Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Site Selection

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Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Site Selection

  • 19 Aug 2020

We live in the information age where the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) presents amazing opportunities in the field of site selection. Today, we are able to leverage technology to replace the workload that previously required seasoned experts. In many cases, AI has been heralded as the answer to everything. However, despite all the advantages technology offers, there will always be a need for the competent professional site consultant.

Big Red Button Problem

Part of AI’s incredible allure is its ability to analyze vast amounts of data and spot patterns in complex phenomena that defy rule-based descriptions, meaning it can simplify complex tasks for us. Unfortunately, it also makes it enticing to think of AI as a “big red button” that eliminates the need for human interaction to deliver the right answers.


The main issue with trying to build a big red button (i.e. eliminate humans from the loop) for site selection is the need to then build “perfect” algorithms. For the big red button scenario to work, you must get everything right all at once. If one calculation is wrong, it’s all wrong. There is no partial credit for selecting the wrong site. Conversely, AI designed with a “human-in-the-loop” approach only needs to make meaningful progress to the next interaction point.

What AI Can Do Without Humans

Here are a few of the things that pure AI can do to bring efficiency to the site selection process:

  • Collect and analyze vast amounts of data
  • Generate useful business intelligence
  • Eliminate manual data entry
  • Learn from user behavior
  • Make recommendations and identify opportunities


What AI Cannot Do Without Humans

Below are some of the limitations of AI without the help of humans:

  • Build trust with communities
  • Completely eliminate the need for site tours
  • Negotiate the final details of a comprehensive economic incentive program
  • Close a transaction


SITE Selector™ Approach: Designing AI with Human(s) in the Loop

We asked ourselves, “how do we build a smarter system that can incorporate useful and meaningful human interaction?” Our answer was to carefully design a workflow that includes human participation at very specific points in the site selection process rather than completely removing human involvement. Algorithms used in site selection cannot be designed in the same manner as electronic trading platforms that issue thousands of buy/sell orders in the fraction of a second. Rather, effective site selection AI requires the combination of technology and people to maximize its potential. SITE Selector was designed to fundamentally infuse technology and human interaction together. But which humans should be in the loop? Our engineers had the foresight to configure SITE Selector to interact with feedback from both the client and the site selection professionals throughout the process. This allows clients the luxury of changing their selection criteria midstream vs. having to start over from the beginning.

Humans in the Loop Example

One example of how SITE Selector is using the human-in-the-loop approach is our interactive dashboard and Site Profile criteria tool. When a client is first onboarded, they are asked to assign weightings for general categories (i.e. labor, transportation, utilities) and to indicate level of importance on 155 criteria. The tool’s design includes a single slider for each criteria that allows the client to control the level of importance.

Setting this slider to the extreme left would lead the system to essentially discount its value as a key metric to zero. Alternatively, setting the slider to the extreme right would make it the most important factor considered for that category.


Initially, this information is used to match projects to communities that satisfy the client’s requirements. Later in the process, after sites have been submitted, this same information is used to score and rank each site that appears on the client’s dashboard. Simple as it may seem, it’s this gradient of choices between the extremes that makes SITE Selector useful—with which one can experiment, learn (e.g., by seeing the site rankings with different weightings), and tailor to their preference and need. A simple, well-articulated slider, in this case, makes the difference between a “big red button” and a “human-in-the-loop” tool.



SITE Selector’s human-in-the-loop technology gives the professionals at Duff & Phelps a clear advantage over all competitors. As the only firm with a digital marketplace, SITE Selector is able to reach every state and economic development organization (EDO) in the U.S. and analyze large amounts of data in a short period of time while blending the results with our own insights from years of experience in the field. Let our Site Selection and Incentives Advisory professionals guide your search to the finish line.