Review of the Cadcorp International Partner Conference 2015
Better, cheaper, faster. The Cadcorp International Partner Conference, 2015. The Møller Centre, Cambridge, 12-13 May
Buy or build?
It is a question faced by all IT managers at some time or another. It is also a question faced by IT companies which specialise in selling GIS solutions. The Cadcorp International Partner Conference 2015 brought together a number of specialist GIS companies that have made the decision that it is better, cheaper, and faster to use Cadcorp GIS technology than it is to develop their own.
Cadcorp occupies a special place in the geospatial ecosystem. Unusually for the industry, Cadcorp is a British GIS software company. Its suite of geospatial products – the Cadcorp Spatial Information System® - Cadcorp SIS®, is shown in the diagram below. The suite comprises desktop, server, web and free-to-use products, specialist applications and developer tools.
Cadcorp takes this package of products to market through both a direct sales force, and through its partners. The indirect channel constitutes significant business for Cadcorp, as Martin McGarry, Cadcorp MD, noted in his opening address at the conference.
Cadcorp partners tend to specialise in a small number of vertical markets, and are adept at taking Cadcorp products and technologies and tailoring these to meet the needs of their specialist markets.
Spatial IT in the Netherlands
This focussed approach was demonstrated by the first partner presentation given by Flip van der Valk from the Dutch IT company Vicrea Solutions BV. Based in Amersfoort, the company focuses on creating spatial data infrastructures for the public sector. It describes itself as being in the business of ‘Spatial IT’ - ‘Making optimal use of location as the binding factor in location management’.
In fact the Netherlands has one of the most advanced e-government infrastructures in the world, and local government plays a prominent role in supporting this infrastructure. The municipality is responsible for creating the key registers that underpin e-government. These include registers of addresses, buildings, people, companies, land parcels, property, taxes, infrastructure and topographic maps. Vicrea develops the IT systems that are used to create such key registers, and uses using all six of Cadcorp’s product groups in doing so. Today Vicrea counts around half of all Dutch municipalities as its customers, and is Cadcorp’s most significant European partner.
Cadcorp in Japan
The ability of Cadcorp partners to achieve business success through specialisation was also apparent in the presentation given by Yoko Ukai from Cadcorp’s biggest and longest-standing partner, Informatix of Japan. We heard how Informatix has carved out a dominant position in providing localised versions of Cadcorp products to the emergency services sector in Japan. Informatix counts over 200 fire authorities in its customer base. The fire services are using Cadcorp technology inter alia in command and control systems, coverage mapping, hot spot mapping and fire hydrant management.
Informatix is also the dominant player in the provision of land information systems. 30 out of 47 prefectures of Japan are now using Cadcorp technology in Midori-net. This is a national non-profit organisation comprising drainage and land consolidation authorities, farmers and municipalities. GIS plays a central role in encouraging improvements in efficiency and profitability in farming by facilitating greater cooperation.
GIS and proactive loss prevention worldwide
A presentation from Tom Gay of FM Global revealed that the distinction between partners and customers in business is not always clear-cut. FM Global has been providing insurance product and property loss prevention engineering services to its clients since 1835.
While most insurance companies treat losses as inevitable and use GIS mainly to assess the level of risk – to the customer and to the insurer - FM Global takes a different approach. It starts from the premise that the majority of property loss is preventable. The company combines expertise in underwriting and claims with practical, proactive loss prevention engineering solutions. Tom reported that this focus on loss prevention – in which GIS plays a role - has made it possible for FM Global to return more than US$2.1 billion to their clients since 2001 through membership credits.
A template for municipal GIS in Serbia
Having heard from long-standing partners and users of Cadcorp software, it was instructive to hear from a relatively new addition the Cadcorp partner network, Mapsoft. The company was founded in 2002 by academics from the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformatics in the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the University of Belgrade. Mapsoft specialises in mapping, aerial and terrestrial photogrammetry, topographic and cadastral surveying, and in delivering customised GIS solutions. Mapsoft became a Cadcorp partner in 2011, for reasons explained by co-owner, Željko Cvijetinović: “The Serbian market is characterized by a multiplicity of different software systems and data formats. Cadcorp is well-known for the ability of its products to coexist with other systems. We see Cadcorp SIS fulfilling a role for our customers not just as another GIS, but also as central repository capable of serving multiple systems and applications."
In a presentation from Nikola Kovačević, we heard how MapSoft has used Cadcorp technology as a key component of a local government GIS project funded by the European Reconstruction Agency. MapSoft used a combination of Cadcorp server, web and desktop products in developing a corporate GIS for the municipality of Pirot. Interestingly, while MapSoft delivered a customised version of web software to the municipality, it found little need to customise Cadcorp SIS desktop software for use in the creation and management of spatial data. “Most of these functionalities were already implemented and available in Cadcorp SIS software. Only minor customizations were required. Most of the customisation was related to the adjustments of map display”. These involved map projections, symbol libraries, the display of features by attribute values, and customised themes.
Updates from Cadcorp
One of the advantages to Cadcorp partners of not having to maintain core software in-house is that they can focus on the specific needs of their customers and markets in the knowledge that a GIS software developer is dedicating resources to keeping up to date the generic capabilities of the software. This was made clear in the presentation given by Cadcorp technical director, Martin Daly, who provided a preview of functionality planned for the next point release of Cadcorp SIS. Because software development is Cadcorp’s primary business Martin’s team has time to research the problem, collect input from the industry, partners and customers, and develop ‘best-of-breed’ core software that incorporates latest technical developments and standards. In fact it was an important role of the partner conference is to serve as a vehicle for eliciting partner input on product developments.
The development of web mapping and web GIS products in Cadcorp is the responsibility of a team headed by Steve Cox. He explained the significance that changes to core software in SIS 8.0 have meant for the look and feel of Cadcorp’s web mapping products in the latest release. He highlighted two changes in particular: the impact of the HTTP interface to Cadcorp’s server product GeognoSIS, and the tighter binding between Cadcorp’s flagship web mapping application, Web Map Layers, and GeognoSIS. The outcome is that Web Map Layers 8.0 is today not only very easy to use, it is also a very powerful and responsive web mapping application, whether it is used on desktop, tablet and mobile devices.
Steve explained that Web Map Layers is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product. However, it is also a COTS product that can be customised without coding if required. Steve then pointed out that Cadcorp provides partners with two other ways to meet specific user requirements. They can also code and develop their own web mapping applications from scratch using Cadcorp developer tools, and they can extend Web Map Layers using add-ins. Steve completed his presentation with a look towards the web application functionality planned for SIS 8.1.
One of the strengths of a partnership model is that the not inconsiderable effort of maintaining the quality and stability of a GIS software suite sits with Cadcorp, and not the partner. Christophe Jarny heads the QA team at Cadcorp, a team which is responsible for testing all six of Cadcorp product groupings. He emphasises that software testing is a process which can only be automated in part. While it is true that the question ‘Is it doing it right?’ is often open to automation; answering the question ‘Is it doing the right thing?’ requires human judgement.
The final presentation of the conference was by Gary Randle, Cadcorp UK sales manager. He shared with the audience the experience of Cadcorp in business development in the UK. He related how Cadcorp’s business had evolved over the last 10 years to encompass a wide variety of different markets. Gary shared with the attendees the strategies which Cadcorp has employed in sales and marketing, in order to successfully grow the UK business.
Opportunities to share
As with other partner conferences, the formal presentations only tell half the story. Of equal value is the opportunity for partners to share experiences and ideas with each other, and with Cadcorp staff in an informal setting. The award-winning Møller Centre provided exactly the right environment for this interchange – as did punting on the River Cam and dinner in Peterhouse.