December 12, 2002
Motorola Begins Visualizing Investments
By using nontraditional search technology from one of its portfolio companies, Motorola's venture-capital arm hopes to make better use of its technology investments
By Tony Kontzer
Motorola Inc. wants to make better use of the technology produced by companies in its Motorola Ventures investment portfolio, and it's employing a nontraditional search technology to make that happen. The venture-capital arm of the mobile-phone maker has turned to Thinkmap, an information-visualization technology produced by one of its portfolio companies, Plumb Design Inc., to create a three-dimensional representation of its 45 majority investments.
The unnamed application went live on Motorola's intranet portal last month. Displayed as a sort of molecular diagram of terminology, it uses type sizes and colors to indicate the relationships between portfolio companies based on a taxonomy that describes investments, inherent technologies, potential markets, and Motorola's business objectives. The tool also includes embedded processes related to investment decisions, such as executive sign-off, competitive and financial analysis, and due diligence. The company is planning next month to launch an extranet version that will provide venture partners with access to the full application; a more-limited view of the portfolio will be accessible to the public, says Matthew Growney, managing director of Motorola Ventures.
Motorola invested in some of companies to support strategic initiatives, but other parts of Motorola were unaware that the investments existed, Growney says. The goal of the application is to make sure the company is getting as much value from the investments as possible. It's also serving as a test run of the technology, which Growney says may be used to expose the company's 220-plus minority investments, as well as its vast patent portfolio, parts catalog, and product inventory.
Motorola invested in some of companies to support strategic initiatives, but Carsten Wierwille, VP of client services for Plumb, says that because traditional search engines can be problematic if users aren't quite sure what they're looking for, actually displaying the metadata that defines content can prove effective. "We can pick up where a lot of search technologies leave off," Wierwille says.
Visualization technologies such as Plumb's Thinkmap have been around for several years, but have proven to be too exotic to have impact as business tools, Jupiter Research analyst Matthew Berk says. He wonders whether Motorola will be able to overcome the learning curve users will face in getting used to a new application, but he applauds any approaches that go beyond the typical search-and-find paradigm. "It's certainly an interesting use of that type of technology," he says.
Thinkmap has been on the market for four years, the last two as an off-the-shelf application. Pricing starts at $20,000 per server.