API manager opens up road to new profits for MapQuest

MapQuest screen

The words “application program interface” (API) may conjure up images of programmers rather than profits, but for a growing number of information service providers, APIs are practically a form of currency.

APIs are Web service provider use to expose services so that other applications can use them. For example, a credit bureau may make credit checks available as a service via an API so that loan processing applications can tap into it. The credit bureau takes a few cents for each transaction.

Mapquest Inc. has long used APIs to use to expose its mapping services to paying customers, who use them for everything from store locators to logistics management. But until recently the process was manually intensive and slow. Apigee Edge API management software from Apigee Corp. has changed all that.

MapQuest is using Apigee to enable customers to tap into it services without manual processing. Not only has the software saved many hours of manual labor, the ability to enable customer self-service has expanded the business to include smaller clients that previously didn’t boost the bottom line.

Where am I?

MapQuest customers use its services for a variety of location-based needs. For example, a retailer with multiple locations can plug into MapQuest APIs to display stores on a map, along with driving directions. Many industrial customers use MapQuest for route optimization or to monitor driving conditions for their mobile service vehicles. MapQuest is now rolling out an asset tracking system that lets business customers track the location of shipments in near-real-time.

Prior to bringing in Apigee, “You’d call us and estimate how many transactions you needed per month. We’d send out a PO and estimate, based on your transaction limit, how much you’d pay us per month,” said Brad Maglinger, Mapquest’s head of product. “It was a very involved process.”

So was tracking and auditing. “We knew people would go over their usage quotas, but it would be the end of the year before we’d be able to track them down,” Maglinger said.

Serve yourself

Now MapQuest exposes it services through a landing page where customers can sign up for a free basic service or tiered services based upon monthly transactions. Mom-and-pop operations, which might have previously been unprofitable to serve because of the amount of labor involved, can now fill out a simple form, get an API key and be in business.

Instead of going through a painstaking manual process of showing customers how to place their locations on a map, MapQuest lets them upload a spreadsheet of addresses and plots locations automatically.

“You’re talking about 10 minutes to be up and running,” Maglinger said. “It used to be days.”

Self-service has helped grow MapQuest’s business. About 45 percent of the users of its free service eventually upgrade to paid packages. By all but removing the barriers to setting up free accounts, the company has seen a 33 percent growth in the number of paying customers in the first half of this year. Cost savings haven’t been estimated, but Maglinger said they’re substantial.

And Apigee has enabled the company to shift resources from customer service to product development for its ever-expanding portfolio of APIs. “We’re now building new software development kits on a constant basis,” Maglinger said. “Apigee has freed us to have more internal resources to do that instead of answering phones.”