The Emphasis is on Location, Not GIS

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! MapInfo is a company that is planted squarely in the location business and has been there for some time. GISWeekly spoke with MapInfo's Doug Gordon, director of product management, and Moshe Binyamin, product manager, about MapXtreme® 2004. The market for location based intelligence encompasses more than traditional GIS these days and Gordon and Binyamin pointed out that the target market for MapInfo is not necessarily GIS experts, but the market as a whole. Read about it in this week's Industry News.

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Industry News
The Emphasis is on Location, Not GIS
By Susan Smith

MapInfo is a company that is planted squarely in the location business and has been there for some time. With the recent release and shipping of their MapXtreme® 2004 they round out their offering of location products.

GISWeekly spoke with MapInfo's Doug Gordon director of product management, and Moshe Binyamin, product manager, about MapXtreme® 2004. The market for location based intelligence encompasses more than traditional GIS these days and Gordon and Binyamin pointed out that the target market for MapInfo is not necessarily GIS experts, but the market as a whole. “The value that we've seen both from customers who have embraced our technology has been very generic in nature,” explained Gordon. “Yes we have sales to very traditional GIS customers, but on the other hand, we have predictive analytics, telecommunications, and government customers that utilize location as part of their overall decision system. So if you look at it in that perspective, the release of MapXtreme 2004 continues in that vein of promoting location, which is a key capability for any organization that wants to leverage the power of location.”

“We try to be very explicit about the fact that MapInfo is not a GIS company in the traditional sense, it's a location company. GIS as a science is one of the ways you can apply location but it also has specific tendencies that MapInfo doesn't ascribe to about their business. Location intelligence should not be a standalone science, or a technology that is used off in one portion of the business and disconnected from the rest. MapInfo is trying to bring out technologies that let customers use location as one of the analytical tools they have at their disposal. Therefore our tools are built into their environment or built to be used by developers with existing skill sets. So, for example, by using the .NET development platform we're saying, the developers the companies already employ should be able to use location tools just like they do other tools if a customer is trying to solve that type of problem.”

“If you look at customers who use traditional GIS' overall needs, they need to analyze information from a GIS perspective and then they need to act upon that information from another perspective,” said Binyamin. “For example, we have a customer who does land use management and parcel mapping, but at the same time they want to run their document management system based on parcels. Parcels could be properties they manage; and letters that are being sent with regards to a specific parcel they would like to attach as well. So they start with developing a GIS system that obviously manages and maps all the GIS capability to set up the system, but then they would like to connect to their other systems that have a GIS link or connection to say, given this parcel, what other information do I have? We're hearing these requirements over and over again. We can start from a location perspective, but there are many other ways we'd like to access that information, not necessarily only from a GIS perspective. A location based system is only one way of analyzing data or aggregating data, or accessing corporate assets of information in an organization. Therefore we need to integrate and provide access to those other systems as well as provide robust GIS capabilities when looking at it from a GIS perspective.”

MapXtreme 2004 is a complete deliverable that has matured from two products MapInfo used to offer. One was MapX, an embeddable desktop mapping engine that customers could build map enabled applications such as an e911 system. You could take it on the road without necessarily being connected to a server. Another was the MapXtreme Windows product on which one would develop web based applications and could be used if you had multiple users accessing the same type of application on a server. “With 2004 we have looked at the advances in technology in terms of the IT environment,” noted Binyamin. “What we saw from a Microsoft perspective, was the maturation of technology with the introduction of .NET. Customers said they had IT related problems that location was a part of. Different development environments required different skill sets and resources. If you were developing for a desktop you needed to be a Visual Basic or C++ developer. If you were a web developer you need to know ASP etc. What that meant was a single environment was needed that allowed customers to develop in any .NET language and target any type of deployment environment. That was appealing to customers who had different deployment needs and had resources they didn't want to dedicate to just web or desktop.”

There was also a limited choice of resources or skillsets for any given project. Another problem was that a company or outsource contractor would have perhaps only three developers who knew how to do web development so the company would have to wait until they became free. Now with .NET anybody who can develop on that platform is available as part of a larger resource pool.

With .NET it has become simpler, according to Binyamin, because it can use different languages and compile them all to MISL Code. Developers have customers who use ASP, Visual Basic.NET or C# (C sharp) and now they can combine that skill set and have each one focuses on the language they're comfortable with and bring in a robust solution that still feels and behaves as one.

Web development environments were incomplete if you were developing in ASP or html. “Visual Studio .net and really changed all that so now you have a professional development environment that you can debug and do all the things that desktop developers were able to do, but web developers had to figure out some other ways to do it, which made it expensive,” said Binyamin.

As the Internet matured, distributed computing became more desirable for more companies. Desktop applications were not necessarily designed to do remote communication, whereas web tools were designed for that type of communication but they did not have the muscle or the capability of building robust feature rich applications. With .NET, remote communications are built in to the product and now you have a very rich environment that allows for remote communication and the capability to develop feature rich applications.

Proprietary systems for storing information have been replaced by XML and SOAP so you can go from one technology to another and so long as both support the SOAP protocols, then you can leverage .NET and Web Services.

MapInfo went back and redesigned their entire object model -“ a single object model that you can deploy for the web or a desktop using the same SDK,” explained Binyamin “so what you can do now using the same exact development environment is build applications for a desktop or the web. You can reuse some of the code to build something for the web and later on quickly migrate that application to a desktop. We are definitely seeing location as less of a special or complicated type of proposition and more of a mainstream proposition that a lot more companies will gravitate towards. The challenge has been to reduce the learning curve and cost of entry to that technology.”

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