The State of the Business
I had the opportunity to spend an hour with both Mark Cattini, Chief Executive Officer, and Mike Hickey, Chief Operating Officer of MapInfo while at MapWorld, MapInfo's user conference that was held this past week in Key Biscayne, Florida.The takeaway from this meeting was that MapInfo sees a two-pronged approach toward operational excellence and transforming its business.Mr.Cattini has his ears open to customers; Mr.Hickey is building a culture that supports a customer focused approach.Both objectives are the result of an internal examination of how the company transitions from just providing technology to acquiring the industry or "domain" expertise that allows it to get inside the customer's business processes.
Many companies talk about being a "solutions" company, not just the offer of products and technology.MapInfo doesn't have to talk that much.The customers did the talking for them at MapWorld.They used words like "a world-class partner" and "technology that changed our business model." These comments were not from small companies, but the likes of Cox Communication, IHOP, and MasterCard International.
And so, as I talked with Cattini and Hickey, I asked them if the re-engineering of the company to be "customer-focused" detracted from their ability to deliver competitive technology.Cattini said customer feedback was key to developing better technology.Now, this sounds simple, right? Listen to customer requirements, prioritize enhancements, and release new versions of product.That's not quite what I heard.I believe that MapInfo interpreted the feedback received and realized that it wasn't just products that needed bug fixes.It was the entire company that needed an overhaul.
Mr.Hickey's background in operations management allowed him to take a step toward realigning the company's business units that would make every employee turn their attention on the customer.Easier said than done, but with four trailing quarters of historic revenue growth, the proof is in those bottom line results.Using mostly internal teams, Hickey determined that better customer service started when domain experts were hired who knew the pain points and business processes of their customers.By reorganizing the company to focus on vertical industry market segments, MapInfo determined that it could do a better job of engaging customers.
Growth through acquisition
MapInfo has used its cash to acquire companies with success in specific industry sectors.By purchasing Thompson Associates (retail) and Southbank (public sector), MapInfo not only obtained the deeper industry expertise, but also expanded the opportunities for its newly acquired associates.For example, while Thompson Associates succeeded in retailing and real estate by creating models that described network optimization and target marketing, the company can now address similar business processes for the insurance industry, and the public sector. The latter might for example, want to better understand the coverage network of fire stations.
In order to allow all vertical solutions to leverage the strengths of the organization, the company had to develop the technology underpinnings.The Envinsa (Java) and MapXtreme 2004 (.NET) products are enabling the MapInfo sales team to leverage solution platforms. Layered on top of the platforms are analytical solutions such as TargetPro or more specific solutions customized to client specifications.By providing application programming interfaces to each platform, MapInfo believes that it provides interoperability for whichever architecture the client has selected in the past.Cattini stated his message clearly to his user community: "What you don't want is proprietary systems; what you don't want is middleware."
A "Priceless" partnership
Envinsa and MapXtreme are location-enabling products.Whenever a customer identifies that location is a strategically important aspect of its business, these platforms provide the functionality necessary to get the solution going.As an example, John Cetnarski, the global practice leader for information products and services at MasterCard International, delivered a ringing endorsement of both the platform and service MapInfo offered.MasterCard had a problem.Its automated teller machine (ATM) business was losing money and Mr.Cetnarski described it as, "a dog of a business." The ATM locator service was inaccurate, system outages were frequent, and customers complained bitterly.The scale of the problem was significant.MasterCard is accepted in 22 million locations in 210 countries and its Cirrus ATM network has 900,000 locations in 120 countries.The objective when Mr.Cetnarski took over this task was to create an in-house "location intelligence" solution and improve customer service while turning around his business unit to be a profit center.MasterCard selected the Envinsa platform because it scaled, provided views of multiple databases and solved many of the inaccuracy problems experienced in the past.
The results were hard to believe.According to Mr.Cetnarski, the solution paid for itself in six weeks.It led to reduced maintenance costs and the five-year projected return on investment is 1,152%. That's not a typo; over 1,000% ROI.
What is interesting is how frequently Mr.Cetnarski referred to a "location targeting solution." His job is to support his client network of banks, retail outlets, and other financial services.He needs to beat American Express in service and expand his locations of ATMs to be ubiquitous.In addition, MasterCard must look to future consumer touch points in wireless location services so that card holders can quickly find ATMs.
Big $ Solutions - The next level for MapInfo
MasterCard is certainly a big name client and it is only one of many recognizable companies in MapInfo's portfolio.MapInfo is looking for similar engagements where the solution and services exceed $100K.The days of selling 10 copies of MapInfo Professional are of less importance.The company still has business partners that are engaged at that level of sales interest.The company appreciates the importance of those sales but the revenue from these sales just do not get its blood pressure up.The newly formed partnerships with companies like Microstrategy, a player in the business intelligence (BI) sector of information technology (IT), is intended to help expand MapInfo's platforms through a broader base of organizations that need analytical capabilities of their data warehouses and that see the value in location technology.After less than effective relationships with Siebel and Business Objects, Microstrategy seems to be a good fit.Cox Communications selected a MapInfo/Microstrategy solution to support field marketing activities.Visualization is only one aspect of supporting better interpretation of huge data stores.
Cattini is focused on sales and is quick to point out that relationships like those with Microstrategy need to produce results. Hickey believes that once users begin to see these massive volumes of data distilled to a map view, they a different thought process takes over, one where greater spatial thinking starts to evolve.So, even though business managers are initially captivated by just seeing their data on a map rather than in rows and columns, more advanced spatial queries begin to bubble up in their minds.
Same old, same old? A different convincing argument
But the advantages of visualizing geographically-referrenced data has always been a key business driver, right? Wasn't that what "business geographics" was all about.Do we still have to evangelize the benefits of going from spreadsheets to maps? Does the prospect of merging business intelligence with location technology offer enough of a marketable positioning advantage to move MapInfo to the next level? MapInfo's relationships with BI vendors is helping to convince some of MapInfo's business partners but not all.Some business partners are weary of the missed attempts with the Siebel partnership.Others see that helping their clients resolve the spatial information from their business data has always been their objective with their customers. Some understand that these new MapInfo partnerships offer a way into different departments of their client's company who already have a BI solution.
MapInfo and Oracle
I asked Cattini and Hickey whether they thought that Oracle was a threat.Both jumped on the opportunity because they get the question so often.Cattini said that "spatial" is just not that big a chunk of Oracle's business."That's only a $100 million business for them." In a company the size of Oracle, Cattini just doesn't think that spatial gets many people excited.And, the Oracle sales force is too focused on multi-million dollar deals.If Oracle was really interested, he offered, it would have acquired other companies like MapInfo by now. Hickey believes that Oracle's sales force has too much of a learning curve to be able understand the benefits of location technology.In addition, the sales force lacks the industry expertise for vertical solution selling.Oracle and MapInfo will partner when the opportunity arises, but I wonder if cracks are developing in the relationship which had been so highly touted in the past.MapInfo was conspicuous by its absence at the most recent first meeting of the Oracle Spatial Special Interest Group in Denver.
"Location Intelligence" was the operative phrase at MapWorld this year. I am biased when it comes to shining a spotlight on the benefits of location intelligence within the business community.Directions Magazine is trying to foster the dialogue between the vendors and business processes managers.So, I like the attention MapInfo showers on the language of this discussion.Cattini refines the vernacular into three stages:
- Location Awareness - the cause and effect through the recognition of the relationships of location information.
- Location Analysis - the "quantification of location-based relationships"
- Location Action - where companies understand these relationships, interpret the results and act by making decisions that affect their business model.
As I said, I think we need to change the language of discussion.I believe that more people understand "location" as a term that implies geographic relevance more than "spatial," "geospatial," or GIS.Some believe that location technology is a "dumbed down" version of geospatial information technology and systems.Geospatial is a complicated term; some consider it redundant.Integrating the tools of business intelligence and location technology makes a compelling solution.Instilling the benefits of location intelligence through visualization and analysis has and will continue to have a profound affect on the way businesses and governments interpret data.
During MapWorld, I was asked if I thought we are reaching a tipping point where location is more widely recognized for the strategic benefits that it has on the ability of corporations to understand the geographical relationships of their data.My answer was that we have reached the tipping point; we just don't realize it.Just look at where you find location-based information today: GPS wrist watches; in-vehicle navigation systems; MapQuest driving directions; Google searches augmented with satellite pictures by Keyhole; the coming wave of RFID; Friend finder wireless services on your cell phone.Whether you are looking for your next sales appointment or looking for the location of Campbell Soup cans, location intelligence is a business driver that can no longer be ignored.