Will mapping apps provide new revenue streams?

Will mapping apps provide new revenue streams?

Asia-Pacific location-based services revenue will increase five-fold by 2013, says one analyst firm, partly fuelled by growth in mapping software and services. For those with business intelligence sales skills, the route to new opportunities may be off the chart.

Software and services designed to transform the spatial information in enterprise data into maps, is providing a new way for resellers to add value to their customer relations.

Geographic information systems (GIS) mapping applications are already being used internationally to do everything from matching ISPs’ broadband supply with demand to providing pawnbrokers with market analysis.

Large software multinationals and developers with vested interests in GIS applications, say new mapping apps can be used by companies to graphically display loyalty databases for isolating customers by location and provide a previously unavailable opportunity to increase income.

Other possibilities include crosschecking demographic information with purchase information, says Kevin Ackhurst, managing director of Microsoft New Zealand. “This may allow a business to take a product or service that’s popular with a particular demographic and promote it to others, who share those qualities living in similar demographic areas of the city or country.”

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft claims the possibilities are limited only by the information available to a business. Microsoft and GIS software developer ESRI recently launched a new business intelligence mapping application, MapIt, at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.

ESRI’s software is used in more than 300,000 organisations worldwide, the company says. “MapIt is the result of a close collaboration with Microsoft,” says Jack Dangermond, ESRI’s president. “It’s a new mapping product for business intelligence that fits well with the IT infrastructure.”

The new product combines software with services to enable businesses to create maps that display enterprise data. MapIt works on the Microsoft application platform, taking enterprise data from SQL Server 2008 and Excel and displaying it as maps in interactive applications based on Microsoft’s web application framework, the Adobe Flash competitor Silverlight; Windows Presentation Foundation; or Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007.

MapIt incorporates what its developers describe as a “geocoder”, to transform information based on addresses and postcodes into geographic coordinates that can be displayed along with other business data on a map.

Business intelligence offerings generally rely on dashboards, charts and graphs, but Ackhurst says Microsoft’s partners are increasingly recommending their customers to display data as maps to provide business intelligence. As well, MapIt allows Microsoft technology users in New Zealand to embed these maps into their existing applications, he says. “It means businesses won’t need to try and pull together information from multiple, and sometimes unreliable sources. They can map and analyse their own information within existing and familiar tools.”

Increased access for SMBs

Internationally, Microsoft business partners are adopting and developing offerings based on MapIt and using the software to display on maps the information needed in emergency situations. Locally, Microsoft partners such as Eagle Technology — which has 25 years of GIS experience and is a Microsoft Gold partner — are using MapIt to build interactive mapping offerings within Microsoft products and increasing the adoption of mapping in the business sector. To date the market has been dominated by applications for the consumer.

“Google Maps and Microsoft have done much to increase access to geographic information,” says Gary Langford, CEO, Eagle Technology Group, “but MapIt is a significant development because it provides businesses with the tools to manage, display and analyse their own information.”

Eagle, with more than 120 employees and offices in Auckland and Wellington, expects any enterprise with distributed tabular and static data to be interested in visualising geographic patterns in this data, says Langford. “The rapid take-up of Google Maps is an indication that demand may well be strong amongst small to medium businesses. For Eagle, it extends the potential domestic market for business intelligence and mapping.”

Industry sectors likely to have a demand for this kind of mapping information will include retail, financial services, construction, utilities, manufacturing and transportation. “Traditionally, only the larger firms invested in GIS technology. With MapIt, the benefits of data visualisation and mapping are more readily accessible to smaller firms,” says Langford.

Unfulfilled potential

Microsoft is also pitching a combination of MapIt and SQL Server 2008 as a way for companies to provide a cost-effective offering to customers holding location-based information. With SQL Server 2008’s spatial features and the development capabilities within Microsoft’s partner network, Ackhurst says the software giant is starting to see spatial data and location intelligence being developed and deployed by mainstream partners. “The release of MapIt further accelerates this by simplifying the skills required for using spatial data in business intelligence solutions and other applications that make use of geographic information.”

Ackhurst says he doesn’t think businesses have yet fully realised the potential offered by GIS and location intelligence. “We’re definitely seeing an upsurge in implementations, but I think that the bulk of the demand for these applications is yet to come,” he says. “When mainstream solution partners have fully adopted GIS solutions as part of their offering, I think we’ll see the market surge in this area.”

He cites Gartner research pinpointing business intelligence as a top priority for CIOs for four years running. “Location intelligence is a high growth sub-segment of this business,” he says. “Any business that has location-based information, and is considering business intelligence solutions, should be seriously looking at how they can use spatial data to enhance their business intelligence capabilities.”

In New Zealand MapIt is available through Microsoft channel partners and a free evaluation download is available from ESRI’s website. Ackhurst won’t say which local developers, other than Eagle, are developing on top of Mapit and won’t provide numbers, saying it’s “commercially sensitive”.

Analyst firm Gartner predicts Asia-Pacific revenue from consumer location-based services — of which mapping applications are arguably a subset — will grow from US$607 million this year to just under $3006 million by 2013. While Google Maps continues to dominate the consumer end of GIS, current commercial competitors for MapInfo include Bentley Systems’ GeoGraphics, Smallworld Spatial Intelligence, Spatial Insights’ TrendMap, alongside open source GIS systems such as GRASS and a vast range of free products indexed by organisations such as OpenSourceGIS.

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