The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
CHICAGO – George Filley is the vice president of product management for Chicago-based NAVTEQ, which provides digital map data. His responsibilities include managing the firm’s current product portfolio as well as defining future products and services.
He sat down with MidwestBusiness.com to discuss data localization, international reach and technology differences between countries.
Michael Muth: How does your data differ by country?
George Filley: For us, the data standard is king. There may be differences in the level of coverage, which reflects a level in maturity of the market. If we launch a country, it might not be fully detailed coverage and we may have a road map to get there. The structure of the data is the same.
The last thing we want to do is put the burden on our customer to manage the differences between one country and another.
MM commentary: While the data doesn’t change, how the data is used and depicted may change depending on the applications in use in each country.
MM: How do you localize your products?
GF: We do things in the local language. If you do business in a particular country, people must be able to use it with the local language. We allow for characters versus the standard Roman-language alphabet. While we have to do those unique modifications, the structure is the same.
In the United Kingdom, we reverse the traffic flow because they drive on the other side of the road.
That’s part of why we put people on the ground because those nuances are only known by people in the country. People in Chicago don’t understand the norm. “Standard” refers to the fields and the structure of the database. They don’t have to worry about the architecture or infrastructure. They can choose five to six languages to use.
MM commentary: I just wonder if they do the localization themselves or if they farm that out to either one provider or local providers in different countries.
MM: How has NAVTEQ’s international reach changed its product portfolio?
GF: Looking at it from a global standpoint, the difference depends on what the customer is expecting. As an example, our requirement for three-dimensional visualization came from Europe. When we see an opportunity pop up, we look at that not only regionally but also if it’s logical at a worldwide level.
We’ve recently gotten into the realm of pedestrian navigation, which is a unique product we launched in the first quarter. Here we take navigation to the next level. Normally this has been in-vehicle from point “A” to “B”. That’s not good enough. You must move to where they actually want to go. That’s beyond the road network. It’s a different set of criteria.
You can walk through a park rather than drive around it. These are the requirements for the U.S. We took that information to other regions such as Europe where we asked if the information was relevant and if it needed to be modified. There are nuances and differences for multimodal trains. Europeans ride bikes and trains significantly more than we do.
That information was more important in Europe. We learned from there and translated it here.
MM commentary: One advantage of global product development is the ability to learn something new in one region where things may be considered differently and then transfer that newness elsewhere to gain a competitive advantage. It sounds like bringing 3D visualization here is a good example of that.
MM: How do you overcome technologically backward geographies?
GF: It comes down to levels of resources required and source requirements. We do a combination of driving and we get information from government sources. Aerial photos create a composite map for navigation. The terrain can be one impact. The political situation, the environment and a conflict in the area all impact on our decision.
The amount of effort can be the same wherever you go. It’s how many resources are required. China was an example where we were required to do a joint venture. We couldn’t just go in and map the country. It was impossible for us to just go there. We knew we needed a relationship and it had to be a particular type of relationship. That happens all the time.
The necessity to use local sources can change and the relationship can change. At times, there are conflicts we can’t deal with and we create force majeure clauses in our contracts so we don’t put our employees in jeopardy.
MM commentary: It’s not just topography that creates difficulties for making digital maps. Overarching general business problems create just as many hurdles.
MM: Who in the world uses Map Reporter the most?
GF: I would say because of the nature of the Internet and the community-based concepts in the U.S., the U.S. is the most forward thinking. The U.S. is definitely at the forefront. That will be globalized. Our expectation is it will allow for individuals to help us all over.
MM commentary: The Germans can be cranky and eager to provide technical input and I’d bet they contribute their share. Aside from their desire for everyone to save face, I’d say the same about the Japanese.
MM: Which countries contribute the most to NAVTEQ’s network for developers?
GF: We started it in America. We’ve gotten significant traction with it. We we’re expanding it into Asia as well. A significant number of application developers are in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries.
MM commentary: The developers actually lead to where their customers are.
MM: Why separate Europe and the Americas?
GF: We don’t separate developers participating in any one of those activities. It has more to do with the differences between what does and doesn’t make it in Europe. Applications do need to be different.
In Germany, they’re into the technical aspects. Their idea of a customer interface is very different. The reason for the program is to get the application developers in front of who will make business happen.
MM commentary: On NAVTEQ’s Web site, it appears as if there are separate competitions for Europe and the Americas. Maybe they then compete on a global level.
MM: What can we expect in the future internationally from NAVTEQ in products and geographies?
GF: We’re continuing to expand our coverage. We now have a global footprint. People can expect expanded coverage of countries and within countries, too. We continue to add new sources all the time. They can expect expansions of what our product is in many different countries.
MM commentary: There are still many places they can go and get embedded deeper where they already are.
MM: How do NAVTEQ’s international operations compare with those of Motorola’s?
GF: Motorola is a manufacturing organization. We’re a database organization. There aren’t a lot of parallels from a production standpoint. Motorola was steeped in quality. For us, quality is king. There is a significant similarity between the two companies.
MM commentary: I hope NAVTEQ acquires the same level of global recognition that Motorola has achieved.
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.
Previous Columns in 2007:E-Mail This Article to a Friend or Colleague
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.
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