This new year, 2018, marks exactly a decade since fDi Magazine got into the data game. In 2008 our company, the Financial Times, acquired an FDI data business, which led to the renamed, relaunched online databases fDi Benchmark and fDi Markets and to the establishment of the fDi Intelligence unit within the FT.

The acquisition was about big data and the inevitable shift the economic development, investment promotion and site-selection markets would be making towards more and better use of data to improve processes and outputs. That shift has indeed happened, albeit in some places faster and more completely than in others, as our cover story reveals.

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The decision was also about technology, and the increasing use of online tools by companies looking for their next expansion location and government agencies hoping to recruit them. The marrying of data and technology is a natural evolution in the FDI arena. And the technology that underpins successful site selection and investment attraction strategies is evolving quickly. Now, having a functional website, multimedia presence and social media strategy is a given for investment promotion agencies – a basic, ground-level requirement – and the more technologically advanced FDIers are moving into artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and, the place where data and tech truly meet: geographic information systems (GIS).

In short, a GIS is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage and present spatial or geographic data. It is perfectly poised to showcase location attributes on behalf of economic developers and serve the need for site selectors to have reactive, searchable, unbiased data. As with many tech-driven innovations, the US is the early adopter of GIS-enabled investment promotion. To compete, and attract US companies who are growing used to having such tools at their fingertips, other parts of the world will need to catch up.

It was with this looming trend in mind that the Financial Times started the beginning of the previous new year with the announcement of our acquisition of GIS Planning, a Silicon Valley tech firm that had pioneered GIS software providing real estate, demographic and industry data to help businesses and site selectors find optimal geographic locations through powerful online mapping analysis.

Staff of investment promotion agencies have an understandable nervousness about the increasing digitisation of FDI processes. But as with every other industry, the shift is unavoidable and those who don’t learn to ride the tech waves will instead be subsumed by them.

Courtney Fingar is editor-in-chief of fDi Magazine and head of content for fDi Intelligence. Email: courtney.fingar@ft.com