Mapping Out CRM Opportunities

With digital-mapping services becoming increasingly popular, traditional map-production technologies will simply no longer be able to keep pace, according to a recent report from ABI Research. No longer able to maintain control over the exponentially growing volume of map and navigational details, the mapping services of the future instead will need to rely on community-site-generated content to keep tabs on data regarding sites and points of interest (POIs), says Dominique Bonte, ABI principal analyst and author of the report, User-Generated Digital Maps and POI. More important, mapping services will need to integrate with developing location-based services. The recent battle between vendors Garmin and TomTom for control of Netherlands-based Tele Atlas -- as well as the $8 billion acquisition of NAVTEQ by Nokia, which was approved this week by NAVTEQ shareholders -- show the level of importance digital maps have achieved in the navigation-and-location value chain, Bonte says. In addition to those deals, Microsoft Corp. this week announced its acquisition of United Kingdom-based, which provides street-level maps, travel directions, and local information. Multimap also offers hotel- and restaurant-booking services and builds private-label mapping tools for such companies as Hilton Hotels and Ford Motor Co. Other small mapping companies, such as AND International Publishers NV, have publicly announced their expectation to be acquired as well. Consumers are looking for reliable mapping information not only in their automobiles and at their desktops, but also on handheld devices; in order to maintain relevance, mapping systems will have to incorporate updated information from users across multiple platforms, Bonte says, citing TomTom Map Share as the first commercial implementation of user-generated map-content technology directly on a personal navigation device. The application enables users to input map corrections or POI additions on the fly. The new information is instantly uploaded and shared with the rest of the TomTom Map Share community. Similarly, AND recently made available an online digital map that can be modified by all users based on Web 2.0 technology, allowing AND to produce maps more quickly and at a lower cost, according to Bonte. Geocontent, Bonte says, will likely evolve to a Wikipedia-like environment, with users being able to contribute and modify information at any time. Europe is already leading the way, Bonte says, as several open POI-community projects such as GPS-Waypoints, TellmeWhere, and GyPSii have recently launched, some of which have attracted venture capital funding. Advertising is expected to be the main revenue source for these ventures, though Bonte says that opportunities may still exist to sell packaged content to navigation vendors. Bonte says that he considers user-updated data to have a distinct advantage over the traditional mapping services, which are updated only every six months, quickly becoming outdated and less useful for consumers. While branded content-sharing initiatives are aimed at keeping commercial maps up-to-date at low cost, completely open and standardized community projects will create digital maps and POI-databases from scratch, he adds. Bonte expects geocontent will become an important new dimension of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, creating synergies with mapping- and POI-community-related initiatives. Geocontent will become more "mobile-device friendly," he says, with speech-enabled capabilities freeing users from having to struggle with small screens to access the information they want most. Without speech capabilities, the mapping systems themselves would have much more limited use, he adds. Again, he notes, such technology is already very popular in Europe. "Ultimately, all mobile devices will become connected, accessing Web-based geocontent from a variety of sources," he says.

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