Californian software firm Esri is the Google Maps of the enterprise market and the world’s largest provider of Geographic Information software (GIS). It counts 350,000 (corporate) users worldwide which, between them, make two billion maps per day. When the company started out in 1969 its customers made maps on mini-computers. In the 48 years since then the company has adapted its software for workstations, PCs, the Internet and now, smartphones and tablets.
In this interview, Esri President and Founder Jack Dangermond explains how GIS is being used by communications service providers (CSPs) today. He also has a vision for how CSPs can use GIS in their digital transformation strategies and in new lines of business.
How long have you been working in the telecoms sector?
We first engaged the telecom industry in about the mid 80s but it wasn’t until ten years or so later that operators started to buy our tools. We now have dozens of service providers, many of them mobile operators, using our maps to assess coverage and track their subscribers. They’re using GIS in network operations, marketing, customer care and cellular coverage assessment.
How do telecoms operators derive value from your geo-spatial solutions?
Geography or spatial or location data is a foundational concept for telecom operations. “Where are my field workers?” If they’re being tracked geographically and seen on a map, that’s really powerful. “Where are my assets,” and “where are my customers?” You can think of these each as layers and as databases answering questions such as “where do I have good coverage?” and “where are my competitors?”.
Digital transformation is a big theme for today’s telecoms operator. Is that something you can help them with?
When you look inside a telecoms company you see a network of fiefdoms. And it’s the CIO who has the challenge of bringing them together because they’re all stuck in separate IT stovepipes. The way to bring them together is using geographic information and these overlay concepts. I can take the data from my marketing department, spatialize it as a service, overlay it against my facilities, and I see not only where there are customers, but also where we have an oversupply of assets. And then develop a strategy to go after particular customers. The idea that GIS can be a strategic planning tool that brings departments together with a common visualization is now starting to occur.
Does IoT represents an attractive opportunity for you and your CSP customers?
GIS is a natural for IoT. Our GeoEvent Server processes real-time data and supplements GIS. We have thousands of customers including transportation, home package delivery companies and the US Post Office who have already implemented our GeoEvent Server.
We recently won the City of Dubai (Smart Dubai) as a customer. Their vision is wiring everything through IoT, spatializing it and then making it available as a new class of services. The city government, the telecoms operator Etisalat and the government cloud have all come together on this project. Our theory is, and it’s very promising, that this platform of geo-enabled smart cities can provide the basis for the telecom industry to create new services which exploit geospatial information in meaningful ways.
How do your products and services fit in with CSPs’ growing interest in – and deployment of – data analytics solutions and data-as-a-service?
Our customers are moving their operations in GIS from client server protocol for GIS to services-based protocol with distributed computing supporting the idea of services. As an example, cities like Washington D.C. make available open data, in fact many of the government agencies in the world use our platform to make their data open. But what do people then do with the data? Open data is worthless until you have an application.
Open data creates the opportunity for people to build applications on top of it. This could be anything from the city hacker community when you talk about open data from government to entrepreneurs and start-ups, and phone companies themselves who could build cool apps on top of data-as-a-service. That’s static data but all of a sudden you open up this idea that data is dynamic, like crowdsourcing or mobile tracking of where people are, or what they’re doing.
Until now you’ve been a B2B company. Do you see that changing? Are there opportunities in B2B2C?
B2B2C is what our customers are just beginning to do. In government, it’s all about citizen engagement. In the City of Los Angeles, we are selling our software to the city, which is providing citizen engagement through various initiatives such as locating homeless people and planning for open spaces.
Our ArcGIS Online platform can scale to handle the B2B2C volume. Today our users will make about 2 billion maps. Many of those maps are for B2B but increasingly, they’re going B2B2C. Our customers are starting to talk to their customers using this as a platform.
Do you think telecoms operators are making the most out of GIS?
For every category of Esri user — engineering, planning, market research, field force automation and operational intelligence – there is huge potential for an increase in the use of GIS.
GIS provides four big areas of value to our telecoms operator customers:
- It can improve operational efficiency. We know that both in network operations and field force logistics we can save 15 to 20 percent of costs pretty easily.
- It helps in improved decisions generally. We have this magical language called maps that allow you to communicate effectively so that decision-makers can say, “Put the money here, not there.”
- Improved communications within telecom organizations. Maps are like a natural language. They help people to understand things better.
- And then fourth is in the area is analytics. We partner with other BI providers and have a new product called Insights which allows telecom operators to very quickly get a sense of spatial dimensions with maps, as well as the classic BI of charts, graphs and tables.