ESRI & CACI: What it means for the competitive landscape

By Joe Francica

ESRI has made the "official" announcement regarding its merger to form ESRI Business Information Solutions (EBIS).See the Top News Items below.It is a significant development because it signifies a contraction of the data product marketplace.This has been process over the course of the last ten years as we have seen a number of demographic data firms disappear or become acquired by other data companies: Donnelly Marketing Information Services (DMIS), National Decision Systems (NDS), National Planning Data Corporation (NPDC), Urban Decision Systems (UDS), National Demographics and Lifestyles (NDL), Compusearch.This does not leave but a handful of companies that independently supply demographic data, and VNU, the parent company of Claritas (and the company that acquired most of the aforementioned data publishers) is the dominant force in the industry.

What does it all mean? I asked several individuals who have seen this industry grow and contract.Dean Stoecker, president of SRC and long time senior executive of DMIS commented that, "this acquisition has the potential of bringing great things to the users of GIS and micromarketing technologies.More choices, tighter integration of data and software and ESRI's global presence opens lots of new and profitable doors for resellers, systems integrators and end user organizations...we are pretty excited about the possibilities." Berk Charlton, president of Geographic Marketing Solutions and former senior sales representative for Strategic Mapping remarked, "There are inherent dangers for a GIS company purchasing a demographics company, as Strategic Mapping found out a number of years ago when they purchased DMIS.All of a sudden, you're polarized against your former demographic data partners.Not that ESRI has much to lose right now; they've got to do something to try to penetrate this market effectively.But it's an uphill battle...CACI has very low penetration compared to Claritas, and companies are loath to switch demographics systems, especially if they're using any sort of segmentation or clustering."

If ESRI's goal is to drive a total solution with both software and data, they have a great deal of experience in doing so as they have long promoted data through their ArcData program.However, the press release is somewhat obtuse in its verbiage as Jack Dangermond stated, ""Traditionally, ESRI has focused on creating the best GIS technology and has not offered integrated business data with its GIS offerings." I think existing users of ArcView, ArcView Business Analyst, and BusinessMap will wonder, then, what kind of data they have been receiving these last few years if it was not supposed to be integrated.

Will the acquisition restrict choices by the client to select which demographic data suite they want? I suspect that if you are an ESRI customer, you will be "encouraged" to select data from the EBIS unit.And why not because you would certainly hope that the data is more tightly integrated with the software and therefore fewer anomalies associated with the true position of geographic attributes.But if you are a Claritas or AGS customer using Arc products, you will simply do business as usual.Let's be clear, ESRI is acquiring a customer base from CACI in hopes of expanding business to more potential users.On the surface, this acquisition does not appear to restrict choice.Perhaps the overlap of any existing ArcData products with CACI products will be resolved internally and therefore a simplification of choices.

I have always been a firm believer in allowing the marketplace to determine if certain business initiatives will be beneficial to the GIS industry.We wish them well, but time will tell.

Published Thursday, February 14th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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