GIS Monitor Jan 25, 2001


-Autodesk to Enter Location Based Services
-Claritas and MapInfo Form Strategic Technology Alliance
-I Love a Mystery: An Imposter MicroStation 8 Web Site?
-Points of Interest
-New List at
-Week in Review
-Back Issues


Autodesk launched their Location Services Division on January 23, signaling a corporate move into what is becoming a high growth market for GIS vendors.

Autodesk hopes to be both a development platform provider as well as a Location Services Provider (LSP). The platform will enable those who want to build their own location-based apps to do so on top of Autodesk technology. Autodesk also offers these developers access to their partners and customer base. As an LSP, Autodesk will provide location-based services to companies and wireless carriers (the companies who manage the cell phone networks), saving them from having to invest individually in hardware, software, data and staff. The vision is that these services will increase the satisfaction of cell phone and PDA users and raise revenue per user.

Autodesk makes the case that it has been providing solutions to telcos and others for the past five years and has a good partnering history. Although Autodesk claims its development platform was built from the ground up, I imagine it relies heavily on MapGuide and Autodesk OnSite, the company's two "Point of Work" solutions.

New partners Ericsson, Targa Services, (a FIAT Auto company) and Geodan Mobile Solutions have agreed to implement the Autodesk platform. Autodesk and Targa are taking a B2B2C (business to business to consumer) approach. The two companies will develop and then distribute call center and point of location services to wireless carriers/operators who will then provide these services to subscribers. The two companies are already at work on services to be delivered to the new Alfa Romeo. They plan to move similar services to phones. The example given in the press release involves a user calling a Targa operator. The operator is “automagically” provided the caller's location and a variety of layers of information. Then the operator does a query and sends the information, about the nearest clothing store, for example, back to the user. (I wonder why an operator needs to be involved?) Geodan is the first company to choose to build on the Autodesk platform. Its services are expected throughout Europe in the summer of 2001.

Of the three products the new division offers, two are already familiar: MapGuide and Autodesk OnSite. MapGuide now has a flavor called MapGuide Commerce, essentially the same product with special licensing. This could be a way for Autodesk to charge more to use MapGuide as a LBS solution. OnSite remains the same: a tool to get maps to the "Point of Work." The new third product, a robust development platform, is "to be announced" according to the Website.

Autodesk is looking for partners -- as are the other entrants into LBS, including newly formed IntelliWhere (Intergraph’s parallel division) and more mature wireless pioneer Airbiquity. Autodesk is specifically seeking wireless carriers or network operators, hardware and device makers, portals and gateways, hosting services, and developers of consumer and business applications. Discussion of the technology appears in a Flash demo on Autodesk's site (warning: lots of funky music) which suggests developers can take advantage of geocoding, OLTP (online transaction processing - where the computer responds immediately to user requests), multipoint routing, and XML. So far as I know, Autodesk does not have its own geocoding engine, leading me to believe plans to build or buy this technology are in the works, or are already complete.

Does Autodesk have what it takes to make a go of LBS as an LSP and platform provider? The GIS group, the source of the core technology and experience, does have Java experience (a MapGuide client), and some wireless experience with OnSite, though it is not clear how many implementations are up and running. We can look to Autodesk’s history in providing services for clues about its future. Autodesk GIS did not, in my opinion, move from being a product company to a services company very well. The number of staff and partners available for MapGuide implementations never seemed sufficient to service potential customers. Vision seems to have suffered a similar fate. In contrast, consider the success of Smallworld as a technology and services provider. Or the extensive ESRI staff devoted to consulting. The new division will need to be service oriented from the start.

It’s not clear how this newly created division will interplay with the "old" GIS Solutions Division. Since LBS appears to have taken MapGuide, and Autodesk World is no longer in development, the GIS Solutions Divison is left with AutoCAD Map, Vision and its new incarnation, the Autodesk GIS Design Server. AutoCAD Map is perhaps best known as the engine underlying Land Development Desktop, Autodesk's civil, survey and engineering solution.

Autodesk has a few challenges ahead. In order for Autodesk to really to provide a complete solution, they must get into a relationship with a data provider or two. Also, I have to wonder if Autodesk is simply too late. Many of the hot players such as Airbiquity, Televigation, Mobilocity, GeePS, go2, InfoMove have already found key partners and are ahead in the game. Success will take more than an announcement and a new division. To compete in a developing market without having their recent initiave branded as a “me, too” effort, Autodesk will need true industry insight, a major sustained corporate commitment, a will to succeed, and the patience to see it through.


Clarita and MapInfo will develop a new mapping and reporting solution to support market and site analysis. No, this is not a repeat of the announcement from December. This is a new one.   The skeptical among us have grown wary of the term “strategic” as used in the GIS industry. It’s used widely to describe a company’s connection to another company as in a “strategic partnership” or a “strategic relationship.” What does that mean? Usually, these terms amount to little more than bait dangled in front of the press in the hopes that they will pick up the story.

Consider the impact of these historical strategic relationships in GIS history:

Kanotech and Autodesk – The biggest effect (or perhaps the cause?) of this “strategic relationship” was that Kanotech’s founder landed a job at Autodesk.

Autodesk and Earth Resource Mapping Form Strategic Alliance – This alliance is dated 1997. Heard anything? There is no mention of Autodesk on the ERM home page.

ESRI and Leica – This strategic relationship began in 1997. The two companies announced a grant program last year and are working on integrating their software. No word on who received the grants or the status of software collaboration.

MapInfo and Oracle – To be fair, there might actually be something to this relationship. It is, at least from the outside, one of the most visible. MapInfo devotes a whole section on their website to the relationship and regularly updates the status.


It all started with an anonymous letter in MicroStation Manager, Bentley’s monthly magazine. While the editor noted the break from tradition by printing an anonymous letter, he felt in this case anonymity was the only way the letter writer would not lose their job. The writer of the letter explained that he’d be keeping a close watch on the development of MicroStation 8 and that visitors to his Website will “find my unfiltered, un-spin-doctored stuff is better than any corporate Web site.”

The site, billed as “Ask the V8 Ball and Know the Truth” is not all that helpful. There are a few bad pictures of Bentley events, some breathless words about new functionality available elsewhere, and nothing demanding further note. Further, the author goes on to say, “I know a number of people at Bentley very well. So well, in fact, that I'm getting information that I probably shouldn't be getting (and they don't know it).” That I find hard to imagine -- all of the software companies I’ve worked at had a high degree of paranoia.

This week an allegation appeared on comp.cad.microstation suggesting this supposedly clandestine site was only a Bentley-staged promotional stunt! The site is registered to someone in Phoenixville, PA, right outside of Exton, Bentley’s hometown. Furthermore, it claims that the person in question, probably the one who’d registered the site, does work at at Bentley, but knows nothing about MicroStation. The preceding evidence is considered by the poster as sufficient evidence that that Bentley marketing has written and produced the site. Possible? Sure. Clever? Maybe.

If this is indeed a Bentley-staged site, it is certainly not without precedent. “Underground” type of word of mouth advertising is all the rage. A recent article in Business 2.0 highlighted unbranded campaigns as the latest weapon in guerilla marketing that has seen action by the likes of Lee Jeans and their competitor, Levis. Lee used unbranded sites to reintroduce Buddy Lee, their doll sized spokesperson from the 1920s. Levi’s used movie theatre teasers and print ads to send the curious to the first of 16 sites following the story of three Levis-clad adventurers.

Who stands to gain from unbranded campaigns? Certainly, the companies behind them. These stunts are relatively cheap to produce compared to traditional advertising campaigns. They may even be more effective in increasing sales in an audience of increasing ad-jaded public. Who loses? How about all those people duped into thinking they were led to a product by people like themselves. But companies considering this technique might want to think a little down the road. I’d worry about the backlash once the truth came to light. How hard would if be convince people ever again that any future testimonial was genuine?


-The GIS Data Depot, at the top of the list for free GIS data, introduced a new “premium” service. By giving a credit card number you can gain access to data via a faster pipe (up to 100 kb per/second). Rates are 150 MB for $19.95, 1 GB for $99.95, and 7 GB for $495.95. You can also receive discount rates posting jobs. A free account provides access to special pricing and a 10Mb trial of the download service. “Standard” service is still available for free, and without registration.

-GeoComm recently introduced a new discussion list, Metadata-L, to discuss, you guessed it, metadata.

-GIS Café has gone against the grain and now there is no need to register to download their freebies.

-At the GIS portion of (and the rest of the site) you can now find “Sponsored links” with the prices the sponsors are paying for your “click.” Contex Scanners thinks you are worth 31 cents, ebay 30 cents and 1 cent.


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Adena Schutzberg
GIS Monitor Editor
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