Beijing
Olympics in 2008 . In 2009-10 alone, the road show moved between 13
North American cities [6, p.12]. By 2010, these efforts had already led to
the creation of 2,400 jobs in London [6, p.13].
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Contribution of decision support system to Think London offering:
statement provided by the then Chief Operating Officer, Think London.
 Imagine your business in London. Promotional slideshow presented by
London & Partners.
 Microsoft announcement to open search centre, with `several European
cities' considered as hubs. June 2008. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2008/jun08/06-17searchtechcenterpr.aspx.
 Think London: A Year in Review 2008-2009. Available on request.
 Microsoft press release, 13 May 2013, announcing development of
People Autosuggest by its London search technology centre:
 Think London: Working Through Smarter Collaboration: A Year In Review
2009-2010. Available on request.
 Samvo betting cafés open in Hammersmith and Camden. http://www.sis.tv/sis-blog/samvo-way-new-look-high-street.
 Use of Business Dashboard: Think London: A Year in the Life of Think
London 2007-2008. Available on request.
 Description, with images, by the Digital Media Consultant used by