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Strategy of MapInfo in India – Interview with James Scott & Manish Choudhary

About 2 years ago we started looking at India intensely and I was here to explore the possibilities. We were looking forward to MapInfo’s technical expansion here and Manish Choudhary got us hooked up with RMSI for approximately a year.
James Scott
Vice President (Engineering)
MapInfo, USA
[email protected]
Manish Choudhary
Managing Director
MapInfo India
[email protected]

Q. How did you initiate the process of establishing the development centre for MapInfo in India?
A. James Scott:
About 2 years ago we started looking at India intensely and I was here to explore the possibilities. We were looking forward to MapInfo’s technical expansion here and Manish Choudhary got us hooked up with RMSI for approximately a year. That’s how we started. From the past we have clearly realised to have MapInfo’s own operation here. That’s what led to having our own office here with Manish as the head of the operation of MapInfo India. We are really excited about having a development centre here which is very much focussed on a global product development and engineering for mapping.

Q. Will it be just focussed on R&D or it will go beyond into third party solutions/application development?
A. James Scott:
The way it is going to work for us is to start with product and engineering development activities. It is about contributing to the development of our existing products and then follow it up with new products, like MapInfo Professional, with Envinsa and geo-coding products worldwide. The people here in the development centre at Noida and other centres will contribute to these product development.

We will start with the product development and later expand from software development into the data development activities. We would take up a combination of software and data services, to get the solutions converted to wrap the applications around the data. So we will grow our data development and will also grow our services capability here.

A. Manish: Eventually our office will have the product development R&D. We have existing development centres in America, Canada and Europe. All of these centres work as one global engineering team working for product development. So there is no difference between having a centre in Toronto or UK.

James Scott: The global engineering operations of MapInfo are spread across 6 offices worldwide that are predominantly in the US, Canada and UK and now Noida. Now, we have 7 offices for product development. It is not about what India centre is going to do. It is about contributing to the global engineering product development areas.

Q. In the field of software development work in India, you started testing waters in association with RMSI. Why did it last only for one year?
A. James Scott:
It was a learning process. MapInfo is a reasonably conservative company in terms how we approach new things. So, we felt it was important to have a talent pool in India, and this would be cost-effective. We are certain about the need to improve our market capacity within the product development part of engineering. To figure out the best way to do it, we thought it was important to understand the situation in India. To understand how to have an operation in India, the best option was by letting somebody who is established in this situation and leverage upon what they have. RMSI did the initial figuring out regarding what were the options for us and it proved to be a successful relationship. It has worked out pretty great for us but again product development is not sometimes all about GIS and geospatial but is also about smart engineering background and train people for product development. This centre gives us the ability to do that. We have our own people and we spend a lot on training. Product development is about moving people through our smart engineers into a very high end value added chain. One may write code, but the discipline of writing a code for product development is very different because you may need to support people for 10-20 years. So by having our own centre we can actually cultivate that discipline much more efficiently than having a third party relationship. We retain IP, we retain people, we recruit people who want to make a career in product development only. We see that enough companies in Delhi are doing it now. Overall in the grand R& D scheme in India, the trend we are seeing is that low-end services into high-end services and also into research. Hence our own office gives us a lot of leverage.

Q. Do you foresee the actual architectural and design work being done in India?
A. James Scott:
I expect the things will change over time. Initially, we won’t be bringing quite as much architecture and design. However, once they have the understanding, they will be as able to contribute to products as any of our other offices. What we found is that we tend to have some sort of specialization, we do some things across offices and some things are more in a single office in terms of different products and where they are developed. So it will depend on what expertise is being built. I expect an application expertise because many of the people have a background in services engagement originally, e.g., web applications. There is no specific plan or intention to limit the India office in any way. We would like to grow as much as the talent allows us. The experience of the individuals will dictate what they get into. In general we are quite excited with many of the programmers having 8-10 years of expereince in software development.

A. Manish: It is not about volume or numbers. It is about quality and people who can contribute to product development. Out of 600 people whom we interviewed, we selected 20. These are people who come from geospatial engineering etc. It has been tough to find such a strong team of people. They are focussed on the geospatial aspect as well as software development. The people who have come here have a long term career goal in the geospatial industry.

Q. If MapInfo has a projection of profit to the tune of 40 million dollars by 2011, why was it scouting for investor?
A. James Scott:
I can say that for MapInfo to be acquired, a lot of organizations had approached MapInfo. Pitney Bowes was one of the many who had approached. There were so many, that finally our CEO Mark Cattini went to the board and said that looking at the shareholders perspective we should probably doing be something more structured to look at the situation more carefully. The board established a separate sub-group of the Board of Directors and they engaged Jefferies Broadview to help us through the process. They went out and approached a lot of different companies, both private equities and strategic acquisition companies and asked them about their interest.

Q. Acquisition by Pitney Bowes is going to be an integration of their existing LBS service with MapInfo location intelligence. What kind of synergy do you see?
A. James Scott:
Pitney Bowes’ history is about the mail stamping machines. Their view of the mainstream is growing and becoming more about the general flow of communications. This means giving the right information to the right people in the right way. So in that sense, there are issues of who are the right people and where are they. They have started to recognise it. That is where their location intelligence and our strategic direction look like a good alignment with what they want to do to bolster and strategically expand and grow their software business around that. They already had a player a couple of years ago called Group 1 which had focus on address pointing and address geo-coding for finding the right people. Now for taking it to next level, they need to supplement it with MapInfo’s location intelligence. One of the important aspect of our operations is around the right people, in terms of demographics and predictive analytics and prying that into location. If you know where some people are with whom you want to communicate, then you can use some of the products, tools, ideas and technologies that MapInfo has to pin-point where some other groups of people like that are located. That’s where the strategic alignment is. Another element is if you look at their (Pitney Bowes’) vertical market focus and MapInfo’s vertical market focus there is a 100% overlap except that they go for some additional vertical markets like telecommunications, financial services, real estate and public sectior, which are equally vertical markets for Pitney Bowes.

Q. If the acquisition of MapInfo by Pitney Bowes goes through what kind of impact do you see on the development centre in India?
A. James Scott:
One key in this whole message around Pitney Bowes is that they made a tender offer to buy the stock and from that day it will take 4-6 weeks for the acquisition. Because of the regulatory controls in North America, there’s no particular discussion between Pitney Bowes and MapInfo at this time. We won’t begin any integration discussion with them until after the deal closes. Our expectation is that the R&D centre in Noida will grow significantly and MapInfo’s product engineering globally is going to grow as the company’s ability to generate revenues also grows.