GIS MONITOR, Aug 18, 2000
Welcome to the premier issue of the GIS Monitor!
August 17 - GE Power Systems to Buy Smallworld for $210 Million
In a move that startled some industry observers, GE Power Systems announced
that it will buy UK-based Smallworld for a sum of $210 million. This amount
dwarfs the last significant sale of a utility focused GIS company when
Autodesk bought Vision* from MCI Systemhouse for $26 million last year.
Once a stock market favorite, Smallworld had seen it share price dip from
a post IPO high of $35 in 1998 to as low as $5. Initial talk of new products,
expanding into new markets and an expensive marketing effort gave way to
layoffs and restructuring. Rumors of acquisition circulated with each downturn.
Smallworld stock recovered somewhat, but its share price tended to stay
close to its initial $12 IPO price.
This time, Smallworld may have been ripe for purchase. They'd just announced
a good quarter, acquired key tools (from Convergent), forged strong partnerships
(Stoner Associates) and acquired the Spatial IT unit of Navigant consulting
(formerly GeoData). Smallworld held not only a more complete set of tools,
but also more brainpower than ever before in its history. In addition,
Smallworld has been well received by users. Its object oriented model and
exclusive work in the utilities market drew much acclaim and interest from
gas and electric utilities. Its ability to manage long transactions --
changes to the existing model that are made over hours, weeks or months
– was best in class.
One has to wonder how Smallworld will fare as part of GE, a company better
known for consumer products and jet engines. Can GE integrate Smallworld
into its multiple offerings? To its credit, GE is not with some prowess
in software, producing much in the way of plant monitoring, optimization
and custom power generation software. Interestingly, they also produce
a product called MAPS, used to assess power demand. GE provides all sorts
of services to test, service and install its hardware. And finally, there
are professional services consulting services, including a software group.
Many of GE Power System's clients are exactly the type that have purchased
or may purchase a Smallworld system.
Still, large multidisciplinary companies do not have a good record with
GIS, especially GIS development. IBM's foray in to GIS (GFIS) was short
lived. GDS, EDS, and ultimately Convergent Group spun out GDS. Even Autodesk,
who knows a great deal about software, has had its fits and starts with
Smallworld's main competitors include ESRI's (and partner Miner and Miner)
ArcFM, Autodesk's Vision*, Intergraph's FRAMME and others. Each of these
companies, however, supplies a much broader base than utility-focussed
Smallworld. That said, each one certainly strengthened its utility product
line when Smallworld entered the market. And, to their credit, when Smallworld
tried to move into traditional GIS arenas, such as local government, its
competitors held the newcomer at bay.
Finally, it appears that GE Power Systems does not support telecommunications.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of this part of the business.
Smallworld had gained some renown, especially with a big contract at British
Telecom in April, and the release of a series of telco products in the
Aug 7 - MapInfo miDirections.com Goes “Live”
MapInfo announced that miDirections.com, an online site for point-to-point
driving directions, was now 'live' at http://www.midirections.com. The
new service offers driving directions as well as maps to any address within
MapInfo hopes this service will be popular with business users. And, though
you can visit and key in two addresses in the USA and get directions, the
real goal here is to provide applications to run “click and mortar” homepages.
Using an ASP model, MapInfo hopes to rent this functionality to companies
that need customers to “find the nearest” and then “find the way there.”
Both MapInfo and MapQuest.com claim, 90% of consumers visiting a retailers'
Web sites expect to find a store locator or map.
A quick “test drive” turned up some glitches. A staff member in California
did a quick comparison between Mapquest, arguably the market leader, and
miDirections by requested directions between home and work. “Both services
had me driving continually on a road that is discontinuous,” he reported.
“Mapquest did better than miDirections since it took a more direct route.
MiDirections actually had me making an inexplicable circle before going
in the right direction.” I tracked my commute around Boston. MapInfo had
my home geocoded at the wrong end of my street. Then I was taken on a circuitous
route including two state highways. I was also dismayed that the main roads
of travel were not marked on the map. MapQuest had my home correctly located
and provided a more direct route.
MapInfo's service provides access to GDT Dynamap 2000 transportation data,
quarterly data updates of customer sites, quarterly updates of routing
network and street display data, and bi-monthly updates of MapInfo MapMarker
Plus geocoding data.
Pricing, according to a brochure dated in March, looks like this:
miSites (find the nearest)
-$4,995 12 month subscription including up to 300,000 map draws/year
-$1,000 for 100,000 additional draws; available in advance, or as needed
miDirections (point to point directions)
-Requires subscription to miSites
-$4,995 for a 12 month
-subscription including up to 100,000 routes
-$3,000 for 100,000 additional routes; available in advance, or as needed
Mapquest and other providers make pricing information available on a case-by-case
basis, and do not have a “price list.” The Mapquest rep did note their
prices range up to $300,000.
MapInfo points out that most users purchase both the find the nearest part
(MiSites) and the directions (MiDirections) – totaling $10,000/year annual
subscription. This statement must be based on those who bought the service
before it was packaged as miSites and miDirections. It's interesting to
note that MapQuest, MapBlast, and others, while offering this type of solution,
also have a freebie way to put maps on your site and/or allow links to
their sites for directions. There are no such freebies from miDirections
at this time.
The real question here is, can MapInfo provide a significantly different
solution than MapQuest and others? For now, they all tout the same benefits
(no updates for the user, supported 24/7 by the hosting company on their
server, seamless integration with the existing site, etc.) Data may make
a difference – seeing the Navigation Technology logo on my Mapquest map
may explain why my house was correctly located. MapQuest can boast a host
of big users (American Express, Kinko's, Yahoo, Sears) while MapInfo, as
yet, does not do so. Further, MapInfo to date, only provides US service
while MapQuest supports areas outside the US, important for global companies.
To add to the fray, there is another path to interactive maps such as these:
the retailer can install and host an application on their own site. Out
of the box solutions for the US, such as RouteMapIMS from ESRI, start at
$3,000. It will be some time before we know which model, “renting from”
an ASP or self-hosting wins. And, as more players enter both markets, the
winner in each arena is yet to be determined.
August 9 MapInfo Goes Mobile with Oracle 8i
MapInfo unveiled MapInfo MapinHand, a business-to-business solution built
on Oracle8i(TM) that enables organizations to supply field staff real-time
access to critical, location-based data using handheld devices.
This is MapInfo's answer to Autodesk's OnSite and ESRI's ArcPad. The former
uses Oracle 8i Lite on the handheld device to read Oracle data, while the
latter uses GIS formats (shape files, JPEGs etc.) for storage. MapInfo
supports its own Tab format as well as Oracle format.
Field use of GIS has always been a challenge – bright sunlight makes displays
hard to see, “toughened” hardware can be expensive and IS managers continually
worry about data security. Now, in the wireless era we add bandwidth concerns
and the tiny screens of PDAs and phones. That said, many companies are
jumping into the market. Autodesk shared many Palms at GITA to show their
application. And, utilities in particular, are quick to explore these technologies.
MapInfo's traditional strength in wireless and wireless planning may help
bring MapinHand to that arena. Still, other companies including ESRI, Intergraph,
Bentley and Autodesk have more infrastructure data in their native formats
to manage. The extensive use of ArcView, ArcInfo, MicroStation and AutoCAD
mean more pipes, wires, streets and other information are stored in shape
files, coverages, DGN files and DWG files.
A Proliferation Of Discussion
I was very pleased to see Directions Magazine's great Discussion Area where
the posts to numerous GIS mailing lists are available to read and search.
On August 3, Directions, along with Intergraph, introduced a new mailing
list for Intergraph GIS products called GeoMedia-L. The list, which is
also mirrored on Directions site, aims to cover MGE and GeoMedia. The list
saw 14 messages in its first week – a respectable number.
Intergraph users already have some communities. Intergraph's USENET group,
comp.sys.intergraph, has been mostly about hardware in the last few years.
To be fair, there was the odd question about GeoMedia or SmartSketch, but
far more discussion of Intense3D, TDs and other hardware and drivers. The
Intergraph hosted “Techie Talk” is more active and more focused on technical
Apparently, Directions and Intergraph thought another was worthwhile. And,
so did the folks at SpatialNews. This past week they too were starting
an Intergraph GIS mailing list, this one referencing the mapping and GIS
users at IGUG. SpatialNews has already set up an on-line archive.
So, I'll ask: Does the GIS community NEED 4 places to discuss Intergraph
GIS? We'll see. Certainly ESRI seems to have enough traffic to support
ESRI hosted forums (for each product), ESRI-L, their newslist for all products
except ArcView, ArcView-L (two of them – one from ESRI and one from Bill
Huber) and a USENET group comp.infosystems.gis.esri.
Just to put things in perspective, MapInfo-L is consistently the most active
mailing list. This past week it sports 165 messages, with ArcView-L (ESRI)
a distant second at 130.
More on Mailing Lists
Another organization started a GIS mailing list this past week. If you
are a member of GITA you received an email announcing their GEOXchange,
a mailing list for members to discuss geospatial information technology.
There were some glitches with technology at the outset causing unintended
mail to bounce to all users. URISA had hosted a discussion at Egroups.com
had a “breakdown” of sorts a few months ago and has since restarted at
topica.com. These types of glitches are inevitable, but it does raise some
questions about mailing lists vs. web-based discussions.
One further point, with so many FREE ways to keep an archive on-line, and
even password protect them for members only, I'll suggest it's disrespectful
for organizations not to provide this option. The best freebie hosting
options (such as egroups.com), offer three options for participation: mail
out by message, mail out digest (grouping a days messages in one email)
and read online. Each participant can decide how to get access to the material.
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