An Open Letter to GIS/Geospatial Software Companies
We've followed your work for many years and wanted to
share some observations on the market (writ large).We suspect you know
much of what we are going to tell you, and have explored the questions
we pose.Still we feel obligated to put our thoughts in writing for
you, your partners and users.
1) The geospatial data creation world has changed. Once upon a
were the only ones with the know-how to create the data for digital
maps.You owned and managed virtually all of the tools to make, update
and share (or not) that data.Not so anymore.People in basements, in
small towns in foreign lands, and even kids with GPSs are creating and
updating data.Sometimes it's with your software, sometimes it's with
CAD programs or even open source solutions.What is your role in the
creation/update of data?
2) Expectations are changing. Once geospatially savvy (and
importantly geospatially non-savvy) people got a look at Yahoo! Maps,
MapPoint and Google Maps, their expectations for Web mapping
immediately changed.Those quaint, but slow and feature laden offerings
from your customers (often towns, counties and states, but also the
federal government and businesses) seemed years out of date.Why else
would hackers spend so much time with Google Maps? Why else would
bosses insist on solutions that look like, or in fact are, based on
those solutions? Can you catch up and regain your customers (and your
customers' customers') support?
3) Data is king.It always was, but most of you have moved out
data business, leaving it to a few, perhaps ever fewer by year's end,
worldwide companies.Certainly they have the staffs and expertise to
update and package data in ways that perhaps conflict with your common
vision of being tools and services providers.But, perhaps more than
you, those companies (NAVTEQ, Tele Atlas and friends) are the "Intel
inside" of geospatial applications.There are a few of them, and they
hold a key part of the puzzle.
A few players jumped in to try to be the distributor/indexer of that
data (the next best thing if you can't own the data), but so far, no
one is winning, really, not even some of the federal governments.What
is your role in the data business?
4) Slick, fast and simple wins. We know you all aim to serve the
professional marketplace.But more and more you want to serve the
executive and the enterprise marketplace, too.(You must, as those
terms pop up everywhere in your marketing literature!) Those CXOs and
other potential users across the enterprise are professionals from
other arenas.They like simple.
Enough already with feature/function battles: Just how much
functionality do you think your customers employ with the existing
desktop mapping products they bought from you? 20% maybe? Products have become so over laden
with features that most of it goes unused.Do you remember the first
version of MapPoint? It was a joke, right? So limited in
(GIS/geospatial) functionality wasn't it? Today, several hundred
thousand copies later it is still fairly simple.It does a few things
very well and now with an open API, many more users are customizing it
for enterprise applications that you only wish companies were doing
with your products.
Remember the first Palm Pilot? It did five things.Remember the first
widely known desktop "viewer"? It did five things.Others are
outwitting you on this front these days.Why?
5) Communication is key. You've all done a fine job
your users.But, remember, they have, over the years, learned your
language.The rest of the planet has not.Look at the new names in this
space: MapPoint, Google Earth, Virtual Earth, Where 2.0, location
technology...no GIS, no geospatial, no jargon.Why are you afraid of
simpler, accessible terms?
6) Open is the future. Nearly every company is on the "open"
wagon.That's great.Still, open means something different to every
vendor and every user, and that likely will not change.How do you
measure your openness? Do you? Is it the number of interfaces you
implement? The number of tools that are open source? Or, should it be
something more difficult to measure, like the number of solutions that
tap into yours, without your explicit aid? Are people (especially
non-GIS people) hacking your software?
7) The Web won! Yes, you got that right in the early excitement of
Web.And then you let it go.Maps on the Web were the sole purview of
the GIS companies in the late 90's.Only MapQuest and MapBlast were on
the radar screen.So, where were you? Were you the engine behind these
companies or the ones that came later? No, the opportunity slipped
through your fingers.Data...did you have the data? Yes, you did, and
then you let them go, too.Did you have the APIs? Yes, you did and then
you let them go.
8) Nothing personal, it's just business. The business drivers
to Google Maps, MapQuest and others were not those of GIS companies, or
so it seems.You looked at yourself as software companies; not
technology providers.You were out to sell boxes and licenses, not per
click transactions.It was a different model and you were not prepared
to deal with it.You tried your hand at wireless location-based
services and the market bubble burst.Now, "search" is here and few are
prepared to deal with this new business model.So other companies with
different business models than yours stepped into the void: Telcontar
and GlobeXplorer and NAVTEQ dealt with the opportunity differently.
9) Stop and smell the opportunities: Anyone can put together a
that uses maps.New mapping applications appear daily.Each one is
driven not by GIS specialists, but by business necessity and
innovation.You need to be mixing and matching your own solutions and
finding ways to bring your customers technology that aggregates
location-based data and other location solutions, and distributes the
information in a way that conforms to mainstream enterprise
architecture.You can not stand alone anymore.You need to play in a
bigger IT arena.
This is not to say that you will go away anytime soon.There will
always be a market for some basic data capture and integration
solutions.But, when it comes to applications in enterprise computing,
you are behind.For applications in the consumer market, you are
behind.For applications in pervasive location intelligence, you are
behind.The market is shifting beneath your feet and the foundation is
cracking.We hope we've revealed these cracks in a valuable way.
We wish you the best of luck in this time of change.
Published Saturday, June 4th, 2005