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Cloud and Open Source Can Pave Way for Hexagon

Three easy steps: How Hexagon can overtake Esri’s market share

As most people in the geospatial industry are aware, Hexagon, a Swedish company headed by CEO Ola Rollen, has bought up some of the most respected names in the GIS industry over the last couple years; including Intergraph, Leica Geosystems, and ERDAS. In doing so, they have created a very interesting package of offerings that could certainly challenge for the top spot in the enterprise GIS market .

In recognition of the Hexagon2011 conference next week in Orlando, FL, which will showcase all of the Hexagon companies together for the first time, I thought I would share some thoughts on how I think the Hexagon companies can take the step to conquer the top spot in GIS.

1. Unify branding.
No more ERDAS, Intergraph, Leica Geosystems, etc... your new name is "Hexagon". Live it, breathe it, own it... never look back.

Here is why:

  • A unified "Hexagon" offers customers turnkey Sensor-to-Internet solutions for data collection, management, analysis, and distribution. Hexagon is a single name that can challenge the other single name you are trying to beat (Esri).
  • Conversely and separately, ERDAS has great tools for geospatial analysis, but Intergraph has the utility solution you also need and, sorry, but you'll have to call Leica separately if you want a photogrammetric appliance.

Give the customer a one-call solution provider for all GIS needs.

2. Be flexible on licensing... actually, forget it and open source everything!
Think about the cost of licensing software... not the cost to the customer, but to the vendor.

  • How many legal staff members are involved in writing up and managing the agreements?
  • Then you have those 3rd party license management expenses.
  • And what exactly is the cost and company image impact of license enforcement making people abide?

Good thing there is a simple solution to relieve of all this mess... Open source it.

Everything.

All of it.

Why? It's about market share in the short term... and right now Esri is winning; but, something tells me the next time that enterprise customer XYZ goes to pay their Esri software maintenance bill or renew their "all-you-can-eat until the next time we decide to audit your usage" Enterprise License Agreement (ELA), they are going to think twice about the fact that Hexagon has competing technology that is free and open source.

Customers are smart and they are evolving. They know it's all about solutions, not software. Five to ten years ago, every RFP you opened demanded Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software to solve all problems. Now, not so much... even to the point where customized solutions built on open source software and using open standards are preferred because it is easier to find talent to maintain/enhance the system rather pay outrageous sums of licensing back to the vendor; just to be told "no" on every feature enhancement request.

In the end, removal of licensing cost for Hexagon products lowers barrier of making the switch to Hexagon and more importantly makes people ask, "why pay for Esri?"

Of course, I am not suggesting that open sourcing Hexagon's products will make operating GIS completely free for everyone. There will always be a cost to operating enterprise-class GIS software including services, configuration, IT infrastructure, training, support, etc., but as long as Hexagon can make enterprise customer XYZ ask that magical "why pay for software" question every time they whip out the wallet for an Esri invoice, Hexagon will quickly make market gains.

3. Use the Cloud, but...
And it is a big "but"... Make sure to use the cloud in a way that increases the speed of deployment and reduces the barriers of adoption for Hexagon solutions. For example, use the cloud as a deployment engine to allow customers, sales engineering, or professional services staff to quickly spin up and prototype solutions. Build and deliver the entire solutions on the Cloud (or firewalled Private Cloud) and simply use the scalable infrastructure features to ensure your customer never outgrows your solution from an IT resource perspective.

Or, better yet, Hexagon could go all-in and template their entire application catalog on the Cloud; making all of their technology ready for instant deployment. Remember, we've already removed the licensing cost by open sourcing everything, now you are removing the infrastructure setup and installation time too. If I'm a prospective customer, I'm saying, "look at all the value I get before I even pay them a dime."

However, I am NOT suggesting that Hexagon build a "Kumbaya, everyone share your data, multi-tenant mapping application." Those applications already exist and it does not fit their target enterprise customer base. Just because Salesforce did it with CRM does not mean you can do it with mapping. Similarly, Hexagon should NOT get involved in the casual map user market (dominated by Google, Bing, Yahoo, MapQuest, etc.)

Google & Microsoft have WAY too much capital to spend and more brand recognition in their little toe than the entire GIS industry combined. And, if Microsoft and Google didn't scare Hexagon off from this space, even Esri, after letting Google and Microsoft and about every other internet company on the planet get a 7 to 8 year lead on them, is now starting to compete too with ArcGIS.com "Mapping for Everyone" (Can you say kumbaya?).

The good thing for Hexagon that there isn't any money in the public-facing market sector anyway unless you just want brand recognition or ad revenue. This is where Esri needs to watch their back chasing something out of their reach. No matter how large of a lead Esri might have, it doesn't take long to go from leading the pack to 4th or 5th place. Once you start sinking... the harder you struggle, the faster you go down.

It's all about focus, but at a large scale for Hexagon. I know, that whole "focus at scale" thing is tricky, but their technology is great and they already know how to navigate a services-driven model (similar to an IBM) being that Intergraph has executed this flawlessly during this 9-year revenue rally they are currently riding.

For me, the key to Hexagon's dominance and relevance in the enterprise GIS market will come down to how insanely turnkey they can make their custom solutions and how swiftly they can move while Esri is distracted spending dollars and making dimes chasing the shiny object called fame.

More Stories By Ryan Hughes

Ryan Hughes, blogging at www.RyHug.com, is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of Skygone (www.skygoneinc.com), a Cloud Computing solution provider to SI's, ISV's, Commercial, and Government. Education: MBA in Project Management from Penn State University; BS in GIS from Bowling Green State University Ryan currently has 10 years in Enterprise-level IT Program Management and Operations Management, as well as vast experience in Enterprise System Design and Cloud implementation methodology.

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