MapInfo Professional 10.0 Rollout Tour: When the Hype Stays Home

By Adena Schutzberg

The MapInfo Professional 10.0 Roadshow rolled into Boston in mid-September. The Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) event followed the same successful formula as the last one in 2008. (Directions Magazine coverage) First, Moshe Binyamin, the global product manager, shared some tips and tricks for existing versions and the new version 10. Then, attendees formed into teams for a focus group exercise. The grand finale was a look at what's new in version 10.0.

The Roadshow Experience
Before I share some of what happened, I want to point out a few unique characteristics of these rollouts. These are not like the events I'm used to attending for a new release of, say, AutoCAD or ArcInfo. Why? A few reasons:

The focus is not on selling the upgrade. While the event was sponsored by Maine-based Mitchell Geographics, there was no discussion of the cost of the upgrade or limitations or special offers. The fact that the tips and tricks were focused on existing, in-use versions made it clear that organizers wanted attendees to go home with some new tricks to try. The immediate goal was not to get them to upgrade but to better use the version they were already using!

There is no talk of aligned products. Every other rollout event from a well-established company includes at least a slide and often specific sessions on the product family and/or related products. This event was 100% MapInfo Professional.

There's no (or almost no) positioning of the company, discussions of its market share, growth, etc. These events are all about the customers, the products PBBI has made for the customers and the products the company will make for the customers in the future.

The event is as much about listening to the attendees as about talking to them. While I'm sure the marketing people carefully count how many people attend the events in each city, I'm also sure the most valuable thing the organizers take away are the questionnaires each focus group team returns.

Tips and Tricks
I enjoyed the tips and tricks session, and based on how many people were taking notes, the rest of the attendees did, too. I enjoyed it not so much because I use MapInfo a lot (I use it occasionally), but because some of the hidden "goodies" exist (or should exist!) in other GIS and non-GIS products.

Do all your programs have a list of "recent files" conveniently located in the File/Open dialog?

Can you open a file for editing (that would normally be read-only) by ticking a box in the open dialog box?

Can you, in your GIS, trace (line follow) automatically?

Can you quickly and easily "move the map" when you are in the middle of "doing something else" such as digitizing?

Can you draw freehand and then use the path in another package?

Of all the features shown in this session, I was most surprised at how few people were aware of the MapInfo tools to export KMLs that can be used in Google Earth. An early version of that tool was announced in 2006 and an article on the topic was, for some time, one of the most popular articles at Directions Magazine. My guess about the apparent interest in it today? Back when it was launched, users were not using Google Earth; it hadn't found its role in professional GIS toolkits. Today, I think Google Earth has made its mark.

The Postcard Campaign
"Mapping is important to PBBI." That was the firm statement from Jon Winslow, global portfolio director for location intelligence at PBBI. He appeared via a video where he stood right next to a life-sized series of PowerPoint-style bullet points. He detailed the PBBI mission statement and pushed his statement back to attendees as a question: "Is mapping important to you?" Attendees were asked to answer the question and explain why mapping was important on postcards, complete with their own name and address on them. PBBI staff would read the replies, and then send the cards back to their authors. I'm still a little fuzzy on the goal of the exercise, but I did note that most people filled out the cards and turned them in.

Focus Group
The Focus Group activity was not a complex secret process. The attendees were divided into groups of about five and asked to discuss, and then individually vote on which topics in a few categories PBBI should pursue in the next release. One topic was "Big Items," that is, items that would take quite a bit of resources to accomplish. It was likely just one would be included in the next release. The second topic was "Medium Items," of which three or four might be in the next release. The final topic was "Other Items," smaller projects of which a handful might be in the next release. Then there were questions about data management (how it's done now, how much data users have and use, the need for metadata tools, etc.)

What was most interesting was the general consensus among the groups - even though the types of users (public sector, private sector, consultants, educators, etc.) were mixed among them. After each group presented its findings, Binyamin noted that after 12 of these events clear patterns were emerging.

Among the most wanted enhancements were more tools for the browser window (the data table window), multiple symbol styles for layers (so they change as you "zoom in," for example) and the ability to rename layers (with spaces in the names!). The discussion of data management revealed that most users muddle through data management by hand (not using any special tools) and that few have requirements for ISO style metadata. (At least one person in my group was not at all familiar with FGDC or ISO metadata standards.)

MapInfo 10.0
There's been much written about the new features in MapInfo Professional Version 10 (including a Directions Magazine preview and review) so I won't detail all of them here. One interesting aspect of the demo was the juxtaposition of performing some layer operations in version 9.5 (and counting clicks and "ok" buttons), then performing the same things in version 10, with far fewer clicks and "oks." The biggest response from attendees followed the demonstration of the v10.0 ability to create layered PDFs. There were questions about the size of the resulting document, about turning on and off layers and an audible sigh of relief at the thought of sending a single PDF document instead of a series of JPEGs to those in need of maps.

In all, I think this low-key event got both MapInfo Professional users, and those who build the product, excited about the near term- and long-term future of the product.

Upcoming Events
If you are a MapInfo user it's definitely worth your while to attend the half-day event. There are several more ahead this year, including one sponsored by Korem/Primus Geographics that is being held in conjunction with our Location Intelligence Conference in Westminster, Colorado on October 5. It takes place on Monday, Oct. 5, at 8 a.m. Contact Korem/Primus Geographics to register: 720-200-4323

Published Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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