, Vice President, R&D & India Operations, Pitney Bowes Software
Director, Product Development &Location Intelligence, Pitney Bowes Software
Location and mapping are getting increasingly ubiquitous with the growing popularity of map-based handheld and mobile devices. In an exclusive chat with Geospatial World, Manish Choudhary and Steve Mann share the company’s plans to keep pace with the changing face of the geospatial industry, the strategic entry into the Indian market, the innovative location-based applications and more
MapInfo was launched in 1986 as a location intelligence and GIS company and became part of Pitney Bowes in 2007. In your view, how has the geospatial industry has evolved over these years and how has the company kept pace with that?
The geospatial industry has evolved in several ways. Location is increasingly getting more ubiquitous and all pervasive. Mapping is becoming ubiquitous with the growing popularity of handheld and mobile devices, tablet devices with maps in it. People want their data available quickly and available in a form that has a single point of truth — they don’t want their data in different places.
To address these changes and to keep pace with the changing times, we have reinvested in our team. We have grown our engineering team by 30 percent and intend to continue that growth over the next twelve months. We expect to regain the lead in the areas of ease of use mapping, data access in the field and decision support system based on location intelligence data. For example, for asset management in the field, we have a solution called Confirm that is built on our backend systems that allows users to get on to the field with mobile devices and manage their assets in the field, update data and flag things. Another market solution we are shaping up is crime prevention. We have used technology on MapInfo Pro that was actually developed for the mining industry. We have applied that to crime detection, crime prevention and crime prediction. We are using that technology to predict where crimes are likely to occur, to predict where likely offenders live, based on their crime patterns. MapInfo Pro is about horizontal platform, but within that horizontal platform we get deep domain experience into the team, we get experts in particular field, and we develop on that platform to build solutions that solve vertical market problems like crime prevention, asset management, planning any mine, air traffic control.
With MapInfo Pro, we want to make the desktop product the platform of choice for creating GIS-based content, integrating that content with backend systems and making that content available across mobile devices. Currently we have two teams within the MapInfo Pro portfolio. One of those teams is developing cross platform tools to allow users to integrate, view and even edit data in the field on their mobile and tablet devices so that the data can then be used and consumed in the field.
Our major focus is to make our product easy to use because not only is mapping becoming increasingly ubiquitous across different devices, but people expectations for the time it takes to do things is changing people now expect things to be done much faster.
What are your offerings for the India market? How is the response to your products?
Pitney Bowes’ entry into India was a strategic move for the business to benefit from a substantial pool of R&D talent in the country. It was not just about expanding footprint in the region but an entrance into the India’s fast growing technology economy.
We currently offer the complete MapInfo Suite which lets people create, access and manage geospatial assets, visualise business intelligence and customer data, and share high-quality interactive maps. Other than that we also offer Spectrum Enterprise Geocoding Module which geocodes at successive degrees of precision to help ensure a more accurate match for data with minimal user effort. We also offer Encom geosciences suite and enterprise location modules for the Indian market.
The Indian market is yet to mature fully to location intelligence but there is tremendous scope for the penetration of geospatial technologies in various sectors. We see a lot of opportunities in the geocoding and mapping segment, streamlining of location data and location-based social applications.
What’s your strategy to grow popularise location intelligence and grow the business in the Indian market?
An estimated 70% of all business data contains a geographic component: an address, a parcel number, proximity to another location etc. We have worked with national GIS forum and other GIS networks to propagate the fact that location is a critical factor in most business applications. Like our strategy for LI business globally, it has always been our endeavor to create and deliver cutting edge solutions to existing and potential customers all over the world. You will see a lot of innovations coming in from our location intelligence suite in the future as well.
Can you highlight some benefits accrued to your users in India?
Our products help various industries including telecom, finance, insurance, retail, enforcement agencies etc. solve various problems. One of our products, MapInfo Crime Profiler can be used to find crime data solutions for protection against theft and fraud. The product can also be used by police forces and emergency services to enable them to analyse information on crime patterns to help law enforcement agencies deploy resources in a more effective manner. MapInfo Vertical Mapper is a spatial mapping data tool that helps display, manage and interpret grid-based continuous spatial information. Our travel routing software can provide reliable, accurate data and create the optimum routing information to help with logistical, marketing and network performance decisions. Confirm is a modular software solution for the maintenance and management of public infrastructure assets and services including highways, lights, structures etc. Encom Discover is used by geologists and provides specialised geoscience capabilities.
There are a plethora of options available in the GIS marketspace. In such a scenario, what do you think are the new frontiers the companies can strive for to gain competitive edge in the market?
The market is definitely getting busy – there’s open source, there’s web mapping. We need to make sure that our offerings have compelling value to ensure that people pay for service that has value and is easier to use and maintain. There are companies in China, for example, offering GIS desktop products that have compelling value, and they come at a fraction of a price of products from the major companies. So the challenge for us is to continue to deliver value to make sure that the products are robust, that they allow the users to do their job efficiently, that we give them all the tools necessary to manage their data. We also need to move towards the option of storing the data in the cloud. That’s a big ticket item. We have a web server product which is part of the spectrum platform that MapInfo plugs into. So if users want to move from the desktop, then we have the ecosystem in the backend for delivering and managing that data in a cloud environment. The web mapping option that sits on top of that allows users on the desktop to variously publish their data from their desktop systems right through the web.
Another way to gain competitive edge is to evolve the ease-of-use aspect. There is a new push to get user team involved in our products. Historically,there was not much of user experience input going into the developing of MapInfo Pro. Now there will be standard user interfaces across the portfolio. We have a team in Noida for providing the inputs into the way the MapInfo Pro and the rest of our products work in this market.
So I think the challenge for companies like ours is to make sure we stay ahead of the curve.
What are your initiatives on the cloud platform?
Desktop productsdon’t exist in vacuum. Historically, the desktop products have been developed, in some respects, in isolation from the server products. The plan now is to bring the product management teams together and build a coherent vision for the future of those products. So the MapInfo Pro running on desktop can just as easily work with the data stored in the cloud. Those mapscan then easily be published on the Web through Stratus. At the moment, we are addressing the ease-of-use issues between server and desktop. As they have so far been built separately, the plan is to build them together so that they are more tightly coupled.
In your view, what are the key potential domains that can benefit from location intelligence?
There are many areas which can benefit from location intelligence that have not tapped into its potential in a significant way. An obvious segment is marketing. It has been tapped to quite an extent but still new opportunities exist in that space. Another segment is the medical field. Information like people searching for remedies to ailments like coughs, colds, sneezing, headaches and pains through their mobile phones has a spatial component to it. This information can be used to analyze and predict disease outbreaks, for example. It can also be used to predict things like location of the next medical center or medical specialties by analysing where illnesses occur. Lets’ say if people are searching for information for a particular field like hip replacements, then that indicates the requirement of an orthopedic surgeon in a particular area.
Another area in health is tracking drug misuse. The information on how people take drugs can be used to track interactions between drugs andits geographic location. This information can help analyse patterns in misuse of drugs – for example, excess use of drugs. This information can then be used for treatment of overuse of drugs and also identify where there is a need for a campaign to educate medical practitioners in that area.
Another segment that can benefit tremendously from location intelligence is environment. An enormous amount of work has already been done in this segment, yet there is scope for a lot more. A lot of that revolves around the ability to have sensors. Let us say there is an easy and cheap access to sensors to measure air pollution. If these sensors are mounted on taxis plying in a city and are driving around constantly, then by mapping the location of those sensors, we can not only map the air pollution in any particular city in real time, but also analyse trends. For example, air pollution in certain areas can be noticed to be higher than others or at particular times of the week. One can then investigate the reasons, for example, location of a factory that burns its rubbish at any particular time. Strategies can then be planned to improve the air quality in those areas.
The world is becoming a connected set of devices; there are a range of applications waiting to be explored through a combination of location information and smart devices. Every time one walks around with their mobile phone, data is transmitted to a tower that reveals their location. That information can be processed and used in areas like traffic planning and infrastructure planning.
Increasingly, geospatial solutions are being used by non-GIS experts. This development is also contributing significantly to the growth of the geospatial industry. How non-expert friendly are the products offered by Pitney Bowes?
MapInfo Pro is a tool meant for competent GIS professionals. We are however improvising on the product so the same desktop product will have a large number of menus and dialogues and will run on a Windows 8 device in a year’s time. Our plan is to make it tablet-friendly, so not only will the maps be touch sensitive, but the interface will change to a simplified user interface. That could even apply to hybrid machines – like notebooks that turn into a tablet. The new features will also enable users to connect to a GPS unit, ask some questions and get some sensible answers back.
Likewise on the mobile devices, users will be able to download a MapInfo component, which will be a simplified application allowing them to view their data whether it is coming directly from their desktop via MapInfo Pro by downloading the data on their mobile phone, or connecting through the server or the cloud product and accessingtheir data on the mobile phone. It will be a very simple user interface; one surely cannot do everything they can on a desktop device, but people expect those things to run quickly.
All these features would make the product extremely friendly for non-professional GIS users.