Last month, Grab officially launched  GrabMaps as an enterprise service. They seem quite bullish about it – in the release Grab said that mapping and location-based services in Southeast Asia was a $1 billion market. 

Actually, Grab Maps has been in development for quite a while now. According to Grab’s press release, ‘they aim to be self-sufficient with Grab Maps by Q3 2022’ – that means, the only country where Grab is not using its own maps (Indonesia) will switch over very soon. 

So why is Grab building a map? 

It probably started with the cost considerations. At Grab’s scale and frequency of usage, they would probably be paying Google hundreds of millions of dollars for using Google Maps API every year. Building the map capabilities in-house will probably cost less than the figure – and this cost is not recurring. 

Especially when Grab does have some advantages over Google – as a location-based app offering multiple services including ride-hailing and deliveries, Grab needs the maps to be accurate. It also means any inaccuracies will be fed back to Grab customer service – imagine a customer not being able to find the driver or a delivery rider not being able to find the house of the recipient. 

Over years that system should theoretically give Grab a very good database of points of interest, traffic conditions etc. 

Since that infrastructure has already been built, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be monetized. There are plenty of customers, from government authorities to fleet managers, who would probably be paying Google millions of dollars that could switch over to a good enough, more localised service. 

Grab has the potential to offer more customisation and tailored layers to its customers as well – for example, a cement fleet owner can decide a road should be shut in the map because a cement truck won’t be able to pass, but that should not affect other customers of the Maps. 

Grab is not the only company developing local maps. In China, Alibaba’s Gaode and Baidu have built fairly sophisticated maps; while DoorDash, Zomato and Swiggy have all started building their own maps. Former Grab executives also founded Nextbillion.ai to take some of this expertise to the global level – working with clients as far as the Middle East and the United States.  

With companies flipping their costs into potential revenue streams, mapping is definitely an interesting space to watch.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at hello@mworks.asia.