Maptech, big changes coming

Maptech_Mapserver_II_cPanbo

It’s ironic that I wrote about a neat Maptech price/packaging move Friday afternoon, as I now know that simultaneously the employees were learning that the company would be sold, either whole or in parts, and that it would immediately go into a sort of maintenance mode, which included a few layoffs. Naturally the relatively tiny marine electronics industry has been a-buzz about this ever since, and naturally a lot of conjecture, if not pure BS, has already accrued. Here’s what I know:

  • Maptech is not about to shut its doors; in fact, there is no set “sell-by-or-shut-down” date at all, and middle managers have been offered retention packages designed to keep them on board and enthusiastic about the changes to come.
  • My prime source, who is one of those middle managers, is excited about the unknown ahead, as he’s confident that a number of Maptech’s many assets can flower under new ownership. The company, he says, went off in too many directions and managing it all “got too complicated”. He also noted that Maptech’s owners are going out of their way to treat employees well through the transition.

Now, about that ownership. It’s well known that Maptech once belonged to Gary Comer, the super successful founder of Lands’ End Clothing. Comer was quite a guy, as evidenced by some of the obits written about him in 2006. Turmoil was the name not only of his 1959 near world champion Star Class sloop but also his series of expedition yachts (more detail here). He reportedly voyaged over 160,000 miles in his later years, and I’ve heard that the big Turmoil(s) carried one of the world’s great libraries of exploration books and charts. In fact, I once tried to talk my way into a Comer on-board interview (but didn’t get close). 
   Rumor has it that Maptech rarely, if ever, made money, and Comer had to regularly contribute cash. That situation was no doubt irritating to competitors, though probably trivial to Comer. But now the family trust that owns Maptech is ready to move on. I tip my cap to Mr. Comer for helping to create a lot of worthy navigation products I have appreciated over the years.
   So what’s for sale? For one there’s a substantial paper chart and guide book business, products constantly improving and production purportedly streamlined in recent years. There’s also the high end SRN/i3/Maestro system that Maptech recently licensed (?) to Faria, not to mention mature touch screen nav-ware that could work on many hardware platforms. Plus the Captn Jack mail-order business that could easily stand alone again; a topo map business I don’t know much about; and some sort of contractual relationship with NOAA to produce and maintain digital raster charts. Then there’s those international raster charts, freeboatingcharts.com, a mish-mash of decent charting programs with too similar names, and a well developed distribution network. And apparently lots more data and software than we know of. I’m told that in recent years Maptech “invested heavily in new mapping and Internet projects, plus acquiring tons of new data, particularly orthographic.” One example I learned about yesterday is Maptech MapServer II, still in Beta, and dodgy, but looking pretty good way above. So what’s going to happen to all these assets? Your theories, please.

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

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