How MapInfo is Planning its Attack on Enterprise Computing

By Joe Francica

During last week, I spent some time with MapInfo's senior management team and one of their partners, KOREM, Québec at the KOREM GEOdiffusion User's Conference.MapInfo has been undergoing a transformation for the last few years, in terms of both product development and corporate direction.Judging from the presentations and my direct discussions, the transformation is nearly complete.It is a transformation that MapInfo hopes will take it deeper into enterprise computing solutions.Whether their partners decide to come along for the ride is a different matter.But Korem is one partner that understands and embraces the change.

KOREM's new tag line parallels MapInfo's corporate strategy: Geospatial and Business Intelligence.During the last few years, MapInfo has been altering their sales and product strategy from software boxes to industry solutions, and from an end-user focus to enterprise platforms, respectively.This metamorphosis came with tremendous upheaval in terms of their ability to sustain growth that Wall Street wants to see, keeping their traditional base firm, allowing business partners to function (if not flourish), and undertake a massive shift in their product technology foundation.

MapInfo has also forged partnerships to support their changes and the result portends how the company will operate.MapInfo has developed a limited number of these partnerships, key among them are Oracle, Microstrategy, Siebel, and Business Objects, all key players in the 'business intelligence' technology sector.

Briefly, Business Intelligence (BI) software solutions are designed to analyze, reduce, and construct reports from large volumes of data from that which is gathered from customer information files, point of sale, inventory management, or other transaction processes.This may involve data quality assurance, data integration, and the ability to interoperate with other such systems from the various business departments throughout an organization.Curious enough, some of these data may actually contain a location component.Imagine that.But only 80% or so.Hence, the ability to discern relationships within the corporate value chain, and to leverage that to turn data into sales, is a key competitive advantage.One way to do this is to use the dashboard construct presented through a graphical interface by BI solution providers in order to discern these relationships. As such, if these relationships in any way exhibit a spatial correlation, then location-based analytical tools and platforms need to interoperate with BI tools.

Note a few key words here: Interoperability; Integration.Likewise its implications: Open standards; Cross platform compatibility.And its result: Efficient business process management.These are not terms that we customarily come to embrace as geospatial technologists, but we better get used to them."There is no such thing as business as usual," says Mark Cattini, MapInfo's CEO.He means it and he is well down the path of convincing others as well.

Cattini is doing three, key things.He has directed the company toward offering location platforms and solutions such as EnvinsaTM (primarily for Java implementations) and MapXtreme 2004 and ExponareTM (primarily for .NET implementations); he has acquired companies with key market advantages such as Thompson Associates in retailing, and Southbank Systems for public infrastructure management.And, he has established the business partnerships with BI companies to get MapInfo technology more deeply embedded into enterprise systems.

That last move is key.To more comprehensively move geospatial technology into enterprise systems, and in some respects, creating a market, MapInfo offers horizontal location intelligence platforms.They saw this opportunity coming a few years ago and made the effort to transform their product direction accordingly.Envinsa is a good example since it can effectively be the platform from which to develop PDA, voice, portlet, web, or wireless location products, solutions and services.MapXtreme 2004 is a platform for Micorsoft Windows developers working in the .NET framework.It is another platform solution that utilizes a services oriented architecture (SOA) that looks at a distributed computing environment, across multiple servers, for example, to "grab" software components as building blocks from other services to create a custom solution.Envinsa and MapXtreme 2004 may eventually evolve into a common platform.

The best thing about Cattini is that he not only exudes enthusiasm, but he leads from vision.I don't know about his management style, except that he has successfully navigated MapInfo through the period when a significant percentage of their revenues was from the telecommunications sector, which saw draconian style layoffs and cost cutting during the "dot bomb" period. But certainly, it is a different vision than his competitors.He will advance location technology as a service from within an enterprise IT solution. By comparison, ESRI will push GIS as a solution first, from which other analytical solutions will derive information.MapInfo is not necessarily GIS-centric; while ESRI prefers to promote GIS as a foundation technology. They are simply two differing strategies, and each company will approach their target markets accordingly.

But, will MapInfo's partners come along for the ride? The jury is still out.Certainly, KOREM gets the message.Their product suite is designed to leverage MapInfo's platform strategy and make it easier for solution development.The Push n' See product is a way to make rapid deployment of MapXtreme Java applications a reality.It was essential to winning the New York State Department of Economic Development where MapInfo was pitted against ESRI for a project for a web-based site finder application.The ability to install a tool to help "non-developers" quickly develop internet applications to support tourism as well as environmental zone visualization for a Brownfield clean-up program was aided by the Push n' See "studio."

So, KOREM may be a unique case.Most MapInfo partners are perhaps more cautiously adopting this vision because each partner's past strategy has been mostly in helping customers with projects where GIS was the sole tool needed.System integration of MapInfo products with Oracle, for example, are not necessarily a common part of a partner's proficiency.Other partners, such as Mapping Solutions build modules on MapInfo Professional, and support other MapInfo components such as SpatialWare®. Many MapInfo partners have also begun to diversify their suite of services and choose to support ESRI platforms as well because of the enormous customer base that ESRI has.

But to MapInfo's credit, in terms of identifying business intelligence companies with which to partner in order to leverage geospatial technology within the larger enterprise system opportunities, they have focused on the next growth area for location technology.The integration of GIS and BI is a key step in the value chain of business process management solutions. MapInfo is leading other geospatial companies in that respect.However, it is a risk because we are just at the very beginning of this coalescing of technology solutions.KOREM, too, has latched on for the ride, and it could be a wild one.

Published Thursday, December 9th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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