A Discussion with Scott Petronis, Envinsa Product Manager, MapInfo

By Hal Reid

_I asked MapInfo to set up a discussion about Envinsa because, while I had seen the press releases and the references to uses in the UK, it wasn’t clear to me exactly what it did and how it was substantially different than a major installation of MapXtreme. This is a distillation of the discussion I had with Scott Petronis, Envinsa Product Manager, about the product. (Directions Magazine published an article about the product when it first came out in 2004.)

Key Points
The main take-away is that Envinsa is a true enterprise product. It works with non-MapInfo file types and systems and is very different from traditional MapInfo products - not necessarily because it is an enterprise product, but because it is being sold directly into IT departments rather than the stereotypical customers of MapInfo. A new market and a new direction.

Envinsa works with various Business Intelligence (BI) products, Oracle Spatial and even SDE to fully integrate distributable mapping. MasterCard offers a good example of how Envinsa is being used from a customer’s perspective. (Note: Be sure to check out this link – it’s pretty cool). It’s an example of pushing mapping data down to the cell phone level, providing the ultimate in portable access to geographic information. In the case of MasterCard, ATM locations (see link above) were the focus of their Envinsa application. Because of the demonstrable ROI, the Master Card case study is a terrific industry “poster child” for an enterprise using existing location information and providing usable Location Intelligence (LI).

Because Envinsa works with BI systems, supports non-MapInfo file types, and can distribute LI data in several ways, it can push maps and data to the desktop – and back, to the Web, PDAs and of course, to cell phones that are reasonably smart. It is embraced by IT departments and works with existing installations of MapInfo on the desktop, so you could almost argue that it is not just an enterprise solution, but an “anti-silo” product.

Discussion with Scott Petronis
I asked several questions - the responses below are excerpted from that discussion.

Hal Reid (HR): The product literature says that Envinsa can reside on customers’ servers or can be accessed as a Web service from MapInfo. What is the base infrastructure that the product requires? For example, is Oracle Spatial a requirement? Is there additional middleware that is necessary to implement all of the product’s functionality? What about the file structure, is this typical Tab, Oracle Spatial or open system, and can you create output in various file types?

Scott Petronis (SP):
It can be either - reside on the customers’ servers or ours. We do several things to integrate with whatever the customer has. Link to various databases, functionality that currently exists (e.g. BI systems), and because this is an enterprise system, we encourage robust storage. (Ed. note: in other words, commercial grade databases.) We can use ESRI SDE, other formats, support open standards, traditional IT and normal export formats.

HR: Because of similar functionality, have there been any problems with positioning Envinsa as a unique product/platform so it is not perceived merely as MapInfo online or MapXtreme?

We found that we were successful in promoting the product to non-existing customers. This is because it appeals to a different category of users, more enterprise focused. We found large customers were coming to us about Envinsa and we were able to prove it with a new audience, for example MasterCard and NAPA. A big part of the difference it makes are the data management capabilities, the tools and of course, Web Services.

HR: You could read into the product literature that Envinsa can integrate with BI systems. Are there examples of BI integrations?

Envinsa is a Business Intelligence integration component. It reads and writes data from BI tools such as MicroStrategy. It interacts with other BI tools, too. Envinsa provides a common set of workflows using location (geographic) data. It also provides a set of templates to interact with BI products and there are identified workflows to drill down geographically through the data by county, other geographies, etc.

This is more than the map and allows for non-disruptive interaction and integration whether the system be HR, CRM, Supply Chain or even a traditional Business GIS functions.

HR: Reading about the mobile application side of Envinsa - access from PDA, cell phones, etc. - I get the impression that this functionality works best in those countries with true 3G cell systems. Are there limitations to the functionality here in the U.S.? (My question stems from the fact that press releases are coming from the UK and it seems almost like a UK product.)

There is certainly a business model for Europe and Asia and that is part of the reason for success in those markets. Their focus is beyond voice and SMS. It is more content-based browsing. Here in North America the focus is more on SMS, workforce automations and mobile resource management.

HR: The cell phone location feature (html demo) was very cool. Is there a standard function of where are my buddies, co-workers, boss, etc?

The demo shows similar functionality in a very simplistic form. Our approach is to create formats that other people can read, for example XML or even XLS, so we can be part of the integration story. Other examples are SVG, which we do now, and FLASH, in the future. The objective is to provide simple access to difficult (and complex) functionality.

HR: Now that you are on version 4.0, what is perceived among the MapInfo folks as the coolest part of this product?

Integration, and making integration more palatable for our customers, so they can find better ways to be better focused. This is so they can actually change information into understanding that is actionable.

It was obvious that Scott and his team are pumped up about this product. This was not a shallow, marketing, “Oh boy this is great, please buy it” discussion. They’ve had some great wins, and the product is evolving quickly and becoming more interesting and more robust.

Published Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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