Can anyone decide where to expand a business with just a few keystrokes? Jim Robeson thinks he knows the answer. When his family's Ontario-based deli struggled because of a problematic expansion, he decided there had to be a better way.

So he teamed up with college friend Adam Saunders to create PiinPoint, an analytics engine that lets you, as Robeson says, "create a list of possible locations in a matter of minutes." Now in its pilot phase, PiinPoint can provide reams of data about any location in North America, including basic demographics and detailed consumer-spending information broken down by product category. PiinPoint is being piloted by more than a dozen large companies, some with as many as 6,000 locations, but Robeson says it will be just as useful to a person looking to open, say, a deli. "Our goal is to make this available to the masses, to people with no technical background, using any mobile device," he says.

The product joins a crowded market: MapInfo, ZoomProspector, Esri, and other giants in the field of geographic information systems have long made site selection a major focus. "Expanding from one location to two is the point at which many businesses fail," says Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions for Esri. "Cloud services and mobile devices let you connect the dots about location decisions much more easily." Costs vary, however, as do the underlying sources of data, so make sure you know what makes a given engine run.

As for how far an automated approach can take you, Robeson stops short of saying you can leave everything to the software. "Finding the right location is both science and art," he says. "We cover the science, but we encourage people to go see each place as well."