MapInfo was an unbeatable company and product name because it delivered exactly what users expected – maps and information, until its parent company, Pitney Bowes, attempted to push its brand forward. Now, with a change in management and vision, the name and maybe the company mojo are back. Editor in Chief Joe Francica spoke with customers and partners about the coming changes at the “rejuvenated” MapInfo User Conference, which was held in Memphis June 11-13.
Big companies sometimes make really big mistakes. Such was the case when Pitney Bowes (PB) decided to suppress the brand "MapInfo" after it acquired the company in 2007. In so doing, PB nearly ruined one of the best-named products ever in the geospatial technology sector, and the company along with it.
However, opportunity was not entirely lost. A leadership change led to the understanding that despite missteps, the potential still existed to carve a niche in the emerging sector of location intelligence. PB still had a substantial customer base that desired product enhancements, but time was running out.
MapInfo UC is Back
I spent three days at the "rejuvenated" MapInfo User Conference in Memphis last week and spoke with both customers and partners. While the attendance was light, to a person, they all expressed optimism that management is on the right track and the products are again competitive. Guy Kawasaki (pictured at right), the former Apple executive that helped design the first Mac, keynoted the event and provided insights as to how to compete in today's tech market.
The partners are excited. They believe that the channel conflicts that existed in the past are being resolved. They believe the support for marketing is improving and an experienced software development team is in place to advance functionality that will allow PB’s software solutions to move deeper into the enterprise.
The customers seemed excited and optimistic that the product in which they've invested for so many years will finally be getting more support. There are many loyal users and they comprise a substantial community. In the past few years Pitney Bowes has not served this community well. But this community very much wants the product and the company to succeed.
Roger Pilc, Pitney Bowes' executive vice president and chief innovation officer, noted that the company is one of the top 100 software producers in the world, growing at 23% year over year. "What you will hear is our renewed investment in our products," he said to the users. "Pitney Bowes' innovation is all about enabling commerce.”
That's a very powerful statement. He could have said "our innovation is all about advanced spatial analytics." But what he said was that PB is focused on the end result and the fulfillment of why you use technology in the first place. He also said PB is focused on "operational execution and organizational capacity." Clearly he's putting the emphasis on the client side benefits and not thinking solely about product features and functions.
James Buckley, senior vice president of customer data and location intelligence, said the MapInfo 12.5 release is ambitious and a first step in providing a much better desktop mapping product than PB has had in the past. PB will provide a world class demographic data portfolio. Geocoding, a foundational part of PB's business, has become unbeatable and will continue improving to remain competitive. Finally, PB is looking to move beyond the .tab format.
And so, the name and the mojo seem to be back. For more in-depth analysis of the changing management approach, see “Pitney Bowes’ Strategy: Resurrect and Reinvent.”
New Relationships: Tata, IBM, Accenture
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) delivered a guest presentation during one of the plenary sessions. TCS, based in New York and Mumbai and part of the Tata conglomerate, is using Spectrum Spatial as part of its location intelligence and real-time analytics solution with SAP HANA for retail clients. Earlier this month, I interviewed Vinod Kachroo, chief technology officer for insurance and healthcare for TCS, who emphasized the investment in geospatial technology for the insurance industry using Pitney Bowes as part of the solution. Both IBM and Accenture were major sponsors of the MapInfo User Conference. PB CEO Marc Lautenbach was a 27-year IBM’er who most recently served as the managing partner of IBM North America Global Business Services and is facilitating the new partnership. Accenture was in the partner exhibit area touting an indoor location application.
Some Challenges Remain
While enthusiasm ran high during the user conference, PB faces significant challenges, not the least of which is whether the company is too late in making these investments to satisfy existing clients, lure new business and recruit partners. The remaining challenges as I see them:
- Re-branding: Will PB keep up the marketing blitz to invest in the MapInfo brand? It's one thing to say the brand is back; it's another to continue driving the message. It will take money and time. Will PB realize it takes more than just a few days of good will and continue to champion the message? I see it as at least a two-year turn-around period.
- Champion: Who will be out on the stump priming and pushing the message, pounding the mantra and putting a spotlight on the brand and the brand name clients like Twitter and Facebook?
- Spectrum Spatial: Everyone says the product can dominate as a server solution that integrates with business intelligence (BI) solutions. But it has no brand image. It needs to be re-branded using the "MapInfo" name in some way.
- The Channel: The channel was abandoned for a significant period of time and partners were disgruntled, some departing for Esri or Alteryx. This is an opportunity to make "mini-champions" out of each because the partners all need to evangelize the "new" MapInfo message.
- Executive education: Everyone who uses a mobile app expects and assumes that location technology is embedded. Why, then, aren't BI solutions expected and assumed to include location analytics? Few BI software solutions today do more than offer a visualization window that shows a basic map. The next BI innovations must address location analytics as a key differentiator. This is an opportunity for Pitney Bowes’ suite of geospatial technology to become the embedded solution for location analytics, and perhaps beat Esri in the boardroom.
Editor's Note: Pitney Bowes provided financial support to attend the MapInfo User Conference.