‘Geospatial industry has to come up as a known vertical on its...

‘Geospatial industry has to come up as a known vertical on its own’

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Rohan Verma, MapmyIndia
Rohan Verma
Director
MapmyIndia

From the dashboard of your car to your smartphone screens, MapmyIndia has made mapping and navigation almost a lifestyle statement in India. In business since 1992 through its parent CE Info Systems, the company has emerged as a clear leader in digital map and data, GPS navigation, location-based services, GIS and related business solutions, servicing over 500 leading public sector and enterprise customers. But it is the consumer-centric approach, largely due to its marketing head Rohan Verma’s vision, that has made MapmyIndia a household name today with its interactive portal and navigator devices and apps. In a freewheeling chat, Verma talks about economic reforms and the effects of slowdown, the geospatial industry in India, and the subject closest to his heart – the future of LBS and navigation.

On demand for geospatial technology in India

In the last one to two years we have seen that enterprises are increasing their investments in geospatial technology because they are realising that’s the way they can grow further. This is similar to the trend in the mid-’90s, when some organisations like Coca Cola or the telecom companies invested in geospatial technology while entering India to understand the market. I think we are at a stage where people are looking to scale up and again geospatial technology will play a major role.

Companies are either entering a new market or scaling up or facing saturation in a particular market because of competition. And in all three scenarios or stages of the life cycle of that company, geospatial technology helps them – entry to understand, scaling up to fully understand the depth, and in saturation to optimise cost. I think it’s a great time to be a GIS company. The importance is to have high quality data which few people in India have or have invested in. Not be just a software house, you have to be integrated player, who has the data, the capability to serve it, and provide a software solution – end to end solution.

MapmyIndia has a large and growing enterprise business. Since 1995, we have been making maps and solutions for enterprises. Even though in the last few years we have turned more consumer-centric with our navigators and the portal, we have a large and growing enterprise solutions business too.

We have grown 800 per cent over the last four years. We have been lucky to be recognised by the industry and the government for our contribution. And we see that same growth trajectory going forward.

We are planning to launch lots of automotive devices and mobile apps across platforms. On the enterprise side, we are trying for better and better solutions to help businesses. We have grown 800 per cent over the last four years. We have been lucky to be recognised by the industry and the government for our contribution. And we see that same growth trajectory going forward.

Geospatial is essentially an enabling industry from a B2B perspective. We enable other businesses to either grow revenues or reduce costs. The more these businesses grow, bigger the follow-on effect on the B2B side of our businesses. For instance, effectiveness of the retail sector will come in terms of actually bringing down the prices for consumers and increasing the earnings for the vendors. And that’s where we can help them.

As a company we have always hedged. We are in multiple industries – FMCG, retail, telecom, BFSI, automotive. We are an enterprise industry and we sell in different ways. That speaks broadly for the geospatial industry as well because different companies are doing different businesses.

The effect of the global slowdown

I feel in times of crisis, people have to save costs. And then they will look for tools that will help save them costs. But the question is whether they will invest at that time or not. To save costs, you have to invest first. Investment in a recessionary or negative time is a tough choice. Some companies make that bet, some have already made that bet so they are recession proof or at least are able to manage the recession. Some companies don’t.

Slowdown slows down what you potentially could have done. As an entrepreneur I think we could have grown faster had we done a better job or had the market been a bit better. Slowdown affects your sentiment; that is all. As a business, we would love to be an environment where things are positive. The year 2007 was a great year, 2008 was a little slow, not that fundamentally anything changed in India but just that the global recession had a slight negative impact during the festival season, 2009 and 2010 were fairly good. Everything was going right, India was doing so well. I think it’s just been this last one year that’s been difficult.

Slowing auto sector and demand for navigation in India

Even though the growth in car sales per se has dipped, the rate of cars coming out fitted with navigation has gone up. However, we are not immune to the macro-economic sentiments… I think we could have grown faster had we done a better job or had the market been a bit better.

The September car sales hit the decade’s lowest. I think automotive sales have had a correction. It was growing 20-30 per cent for the last four to five years. For the past year, it has been almost a flat growth. It hasn’t really impacted us simply because more and more cars are now coming with navigation. So even though the growth in car sales per se has dipped, the rate of cars coming out fitted with navigation has gone up. However, we are not immune to the macro-economic sentiments. We have to, within that framework, do our best to do faster than the medium. Our objective is we invest much more in R&D; we need to grow faster than the industry.

Today, every car manufacturer is in touch with us. It’s not the case of whether they should put navigation, the question is which model and when. They want to know how they can take it to lower and lower segments every few months.

The future of navigation is not only that it will come in lower-end cars, but the kind of experiences the consumers will get inside – it will be more interesting and engaging. It will move towards the connected car concept where the navigation tool will tell you not just where to go, but things that require connectivity like real-time traffic conditions and read them out to you. You will be able to see locations of others, share your locations with others.

More interesting features and services will come up in the mobile phone segment too. Smartphone sales touched 12 million last year and likely to be 20 million this year. There are already 35 million 3G subscribers in India within just two years of rollout. In the US, 3G was rolled out in 2000 and 3G adoption started in 2007. So, actually 3G adoption happened quite fast in India; it’s just been late. And these numbers will greatly expand in terms of smartphones and 3G connections. Consumers definitely want navigation and LBS services there. So we will see millions using navigation and services in India besides the lakhs of cars sold every year. Lots of lower-end phones and cars will come embedded with navigation, or people will buy and download.

LBS and future: Where it can go from here

The consumer side of location-based services (LBS) is quite exciting as we have seen over the last four years. And there are essentially two big drivers to it – automotive and mobiles. We are seeing a huge traction in the automotive sector for navigation systems, which gives you LBS and tells you how to get to your destinations. For instance, the Tata Manza Club Class, which starts from Rs 5.7 lakh, comes with an in-built navigation system by MapmyIndia. We have of course had big cars like BMW and Jaguar Land Rover or SUVs like Ford Endeavour with MapmyIndia navigation… even the lower-end popular SUVs like the Mahindra XUV. And now you have a Rs 5.7-lakh sedan with navigation. It’s just shows that navigation is coming into lower and lower priced cars as a standard feature. So the automotive sector is definitely driving and adopting navigation seriously.

Mobile is another segment driving the LBS space. Every major handset manufacturer now provides a built-in location based service. Recently, there was this one mis-step with Apple launching iO6 and people hated the maps in the US. But in India the maps didn’t even work – there was just a basic map which was blank. Apple had used some poor data provider. But the flipside is people started downloading map apps. We have a navigation map for iOS, and we started providing a discount on the traditional price. And our apps sales just shot up. So there is a popular demand.

Another interesting concept is Indoor tracking – the driver for that will be mobile. It will be basis of what all applications people can build and want to use. There is a future and I think indoor is an exciting space. It’s a new space globally, not just for India. But India will be on a par, if not faster, at adopting indoor tracking, navigation, LBS, with the West or Far East.

Carpad5 a fablet or a cross-over gadget

Carpad5 is of course a crossover gadget. It’s a whole new category we have created. Nobody has done this in India for sure and maybe only one or two companies worldwide have thought about it. We are big believers in the connected car concept. We think the driver or the passenger would all want to stay connected with the world. They would want navigation, phone as well as tablet experience there. Essentially, we focused on Carpad5 as the fablet category for cars or a fablet which work well cars. Our Carpads have navigation, phone and tablet functionality and they work quite seamlessly in a car environment. You can also take them out and use in any other environment like a standard fablet.

Mapmyindia is built on innovation, it’s in our DNA. If we can offer an innovative and offer new experience to consumers in India, we will bring that. People also identify us with navigation and location, and Carpad gets its genesis from that. So, we are already in the tablet or the fablet space.

The Volkswagen IPL edition came with a free Carpad5. It was a large 7-inch Carpad so that people could use it for navigation as well as for watching IPL using the live TV function. Recently, Fiat offered Carpad5 free to their consumers with Absolute Linea. So, automotive companies are loving the Carpad experience. They are able to offer the connected car concept.

Mapmyindia is built on innovation, it’s in our DNA. If we can offer an innovative and offer new experience to consumers in India, we will bring that. People also identify us with navigation and location, and Carpad gets its genesis from that. So, we are already in the tablet or the fablet space. But we are focussed on starting out in the automotive space because that’s where we felt there was a gap and we wanted to address that need. So with devices coming in, people will start using them more generally also.

The made-in-China tag

The made-in-China tag has not worked against our products because the innovation we put in. The maps are hundred per cent made in India while the hardware is from China. The focus on our side is to keep improving the quality of the devices. People said the same thing about Samsung versus Apple two-three years ago – that Samsung makes basic devices but Apple devices are phenomenal. I think Apple devices are still phenomenal but people are appreciating Samsung equally. If your intent is to keep making cheaper and cheaper devices, then your brand perception can go down. But if you are willing to make devices better and better regardless of where they are made, I think your brand perception will go up.

The world manufactures in China. Your product can be designed wherever. Apple designs in California, Qualcomm designs in the US and manufacture in China. So why should we be branded for manufacturing in China? How will manufacturing help in India? There are some things we do manufacture in India but there are customer-specific such as for defence and related industries. But largely this is a question of economics.

The recent reforms and relaxation in FDI norms

Reforms are always good news for all kind businesses. During the 1995 reforms, IT played a huge role. But now, geospatial industry has to come up as a known vertical on its own, rather than somewhere deeply embedded in IT.

FDI in retail is good news for us. Retail and FMCG are important areas because of the solutions we provide. We provide at the core of our offering a site selection, which not just utilises the geospatial data that MapmyIndia has built, but there is a demographic data such as household income, population densities and localities, and traffic generators like the kind of market areas, shopping malls in an area, the kind of access to the main road, how many petrol pumps, ATMS or restaurants are there etc.

This is an immensely useful tool for large retailers like Tesco, Walmart, or Carrefour. We have been doing this successfully over the last 10 to 15 years. Ever since Coca Cola [rentered India and sough CE Info’s services]. FMCG sales are driven through retailers – large and small.

We have seen even Indian businesses in retail and FMCG are willing to invest in geospatial technology, solutions and analytics. In the last two-three years, we have been seeing a growth in this business.

Scope in insurance and airlines sectors

The insurance sector also uses GIS a lot, for example for risk assessment and consumer indexing. So they want data such as where their target consumers live or what kind of income levels a particular area has so that they can plan their premium levels accordingly. They will also know who the defaulters were historically. They are also our customers.

Airlines is a small industry in India in the sense that there are very few players. There is a role for GIS in that too – more for logistics and fleet management for their on-ground fleets. We are seeing companies invest in efficiency-related tools that GIS can provide – fleet management solutions, vehicle tracking and different software. We are currently working with a couple of airlines on deploying these solutions.

There is likely to be a huge boom in airlines in the medium term, not in the short term. Because there are few very aircraft in India simply put for the size of population that we serve. In the longer term, if the number of airlines goes up, the size and number of airports expand, it’s a good thing for the geospatial industry. For now, we have to keep customers we are already servicing, service them well, inform other customers that such kind of data exists.

Data is not an issue in India

One of the issues in India is people believe that data doesn’t exist, content is not there, this kind of business analytics is not possible. But actually it is there, customers are using it, and the more customers use it, the better.

I think there is a perception about India in the world, which sometimes India is able to shake off, sometimes we are not able to. After all these steps India has taken to become developed, still we are strapped with this developing, poor image. So there must be a perception that in India these solutions and data do not exist, but people who are more informed, who are willing to invest and understand India deeper will be able to recognise. So it is still a stage of evolution where the industry has to make itself known more, people have to talk about it more. So as I said, it’s a perception that the industry is not capable of, but we are fully capable of supporting these businesses with these solutions.