Pitney Bowes announced its new data as a service offering, Geosk, last fall. Adena Schutzberg interviewed Pitney Bowes Software’s Scott Robinson, director of Global Data Products, to learn more.
Directions Magazine (DM): What is Geosk?
Scott Robinson (SR): Geosk is a platform for finding and using geospatial data. It combines a data as a service (DaaS) offering with a data management product. At its heart, Geosk is a completely scalable data management system that allows our customers to share their data with any user they choose, including their customers. Around this data management system we wrap an e-commerce engine to help our customers buy and sell premium geospatial data.
Geosk Marketplace is the e-commerce endpoint of the Pitney Bowes Data Catalog. Geosk Marketplace provides customers with access to the industry's largest premium geospatial global data catalog, with over 1,000 datasets, from dozens of content providers.
Customers use Pitney Bowes data because of its quality and value to their business needs. Geosk Marketplace combines the value of the Pitney Bowes Data Catalog with the power of “on-demand” delivery. On-demand has three important parts – (1) we have the data, (2) you can find it with our search tools, and (3) you can customize and order it right now.
Geosk has the data our customers want. Geosk search tools give our customers the ability to rapidly discover the data they want in our massive catalog. Geosk customization and access functions give our customers the ability to order just the data they need for the job at hand. If you want 20 square miles of StreetPro Data around Paris, France, Geosk allows you to find it, customize it, and order this exact data in less than 60 seconds.
There are two ways to order data from the Marketplace, Buy-it-Now or Subscribe. Buy-it-Now means you find it and you can order it. The fastest way is via a credit card, but we do offer the ability to order via a purchase order.
You can also subscribe to our Data Catalog, for as much, or as little, data as you would like. This subscription feature allows users to have on-demand access to their desired data, without worrying about credit cards or other purchase options. This data is always up-to-date, as data maintenance is built into the service. Pitney Bowes also keeps your entire order history so you can always come back to find the starting point in your data workflow process.
Some of our customers order lots of data, and not just from us. Search and discovery of data for these customers is more complicated because they have their own inventory of data products (and derivative data products) outside of the Geosk Marketplace. For these customers, we offer as a product the same data management platform capabilities that we use to run our Marketplace. These customers can subscribe to their own “slice” of our multi-tenet data management system by becoming a Premium Subscriber to Geosk.
This Premium Subscription gives customers the cost-effective means to manage their data storage, hosting, searching and the sharing of licensed geospatial data. It alleviates traditional organizational barriers for managing and sharing geospatial data by removing the need for server- and client-side software, server-side hardware, and data center operation expenses. It also increases the discovery and use of currently licensed content by providing the search and customization tools needed to find and transform data before its input into their downstream revenue activities. This Premium Subscription dramatically increases our customers’ return-on-investment in their data acquisition and distribution investments.
Premium Subscribers are also offered the opportunity to sell their data in our Geosk Marketplace, or even via their own private store. We offer a series of special subscription options and services for our data vending customers who are looking for new channels to accelerate their data sales.
DM: Please give examples of how customers are using the system now.
SR: We are working with a software/data vendor in the telecommunications industry that plans to use Geosk as a fulfillment and e-commerce platform for all of its data products. This company currently fulfills data orders manually, and wants to leverage Geosk for its own data subscription services and custom data transformations. Its pain is the same pain that we had in managing our Data Catalog before Geosk, that is, data search and transformation from a physical catalog, with delivery via physical shipment of CDs/DVDs.
We have another customer that needs to access our content within a non-GIS application. Prior to using Geosk, the customer needed to load the data into MapInfo Professional and then export the data into a CSV file in order to load the data into its system. Now users simply log into Geosk, select the file format that they need (CSV) and download the data in the format that can be immediately loaded into their system.
DM: What's expected in the next/future releases?
SR: Some of the concepts being discussed for future releases include: multi-currency e-commerce support, additional file format support, “pushing” of updates directly to customers, and data streaming services, in addition to our current download on-demand.
DM: What were the main challenges in launching this service?
SR: Our biggest challenge was in designing a data platform that would meet the needs of our customers. We have thousands of customers buying and using our thousands of data products in many different ways. Geosk isn’t just about hosting our data for people to download. That’s just a glorified FTP service. Geosk is about finding and using data to increase our customers’ profitability. For our customers, we had to build a secure, multi-tenant geospatial data hosting service, with fast data search and transformation capabilities that included an e-commerce engine for international transactions.
The technical hurtles were extreme, and we worked with some great partners to bring this service to market. However, our internal business challenges were just as tough. Prior to Geosk, Pitney Bowes had very little experience in the software as a service (SaaS) market. This translated into a whole host of sales, licensing and internal order processing issues. The biggest challenge that we had (and continue to have) was in training our sales force and business development teams that Geosk represents the future for the geospatial industry. We as an industry, and a company, need to re-think the traditional geospatial business model.
The business of selling server- and client-software and stand-along data products is going away. It is transforming into the business of selling knowledge. Geosk is our first step toward selling knowledge, on-demand. Communicating this transition is our biggest challenge.
DM: Why might customers be apprehensive? Why shouldn't they be?
SR: Our customers are apprehensive because they worry about (1) breaking things that aren’t broken, and (2) spending money in ways that are different from how they have spent in the past.
Geosk changes the way data is found, managed and delivered to the customers’ current workflow. These workflows can be complicated. Customers can be very apprehensive of the risks involved in changing current workflows. Overcoming this fear can be a challenge, but we feel it is worth the effort, because we know that these changes will ultimately help our customers.
Data-on-demand, subscription services, hosted data management, SaaS and DaaS are all different business models. They require spending money on things in ways that are different from past expenses. By working with our customers, we can help them overcome their reluctance to spend money on these products and services. We feel it is important because these product and services will ultimately increase our customers’ margins and their total ROI.
As the industry and business models evolve, so must Pitney Bowes. Our job is to show our customers why we are changing, how this is going to benefit their business, and how Pitney Bowes can help them survive and grow in this changing industry.