Are Mashups Disruptive Technologies, Consumer Toys or Enterprise Tools?

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Are Mashups Disruptive Technology, Consumer Toys or Enterprise Tools?
by Susan Smith

March 11th’s Power Panel at GITA 2008 entitled “Mashups – Consumer Toy or Enterprise Tool?” drew a large crowd that extended out the door.

Panel moderator and Speaker Award Winner Peter Batty, owner of Spatial Networking, defined “disruptive technology” as being too simple to address the basic needs of the market when it starts out, yet gradually, it meets the needs of the market in a simpler and cheaper way than what is currently available.

That definition certainly describes Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, two completely non-geospatial products that have changed the GIS landscape irrevocably.

Bryan Atwood of Google talked about Google mashups in the Enterprise. Google says that they are organizing all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and usable – and they are also organizing all the world’s geospatial information.

Google Earth provides a 3D view of earth that you can zoom in and out of, comprised of compositing satellite imagery into one skin. The counterpart to that product is the 2D Google Maps, which can be viewed from within a web browser. The KML specification developed by Keyhole, dubbed by Atwood “the HTML of the geographic web,” is an XML type format that describes geospatial data, which allows you to see your data on top of different platforms. Recently KML was submitted to OGC and will be approved in the next month or two.

Funded in 2000 by In-Q-Tel, a company that identifies and partners with companies developing cutting-edge technologies to deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), Keyhole was a separate company, acquired by Google in 2004. As a result of that purchase, in 2005 Google Earth was released.

Google’s enterprise philosophy is relatively simple: you can take a Google Map and embed it in your website. What these tools offer is very fast development. “You have two lines of web script to add to your website,” said Atwood. “Thousands of people know how to interact with Maps and Earth every day. There are more than 50,000 live API sites right now.” Available are enterprise support, service agreements, implementation partner networks, and behind the firewall options.

Speaker Award Winner Bill Gail of Microsoft stated that mashups are a consumer toy, which elicited a laugh from the audience. But Gail followed that by saying that enterprise applications use Microsoft Virtual Earth, and they don’t need to be complex to be useful (and that includes mashups). “They don’t need to be the hidden domain of IT specialists, and they can serve the needs of unsophisticated employees or customers.”

Enterprise applications are built with enterprise tools, and the enterprise tools to build mashups are available from Microsoft Virtual Earth.

Virtual Earth 2D/3D enterprise geospatial platform includes global and regional maps, satellite imagery, high resolution imagery, birds-eye imagery, and local maps with live traffic. This is all enterprise ready and has good integration with other enterprise tools on the market.

Gail said Microsoft was serving over 1,000 customers in 1995 with MapPoint and MapPoint web service, the basis for the company’s enterprise expertise. Since then, organizations such as British Petroleum (BP) are making asset management mashups with the help of integrators IDV Solutions. GIS visualization overlays on Virtual Earth are pulled out of ArcGIS Server. The Weather Channel overlays weather, clouds and Doppler on top of Virtual Earth.

The City of Houston overlays traffic conditions and situational awareness on Virtual Earth. Microsoft is moving quickly into the 3D arena with an emerging enterprise platform, which can produce geometrically phototextured cities with an average of 500 km per city.

Charles Swenka, CTO and owner of IFactor Consulting, said that their StormCenter uses Virtual Earth to communicate information to utilities.

“What we like about Virtual Earth or Google Maps is that they introduce a high amount of functionality and infrastructure behind the service,” said Swenka. “They do all support and availability. Also, there are so many investments going inside enterprise environments. We can have developers working with the new tools without high costs, a real benefit over legacy systems.”

Swenka cited an example of taking customer outage information, and converting it into a form that can be presented to the public. “Neither their outage management system nor enterprise system has that capability. One of the main drivers for this kind of information is that it is a great way to communicate with customers, and to offload demand on your call centers. A call to a call center can cost up to $3 per call during the high storm period, whereas with a web based solution like this it can be as little as ten cents per call.” Swenka added that you can also convey spatial information that can be difficult to convey by phone.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) uses a lot of GIS applications to cover territory ranging from Jacksonville to Miami, and Naples to Tampa. On the business side, they have developers who want to take their data in other directions, using MapPoint, Google Earth and Maps.

“We put it in Google Earth, and now we’re looking at how can we use this tool for presentation and provide a generic format that people can use to put up different information to present to the customer,” said Kirk Suscella of FPL.

It was agreed that the most powerful aspect of Google Earth and Virtual Earth was their ability to get siloed information out to the rest of an organization. This is a huge step forward for geospatial, since there is much data restricted by the tools that are available to use the data.

Should anyone be worried that Google and Microsoft may ultimately replace GIS tools, the panel believes this won’t be the case. Rather, they will complement GIS tools. The Google and Microsoft tools are limited in that they can’t do authoring, engineering or analysis but they may support more of what GIS can do.

Utilities are naturally concerned about security issues in dealing with these geographic visualization systems, and both Google and Microsoft are addressing the issues of making sure proper security is in place, such as having different access levels.

In summary, all participants had to agree that Google Earth and Microsoft Earth have caused a big shift in how we see the world. By taking on the distribution of data for the geospatial industry, Google and Microsoft can bring geospatial to people who might otherwise never experience it.

Is this disruptive technology? If Peter Batty’s definition is correct, then surely it must be.

Top News of the Week

An upcoming Internet seminar hosted by ESRI will teach geographic information system (GIS) professionals how to author, publish, and use Keyhole Markup Language (KML) services using ArcGIS Server 9.3.

Publishing KML Services with ArcGIS Server 9.3 will air on ESRI’s Training and Education website on March 20, 2008, at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. (PDT).


Infotech Enterprises Limited, a Global Technology Solutions provider, head quartered at Hyderabad, announced that it has signed a new multi-year contract with digital map leader Tele Atlas to provide extensive map database and software development services. The agreement builds on a relationship that started in 1994 and reflects Tele Atlas’ continued confidence in Infotech’s abilities to deliver high-quality database and software services and solutions.

Adapx announced that it has received ESRI's 2008 New Partner of the Year award for the Olympia region. Adapx's CEO, Ken Schneider, was honored last night at the ESRI Worldwide Business Partner Conference held at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

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