HERE sells and licenses mapping data, technologies and services to customers in the automotive, consumer and enterprise sectors. It services all three sectors from the same cloud computing platform, where data is remotely stored for users to access live representations.
The offering for the consumer sector is similar to Googlemaps and consists of the HERE WeGo app and its website, HERE.com. Enterprise customers (e.g. GIS and government clients, Amazon, Alibaba Cloud, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo!, Flickr, SAP and Oracle) can license platform data and then build their own commercial apps to help users navigate cities, or integrate location functionalities within their business software. With 90% market share and 75% of HERE’s revenue, automotive is the most important sector. Powered by its open location platform, HERE offers a spectrum of customizable navigation and infotainment software solutions, whose core element are highly precise, dynamic 3D-maps developed with autonomous vehicles in mind.
As infrastructure in the real world changes up to 25% annually, HERE’s data collection addresses one of the biggest data problems in history: First, it uses publicly available information, such as government data. Second, it deploys 400 vehicles equipped with spinner sensor towers. Third, it pulls real-time sensor data from the cars in which it is installed, and uses it to predict traffic, accident and other hazardous events. An onboard computer decides which data is relevant, and sends the selected data anonymized to the HERE cloud platform. A team of nearly 3,000 specialists cross-references all new information with existing data, and updates HERE maps accordingly.
HERE’s technology goes beyond capturing and updating data, it organizes said data to generate actionable insights and is contextually aware. HERE breaks down data into guidance for self-driving cars, such as identifying the meanings of lane markings or traffic signs and distinguishing a bush from a person; an alert system then transmits data to other HERE-powered vehicles through HERE’s dashboard services.
The company was founded in Chicago in 1985, and later acquired by Nokia and integrated with Nokia Maps, which became the largest maker of automotive-grade map data for car navigation. In December 2015, BMW, Audi and Daimler – traditionally rivals – outbid Uber to acquire HERE for $3.1 billion. At that time, HERE had 6,500 employees, and earned $1.3 billion in revenues and $110 million in profit before interest and taxes. HERE operates as independent entity, but managers from the OEMs sit on HERE’s board of directors. In January 2017, Intel bought a 15 percent stake in the company. HERE is seeking additional co-investors, ideally one tech company, an online retailer and two more car manufacturers.
HERE’s main competitor is Google, which for years has been working on vehicle automation and excels in analytics, data processing and artificial intelligence. Google, however, failed to recognize the need to make itself indispensable to the auto industry before it attempted to capture leadership and market share. Its vertical integration strategy was premature, deployed at a point when it needed OEMs to reach commercial volume more than OEMs needed Google for its autonomous driving technology. Furthermore, automakers are afraid their traditional business will become marginalized in the world of autonomous driving, giving them every incentive to resist cooperating with the advertising and analytics giant that has a track-record in extracting value out of data and shows efforts to cut them out of the value chain of digital services.
HERE, on the other hand, has a low-threat profile and positioned itself as a benign facilitator and cross-ecosystem-builder by developing a comprehensive data platform in a world of usually siloed automotive brands and suppliers. With 90% automotive market share, HERE has access to significantly larger volumes of sensor data than Google or any other competitor. It should continue to collect as much relevant mapping data as possible from automotive, consumer, and enterprise clients (e.g. Uber, Amazon, Alibaba fleets). HERE could now move a step further and appeal to its OEM platform clients to build a universal pool of anonymized raw data, available for access non-discriminatory to all parties in service and pricing, which would be a competitive advantage vis-à-vis Google’s data scarcity.
In June 2016, HERE submitted a design for SENSORIS, its global vehicle-to-cloud data standard. By encouraging data standardization and enforcing a uniform set of tech specifications, HERE does not only guarantee a certain data quality and improves efficiency, but also raises barriers to entry against the development of alternatives, renders technical costs too high for clients and ecosystem partners to break way, and ensures that any single player’s data will be less useful and efficient than the same data on the HERE platform.