Maps BI wants to give organizations in every sector the ability to quickly visualize and gain spatial understanding of their data. What makes the Ontario, Canada-based company different from others in the dashboard business? Directions Magazine interviewed Mike Branch, Maps BI CEO, to find out.
Directions Magazine (DM): One way you describe the problem Maps BI solves is this: "Shorten request-related wait times, and skip the IT ticket line.” Can you detail how geographic visualizations are currently done?
Mike Branch (MB): After asking this very same question of a number of our clients, we’ve been told that one of the most frustrating things about producing geographic visualizations is their request is routed to an inundated GIS department (if they have one), where the request accumulates in a queue until sufficient resources are free to tend to said request. They are then usually delivered a static map, over which they must iterate back-and-forth until the results are aligned with their expectations. Once they’ve got the map in-hand, they can then proceed to produce the surrounding text and visualization to give their map context.
With Maps BI, our aim is to make it easy for someone who knows how to use Excel to produce incredible, interactive geographic visualizations all within their Web browser, allowing them to be more productive and impactful.
DM: There are many organizations offering mapping visualization options for business, including a new addition, Google. What are three key distinguishers of Maps BI’s solution?
MB: We’ve always said that at Maps BI, we are much more than just “points on a map.” We offer a visualization platform that not only allows people to create their own map, but to effectively create an entire story around that map – think of us as an interactive infographic for your location data.
Our platform excels in the following areas:
Business Intelligence Automation - Every organization says that they’ve got an easy-to-use system, but I’d like to offer up a story that showcases just how easy and automated it is to get serious business intelligence out of Maps BI very quickly. On one of our first group webinars where I was going through the features of Maps BI, within the first few minutes someone on the call had already taken their geographically dispersed sales and pipeline data from their CRM, uploaded it to Maps BI, and had a stunning dashboard automatically produced for them. They went from an un-actionable CSV file to a fully interactive dashboard in 5 minutes. They had neither used, nor seen, the system before, and they instantly had location-based business intelligence with very little effort.
Community + Collaboration - One of the primary motivators for creating Maps BI was to create a spatially-aware business intelligence platform that leveraged social community features to provide added value to our user base. We have blended in a social stream that gives you the power to identify and overlay dashboards not only from members of your own team, but from members you may follow or who have shared public spatial dashboards as well. The system has been architected to allow you to build on the insights of others to create interactive, infographic-like dashboards that are the result of team-based collaboration.
Integration - We’ve made it extremely easy to integrate Maps BI into business applications, and have a network of partners that work with our customers to ensure seamless integration. Whether you’re looking at streaming CRM data, eCommerce data, or data from your own line-of-business application to gain geographic insights, Maps BI can accommodate these links through our API. You can then choose to engage with your interactive dashboard natively through Maps BI or embedded within your own application (whether that is on-premise or SaaS-based).
DM: You used terms like “bubble map” (graduated symbol) and "region map" (choropleth map). Is there a reason you are not using the formal language of cartography?
MB: We’ve created Maps BI as a platform for people who may not understand the traditional terms of cartography, but what they do understand is their data and how they want it displayed on a map. What we’re trying to do is remove as many barriers as possible to allow those with limited cartographic knowledge to use Maps BI.
When we initially launched Maps BI in beta, our “Region Map” was called the more formal term “Choropleth Map,” but it quickly became apparent that it did not resonate well with our user base and caused some confusion. So, we decided to adopt a more colloquial language around our maps to better engage with our demographic of users who were interested in the business intelligence behind their data, and didn’t have a formal education in GIS or cartography.
DM: Right now the one industry for which you offer a “solution” is the pharmaceutical industry. What makes this industry different from any other? Does it require specific functions? What is the “next” industry for Maps BI?
MB: Maps BI was born out of Inovex Inc. – a leading Canadian software developer with a focus on the healthcare and energy sectors. With our deep understanding of technology as it relates to healthcare, it only made sense to target an area of strength where we saw opportunity.
In a sense, the industry is no different from any other industry we’d target: industries that have a need for geographic business analysis. We’ve already started collaborating with our partners and you will very soon see new solutions advertised on our website in the form of “Dashboard Packs” that are offered to the eCommerce segment through our partnership with Virtual Logistics and to the CRM/ERP market via our partnership with Audaxium.
DM: In looking over your offerings, one big difference from other SaaS providers is that the API is only available to lower level purchasers via partners. Only the highest level of user has direct access to the API. What’s the reasoning for that decision?
MB: Our partners have been intimately involved in the development of our API, understand our acceptable use policy, and have worked with us to ensure it meets not only their needs, but the needs of their customers as well. We want to provide our end-users with a seamless integration experience and our partners are well equipped to do this.
As we go forward and better understand the needs of our customers, we may decide to open up the API for more widespread consumption at lower subscription tiers. In the meantime, in order to ensure integration via the API follows acceptable use, we have restricted it to trained partners and to our highest level of subscribers.
DM: What’s ahead for Maps BI in terms of products or features?
MB: What’s “not ahead” might be the right question to ask. In all seriousness, we’ve only just launched in November – we’ve got a roadmap about a mile long and are focused on features that will continue to enhance the “storytelling” ability of your geographic data. In the near-term, you will also start to see more out-of-the-box dashboard packs such as our package for eCommerce focusing on Web store performance, operations, and logistics that integrates with popular shopping cart engines such as Shopify, Magento and more. These packs provide our end-users with an easy way to get started with Maps BI. When people think about geographic business analysis, we want them to think “Maps BI.”
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