It seems that everybody and his brother is realizing that there is big money to be made in the burgeoning GIS marketplace and a constant stream of products keeps emerging. Some of these GIS products are "light" versions of bigger, monolithic products, while others have been a little too "light" and hardly worth the time, effort, or money to try and learn.
The reason that so many players have tried to enter the GIS playing field, of course, is money. For example, market research firm, Daratech, projects that in 1999, the worldwide GIS software market for all applications running on all platforms will exceed $1.5 billion. Dataquest, another market research firm expects sales of just GIS business applications will exceed $190 million by 1999.
While it is not difficult to understand why Visio is attempting to break into GIS, it is hard to really categorize what Visio has done with its new product, Visio Maps, but at first glance (we looked at a pre-beta version), they seem to have done many things right for getting real GIS technology into the hands of a potentially much bigger business customer base.
Partnering with ESRI
In no small undertaking, Visio has partnered with Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) as an integral part of the overall Visio Maps strategy.
With help from ESRI, Visio Maps was designed to work in conjunction with and be compatible with ArcView. Organizations that use ArcView will be able to extend the usefulness of their maps by saving their project information in a format specifically designed to be read by Visio Maps.
We have wondered for some time if ESRI would ever be amenable to a GIS product suited for a much larger potential market; and they have now shown that they are. We feel that these technology and business moves are good ones that will benefit both Visio and ESRI.
How It Works
Visio Maps is an add-on product that runs on top of any of the company’s other core products — Visio Standard, Visio Professional, or Visio Technical.
Of course, users can’t expect Visio Maps to be as comprehensive as ESRI GIS products. Visio Maps extends the Visio product line so users can visualize their business information, showing geographic relationships and trends. It employs the same interface and drag-and-drop metaphor for creating and sharing maps and other geographic data.
Major Visio Maps Features
Because so much research was conducted before Visio Maps was actually created, it contains features that other vendors are likely to take notice of and "mimic." Some of the more prominent features include:
New SmartShapes Symbols - Visio Maps comes with more than 120 mapping-specific symbols of Visio’s trademark SmartShapes for creating and annotating maps.
Geographic Mapping Features - These include thematic rendering for more effectively presenting thematic maps; address matching to street level for pinpointing location information; find by location for zooming in and highlighting a specified location or feature; and spatial selection tools for querying data associated with a selected boundary.
Data Sets - A wide range of geographic-boundary and demographic data, such streets, rivers, cities, key landmarks, and population for use in creating thematic maps.
Wizards - Visio Maps Wizards help users step through the creation and use of data-driven maps in such a way that they don’t have to be database or GIS experts.
ESRI/ArcView Data Compatibility - ArcView users can extend the utility of their maps by saving their project information in a format specifically designed to be read by Visio Maps. Visio Maps also will read any standard ESRI Shapefile format data and import ArcView map projection information.
Lastly, because users will be able to see geographic trends in their business data, they can join this data to and from Microsoft Access, Excel, FoxPro, or dBase to geographic data included in Visio Maps.
Good Odds For Hitting Target Customers
Before creating Visio Maps, the company did extensive market research and discovered that users had specific needs for a desktop mapping application, regardless of industry or vertical market. These criteria were then transformed into the design goals for Visio Maps. With this in mind, Visio realized that its Maps product would have to provide the following:
- A fast and easy way to create and publish maps
- Flexible annotation capabilities to enhance maps for presentations
- Easy-to-use and consistent interface
- Compatibility with higher-end GIS software
- Customizable for specific needs and market segments
- Affordable and easy to learn
Visio realizes, and rightly so, that potential users of Visio Maps are diverse and span many industries, so the customer profile takes aim at basically two groups:
- Current users of Visio who are already familiar with the interface, features, and capabilities. Since the company estimates that 70 percent of all business information generated today contains some type of geographic data, the more than one million current users of Visio will potentially discover new ways for creating, incorporating, and sharing maps.
- Adjacent ESRI ArcView users who work with, but generally do not create, ArcView maps because of the high cost of acquiring and training associated with ArcView. These more casual users are not GIS professionals, but they need to view geographic data to perform tasks, such as how to optimize sales territories, where to stage promotions, what customers to target, where competitors are located, etc.
Visio’s partnership with ESRI helps ensure that Visio Maps users have access to the same data as GIS specialists using the ESRI products.
Visio Maps requires Visio 4.0c or later, Windows 95 or NT 4.0, and a CD-ROM drive. It comes on three CD-ROMs and includes the product, demographic data from ESRI, and other assorted goodies. The US street price for the Visio Maps add-on is $199. Bundled pricing is available when Visio Maps is purchased with a Visio application. As we went to press, the only bundle price we could get was Visio Maps bundled with Visio Standard, which is priced at $299. Visio Maps will begin shipping in July and will be generally available in August from corporate resellers, distributors, retail channels, and directly from Visio and ESRI.
We will keep a close eye on this product and will review a shipping version of Visio Maps and publish our findings either later this summer or early fall.
Contact: Visio Corp., 800-24-VISIO, http://www.visio.com