An Exclusive Interview with Michael Graff

By Joe Francica

This interview was conducted by Editor Joe Francica (JF) with Michael Graff (MG), General Manager of Microsoft's MapPoint Group.

JF: Where will Microsoft be taking the design and marketing effort for MapPoint .NET?
MG: For MapPoint, .NET solves just a variety of problems that we have had in trying to address some key customer needs and one of the primary ones there is just the ability to receive some updated information in a much more frequent fashion and a much more streamlined fashion.Less disruptive than having to uninstall and reinstall these huge files that we typically distribute with CD ROM applications.It allows us to bring new types of data to our customers and also allows us to open up the world of location software; I guess location as an ingredient, to a much broader audience than in the past.

JF: Why is it the first application developed for this platform?
MG: For MapPoint, the .NET model for us solves real problems that we were bumping into anyway, and it made sense for us to roll out with it as soon as we could.Now, some of the challenges in that were that we began our development on the platform that was not the final version of Visual Studio .NET.So, that made it a little tough for us because we came out with this service pretty shortly after Visual Studio went golden and RCM.But for us, the ability to reduce costs for customers by letting them access data on an "ad hoc" basis, provide more frequent updates, basically find a way to link and bridge our existing client applications to other real-time data types, like traffic or real-time location feeds.Those are real problems that we were facing and this model just really fit with the type of business that we are in with regards toe location software world.

JF: So obviously wireless is a key component of the strategy.Is it something you are going to offer through a Microsoft initiative or through wireless carriers?
MG: We see wireless carriers as one of our key customers, and we'll be working with wireless carriers as they choose to roll out location based services through out their network.We'll deal with location no matter how it is acquired, whether it is on the network, on a handset or customer input.But we certainly see working with carriers to provide the location context to whatever LBS applications are that they want to build.Now, Microsoft itself has MSN Mobile, and they are planning to build some applications.We see them as customers as well.

JF: Is the plan to present an application similar to Wingcast or other concierge services?
MG: That is certainly one use for this type of application platform, absolutely.I am not planning to write a concierge application from the MapPoint group.Our focus is to build the most broadly usable location platform for wireless applications to internet consumer applications.This could be a mapping-centric site, they could be city guides, they could be car rental sites, and they could be travel sites; anything where someone wants to understand the location of assets or objects.And, even beyond these relatively basic types of applications, it could be used for more sophisticated enterprise-type location applications.So, we want to enable the use of location as a "lens" into other corporate data and to filter data, by customer or sales data and by location, using a corporate intranet or secure extranet scenario between businesses.

JF: That begs the question as to how sophisticated you intend to make MapPoint.With competitors like ESRI or MapInfo that provide a high degree of product sophistication, they also want to move into enterprise applications that go beyond typical thematic mapping.Is there any intention of building MapPoint applications that are robust enough to work within a CRM or a more sophisticated SQL Server with spatial extensions?
MG: Again, the answer is that we can play a role in those scenarios.I don't see us in the near term building a feature set that would rival these high end GIS packages from ESRI or MapInfo.We actually think that there is an opportunity to coexist within many enterprises and we would provide a certain level of base map functionality for a highly scalable backend for LBS applications for the core mapping features.As you get more sophisticated than thematic shading and some types of drive time analysis that MapPoint does today, we are certainly open to exploring ways to work with some of the other companies that are out there.We don't think that MapPoint will replace these products but extend the reach of these products into other areas of the company.

JF: It was surprising to me that drive-time functionality was added to MapPoint 2002 because it was a step in the direction of providing more advanced GIS functionality.Whereas in MapPoint 2001, the product's target audience was more for "tourist mapping."
MG: It is a product that appeals in so many areas that it is a challenge for us to decide what areas of the envelope that we move out.Do we move up into more GIS stuff or into more consumer-oriented features? I guess our guiding principal on that is that we are trying to provide basic level of spatial analysis tools for the 70% to 80% of the cases that are out there.People that are not using these tools today are fundamentally the ones we are targeting.You know if you are using MapInfo Professional today, we do not see MapPoint as a replacement for that product.But if you are using Excel today and you have a 'push pin' map on your bulletin board and you are trying to figure out where should I assign my sales people or where should we look to do some more direct marketing, MapPoint is a great solution for you, and its an intermediate step for that type of customer.Drive time zones are an example of a feature that has a lot of fairly basic uses for everyday marketing and sales applications.It does not require the user to learn a lot about GIS or get very sophisticated.There are certainly more sophisticated versions of that type of analysis tool out there, but again, we are not trying to get that high end; we are trying to broaden the appeal of the use of this technology to the people who use (Microsoft) Office today or Microsoft Excel.

JF: What is the strategy for providing up-to-date, current demographics within MapPoint?
MG: I don't have an announcement to make about that right now.But, it is something that we are very aware of and actually working on a plan to address the ability to get more updated demographics as well as other types of tabular data from the MapPoint .NET service and be able to download that data directly to MapPoint and take advantage of it.

JF: Would the MapPoint solution that something that you would look to put into one of the larger CRM applications like a Siebel or something that Microsoft itself tries to promote?
MG: I guess it depends on the components.CRM is a term for a fairly broad range of functionality.I certainly believe that there is a basic level of functionality (for MapPoint) that it provides.Certainly, MapPoint is a potential solution for a CRM module that is focused on prospecting or customer service or a call center.Currently, MapPoint .NET is a potential solution and one in which we would love to work with customers on.The beauty of the way MapPoint .NET is designed is that can be integrated in a pretty straightforward fashion and it doesn't require someone to learn a lot about location technology.If you know Visual Basic, C++, C-Sharp, or Java, you can look at our API (application programming interface) and develop against this platform.One of the beauties of what we have done is make this location platform available to people in whatever development environment that they work in so long as it is supports the capability to make a SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) call.

JF: Developers are on your radar scope?
MG: Yes, especially during this past month when we focused on developer venues such as TechEd.We are trying to start a dialog there.My goal is not to replace the GIS tools that are out there now or get customers to dump what they have been doing, and embrace this.The reality is, we think there are a ton of people out there that are not taking advantage of location intelligence in their application and we're trying to make it as easy as possible for those people to get access to this.

JF: I talk to many people in retail and banking, insurance, and I do not see them grasping the fundamental premise that they have a customer database with lots of locations.
MG: Part of the challenge I see there is that the investment hurdle; not just financial, but just understanding the issues - a resource personnel investment, a training investment.If you wanted to integrate location awareness into those types of applications today, you have to make a pretty significant decision that you want to do that; in terms of hardware, software and training people.And, I think in many situations, nobody has been able to say the return on that investment, while many of us believe it to be there, there has always something a little higher on the list that knocks it out.We want to try to reduce the barrier to entry.A great scenario would be if people starting using this and decide that this has a ton of value and the ROI is much higher than I thought it could be and they start to expand those efforts.They not only buy more MapPoint but also get interested in doing more sophisticated things with other GIS packages.

Published Wednesday, May 15th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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