At the Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) analyst summit and customer conference in Miami I got the formal update on the state of its business and technology. Historically speaking, President Mike Hickey admitted that acquired businesses including MapInfo were “smashed together” and not as well integrated as they could have been. But now, he said, after a year of learning from its employees and customers, management has changed the strategic direction to embrace cloud computing and shifted focus to better enable its customers to serve their customers or citizens. The core of Pitney Bowes Business Insight is a product portfolio of content, services and technology that help users locate, connect and communicate with customers efficiently through geographically based analytics and information. The event provided insight on the company’s progress since my analysis of last year’s conference when the changes in its software business were just beginning. It is shifting away from just offering platforms, tools and content to a solutions focus that emphasizes helping customers more easily acquire, serve and increase the numbers of customers through tactics of targeting, acquisition, collaboration and retention. PBBI offers a range of location intelligence, data quality and integration, address management and communication technology products to support this new direction.
PBBI’s strategy focuses on three key solution areas: network management (actually asset and location optimization), customer service and support, and customer and marketing analytics. This business focus is tailored to specific industries including financial services and insurance, the public sector and communications. For each industry there are integration points to existing processes and systems that need to be recognized. PBBI has got to this point of transformation by examining the market’s growth opportunities but also by applying “voice of the customer” principles to get guidance on where they should direct the business. It is clear that PBBI is making a major step to embrace cloud computing and the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model in which technology tools can be rented and data can be purchased in an online marketplace but how far and fast they can transform is yet not clear. Cloud computing is part of an industry transition to simpler access to applications and services, along with technology infrastructure, that in a traditional enterprise data center would be complicated and expensive to install, configure and maintain.
To facilitate the move to cloud computing PBBI has developed MapInfo Stratus, essentially an online application that makes location intelligence available in software as a service. It is simple to upload files used in MapInfo Professional for publishing and sharing. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Pepperidge Farms each presented on their use of this cloud-based location intelligence, which will be generally available later in 2010.
At the same time an update of the core product, MapInfo Professional 10.5, also will come out in 2010. Among many of the product advancements it also features a partnership with Microsoft to import mapping content available in Bing through the Web. This is possible through a mapping service called Tile Server that provides aerials and hybrid imagery that can be blended with street data easily. Version 10.5 also provides easy sharing in several ways, from catalog search to GeoPDF support. The professional version also is compatible in look and feel and metadata with MapInfo Developer to help an enterprise’s analysts and developers collaborate. PBBI is also dealing with the new regulation INSPIRE which is a European Union law for sharing environmental spatial data and changes that takes effect in 2019.
Location intelligence requires content, of course, and PBBI’s global data portfolio has a global range of location-related content for industries and businesses. Responding to the need to make content more readily available anywhere on the planet, PBBI is creating a marketplace for a data as a service (DaaS). To build this new marketplace it is partnering with WeoGeo, which already has a one-stop marketplace for geospatial content. PBBI is discussing the project’s content management library, which can be managed in a hosted Internet environment or as an on-premises appliance, and makes it easier to build a historical warehouse of location content. Many organizations need dynamic information and updates as is done in the SaaS industry today, and PBBI is also working on this. WeoGeo was a smart partner move as they will also not just help establish the marketplace but also be a reseller of its content in its current operation.
One of the secrets of the PBBI product portfolio is a newly formed data management suite that covers a range of data governance activities, including data quality modules and connectors, data integration, geocoding to specific business services such as taxation. My colleague wrote about using technology to automate and improve tax-related tasks (See: “Taking Tax Out of the Closet”). Its uses a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web services to interoperate across third-party products or custom applications. This will be a useful capability as many organizations do not realize they have data quality issues in moving between on-premises systems and cloud-based applications; location data exists in sales force, marketing, customer service, field service, billing and other applications that are not usually managed well in regard to cleansing of addresses and location readiness.
Communicating information to a location and ensuring the right context is provided are the focus of PBBI in customer communications management (CCM). It has a mature platform for managing various types of customer communications including print, e-mail, text and fax that can scale up to large volumes of communications. This CCM platform is called EngageOne and has batch, on-demand, interactive and multichannel delivery. The platform gives business user a range of controls for managing changes of templates, monitoring and integration into systems, and security across the enterprise. It allows users to embed the communications from within enterprise systems such as SAP. Its output management system competes with the likes of Actuate (which bought Xenos), HP and IBM. EngageOne has customers in banks and insurance companies that need its ability to scale up to larger volumes of output than most providers can accommodate. PBBI is not as well known for its multichannel interaction capabilities, but some deployments have proven that they can save organizations significant time and money.
PBBI also offers an enterprise address management solution that can help address issues like that found in the United States Postal Service, which is losing billions of dollars due to not managing addresses and delivery properly. The problem is that the USPS allows incorrect addresses to be used in shipping mail that cannot be delivered and has not put in place intelligent processes for governance, risk and compliance (GRC) to prevent financial losses. PBBI is working with USPS to advance these arcane practices that might require a federal bailout if they are not greatly improved.
At the conference I also stopped in and listened to a partner presentation from DigitalGlobe, whose high-quality satellite imagery is useful for sophisticated location intelligence. This company can focus its three satellites wherever needed to get up-to-date imagery for corporate or governmental needs. DigitalGlobe also provides a range of Web services to integrate detailed maps into MapInfo Professional. But with PBBI and Microsoft partnering to make maps from Bing available, probably only high-end applications for imagery would need to use DigitalGlobe or ones that need up to date imagery not found with Microsoft or Google.
Pitney Bowes Business Insight is in transition to embrace cloud computing and make insights from location be readily used to communicate and connect across many channels. The opportunity is large if it can facilitate a shift in marketing to become seen as the provider of something businesses need but do not yet have; that is location intelligence (See: "Is Your Business Location Intelligence Competent”), which we have already benchmarked. Though PBBI could have made its vision of what will be possible more clear, it is exciting to see the transition to using information and analytics from their technology to help business optimize customer-related processes. It could be applied also to the supply chain of products and services (See: “Does Your Supply Chain Have Location Intelligence”) which as we have found has a lot of room for improvement, too! PBBI is also working to embrace cloud computing based applications for its own business operations. Overall it is good to see the potential of how location intelligence can advance to be integral to a portfolio of solutions that also need to have better communications and high quality relevant information for business.
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Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research