Web Services in Action: Microsoft Delivers Software as a Service with MapPoint .NET

REDMOND, Wash., April 10, 2002 — Imagine yourself landing at O’Hare early one evening. You grab a rental car and head out — to your hotel, or to the restaurant where you’re due to meet a business associate, or to the suburban home of a college buddy you haven’t seen in 10 years. You’re tired, and it’s raining, and suddenly you find yourself on unfamiliar streets, unsure which way to turn. So you pull over, place a call on your cell phone and speak the words “driving directions.” You’re prompted for your location and your destination, and then you hear exactly how to get there.

This service is offered by Tellme Networks Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that operates a carrier-grade network and answers high-volume phone numbers for Fortune 500 companies. To provide callers with accurate 24×7 driving directions through an interactive voice portal, and at the same time slash business costs and complexity, Tellme uses the Microsoft MapPoint .NET Web service, released publicly today at Microsoft’s TechEd 2002 conference. The first of its breed, MapPoint .NET is a programmable XML Web service developed and hosted by Microsoft.

The business value of location technology is clear to companies such as Tellme Networks, which uses MapPoint .NET to provide driving directions for callers to an AT & T Wireless #121 service and a 1-800-555-TELL service.

“MapPoint .NET was the right choice for Tellme in the search for a high-quality, competitive solution with nationwide coverage,” says Susie Gostyla, senior product manager at Tellme. “MapPoint .NET has Microsoft’s world-class engineers behind it, ensuring the service meets the reliability standards required for our carrier-grade voice application network. MapPoint .NET is an XML service that easily integrates into our VoiceXML-based network, enabling us to provide callers with the information they need immediately.”

Using Web Services to Lower Cost and Complexity

The MapPoint .NET Web services model offers companies a cost-effective way to support location and mapping features in their business or consumer applications. In the past, businesses hoping to include location functionality in their customer solutions were forced to make a huge investment in Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, and employ developers proficient in GIS technologies. Moreover, companies typically had to license location data from up to a dozen information providers, then stitch together discrete sets of data on points of interest, street addresses, baseline maps and so forth.

“In short, creating location-enabled solutions used to be an expensive ‘all-or-nothing’ proposition, out of reach to all but the largest enterprises,” says Michael Graff, general manager of the MapPoint business unit at Microsoft. “With MapPoint .NET, we’ve taken a significantly different approach. Because the .NET platform is based on open Internet standards such as SOAP and XML, MapPoint .NET puts location intelligence within the reach of any in-house developer or ISV with the desire to build compelling solutions or Web services.”

Besides easing the development process, the MapPoint .NET model also spares companies from having to license, integrate, manage and update multiple data sources and provider agreements. MapPoint .NET aggregates location and mapping data into a single, subscription-based Web service. Subscribers avoid the cost of data management and can select only the services they need. Microsoft offers transaction- and subscription-based pricing models as part of its service agreements.

Graff adds that the increasingly pervasive nature of the Internet makes it an ideal platform for rapidly bringing new concepts and business models to market. Web services — subscription-based applications that essentially use the Internet as an operating system — are proving one of the hottest areas of innovation today. One sure sign that Web services are destined to proliferate: the 3,000 independent developers who turned out in February for the introduction of Visual Studio .NET, Microsoft’s toolset for building software for the .NET platform.

Graff says MapPoint .NET demonstrates the strength of the .NET platform best when developers use Visual Studio .NET tools to embed location and mapping capabilities in their applications. With this combination, the ease of development, power and flexibility to build a solution that’s tailored to specific needs is unmatched. However, the advantages of the MapPoint .NET Web service are just as readily available to developers who work in other environments, such as Solaris, Java, Perl or Linux.

Customers Recognize the Business Value of Location

Tellme Networks wasn’t the only company designing a location-intelligent solution prior to today’s commercial availability of MapPoint .NET Basic Services 2.0. San Francisco-based Zone Labs Inc., a leading creator of Internet security solutions, chose MapPoint .NET technology to identify the source locations of network intrusions for its AlertAdvisor network security Web service, which is delivered with the company’s ZoneAlarm Pro personal firewall product.

The MapPoint .NET service provides geographic data on network intrusions by representing a latitude/longitude set derived from IP addresses and plots the source location on a map. This increased functionality adds value to the ZoneAlarm Pro product by giving users an accurate picture of network intrusions and empowers users with the information they need to contact authorities.

“Zone Labs benefits with a faster time-to-market due to the capabilities of Microsoft MapPoint .NET,” says Frederick Felman, vice president of marketing and business development at Zone Labs. “As a result, we can deliver a feature to our users that helps them understand the origin of potential threats to their Internet-connected PC in real time.”

Expedia Inc., the largest online travel service in the world, offers another good example of a customer unleashing the power of location through XML Web services. The Bellevue, Wash.-based company operates Expedia.com, one of the most highly trafficked Web sites for maps. The site offers visitors a better user experience by incorporating maps in the trip decision-making process. A traveler headed to Las Vegas, for example, could use Expedia.com’s intuitive mapping tools to view the location of rental car agencies and hotels, and quickly deduce which are most convenient for his needs.

In the past, Expedia.com used its own map servers, but now sends millions of queries each month to Microsoft’s MapPoint .NET Web service. Why the switch?

“It came down to a combination of reliability and economics,” says Tom Seery, strategic planner for Expedia.com. “Did we think Microsoft could provide us with a reliable solution at a price that we were comfortable with? That’s how we made the decision to choose MapPoint .NET.”

“The transition from our own solution to the MapPoint .NET solution was seamless and very straightforward,” Seery adds. “The MapPoint team did a good job making sure we didn’t have any business interruptions.”

Besides serving these and other external customers, MapPoint .NET powers a bank of applications run by internal Microsoft groups. The versatility of MapPoint .NET technology enables the MSN Carpoint online automotive service, the MSN HomeAdvisor online home and real-estate buying guide, and the MSN MapPoint, MSN Mobile and TerraServer Web sites to provide consumers with proximity searches, determine the best routes, calculate driving directions and display easy-to-read maps. Carpoint delivers real-time traffic updates, offers driving directions and even finds the lowest gas prices in a person’s geographic area. HomeAdvisor delivers details about neighborhoods and driving directions that guide prospective buyers to property listings in their areas of interest. MSN MapPoint serves up high-quality online maps from around the world, door-to-door driving directions and points of interest tailored to personal preferences. It also features automated driving directions by phone so people have constant access to the information they want.

“These and other successful implementations are a great example of .NET in action, and they mean that the MapPoint .NET Web service reaches commercial availability with a solid track record,” Graff says. “The viability, high performance, service reliability and scalability of MapPoint .NET have already been proven.”

Building MapPoint .NET Solutions for Clients

Solution providers are also seeing market opportunities in using MapPoint .NET as a platform for location-based services (LBS). Earlier this week at TechEd, for example, system integrator Saltmine Inc. launched a store location service built on MapPoint .NET technology. Saltmine’s service, which is targeted initially to large retailers, offers the firm’s clients a cost-effective and customizable way to showcase their retail locations on the Web and provide customers with driving directions to the store nearest them.

Saltmine, a Microsoft Gold Certified E-Commerce Solution Provider based in Seattle, notes both a business rationale and a technical rationale for choosing the MapPoint .NET XML Web service to provide a location solution to its clients.

“MapPoint .NET offers us an amazing degree of customization on the front end, and at the same time, a price point that offers enterprises a low cost of entry to the .NET world,” says Jonathon Day, strategic alliance manager at Saltmine. “MapPoint .NET also supports the ability to track activity and usage of the service. And from a design perspective, MapPoint .NET enables our clients to maintain consistent branding and messaging throughout their customers’ online experience.”

Along with those benefits for client marketing organizations and business decision-makers, Saltmine recognizes that MapPoint .NET lightens the load for developers. Ean Hernandez, development group manager at Saltmine, praises the MapPoint .NET Web service for its ease of use, flexibility and rich API.

“MapPoint .NET is a whole new experience in programming,” Hernandez says. “Unlike using other mapping services such as MapQuest, you don’t have to go through parsing gymnastics to get your data in a usable format. The ease with which you can integrate your custom-built application with MapPoint .NET is light years beyond what you can get from a competing service. On top of that, what raises MapPoint .NET above the rest is the richness of the API you have to work with. It offers a tremendous amount of flexibility and customization, which makes your job as a developer more convenient and enables you to provide a richer feature set.”

Application Potential Highlights Business Value of Location

The release of MapPoint .NET Basic Services 2.0 sets the stage for any number of compelling implementation models. The MapPoint .NET Locator Solution, for example, packages part of the MapPoint .NET Web services in a product that’s easy to purchase and deploy. Available from Microsoft, this packaged solution enables businesses to power their Web sites with location intelligence so their customers and other online visitors can find the business location that meets their needs.

Another usage model is a cellular phone that supports Wireless Access Protocol (WAP). A business traveler who lands at LaGuardia, for example, could input his location to the phone and pull in real-time information from the MapPoint .NET Web service that his company subscribes to, quickly learning the location of rental cars, hotels and customers. To take this scenario further, assume that this company’s workforce has a large Hispanic component. With just a few changes in application code, the user could be offered the information in English or Spanish.

The MapPoint .NET Web service can also help companies add value to existing business processes and operations by incorporating location intelligence. For example, a coffee company with numerous retail outlets throughout a city could use MapPoint .NET technology to help understand the relationship between sales and locations, using sales data stored in a business intelligence application. Analyzing a map with charts of daily sales by location and type of store could help the company understand why some stores perform better or worse than others.

“The business value of location can’t be overstated,” Graff says. “Location information and intelligence can provide insight into a company’s operations, help solve business problems, improve productivity and lower costs. And we’ve learned that location offers the most value when it’s delivered in the context of a person’s work, as opposed to a separate application. As a ‘location ingredient’ for software solutions, MapPoint .NET demonstrates how developers can take advantage of the .NET platform to create better business solutions.”

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