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Technology & Business: Infoterra’s winning formula

By [email protected] - 5th November 2008 - 10:43

Dave Fox, CEO of Infoterra Ltd, talks with GeoConnexion about the recent acquisition of Imass Ltd and how this will fit into the Infoterra Group, part of the Earth Observation Division of euro giant, Astrium.
GEO: WHAT IS THE RATIONALE BEHIND THIS ACQUISITION?DF: The first aspect to this is that the shareholder EADS Astrium is very keen to develop service related businesses and Infoterra Ltd, as part of the wider Infoterra Group, is at the forefront of this drive within the geospatial sector. EADS Astrium recently purchased the majority share in Spot Image so there is a pattern of their building capabilities and a portfolio of businesses in this area.In the UK we are particularly interested in growing our domestic footprint and are looking for new companies as partners whose business sits alongside what we do. We clearly identified that in Imass, who are predominantly a company that develops software with a strong GIS component, and have a great track record in delivering real solutions that people use every day. We also saw the potential to get very close to the users in Imassâ core markets, particularly utilities and public safety â police, fire, ambulance, and recognised the potential to leverage our increasing portfolio of data products, particularly 3D, into these markets which could benefit greatly through improved access to such products.The third aspect is that we met the people (at Imass) and liked the culture, the strong management and very strong technical skills which we can combine with Infoterraâs market access. Imass is focused strongly and deeply on a small number of markets, which they understand very well, whereas Infoterra has focused on a wider range of markets, so we could see the potential to use their business model and their technology to become more deeply embedded in some of our existing markets. GEO: WHAT DO YOU SEE IS CURRENTLY MISSING IN THESE MARKETS WHICH YOU THINK INFOTERRA AND IMASS CAN THEN SUPPLY? DF: Imass technology enables the free flow of geospatial and other relevant information direct, and in real-time, to both users in the field, such as fire officers, or to those managing events from a control centre. To date, most of the geospatial information provided is in the form of 2D mapping. The addition of imagery and detailed urban 3D models of either individual properties or a whole city into this delivery stream can enhance the usersâ contextual understanding of the environment they are operating within, and thus aid decision making and operational responsiveness. GEO: IMASS UNDERSTAND THE \'CULTURE\' OF ENGINEERING MARKET. WHICH OTHER MARKETS COULD TAKE ADVANTAGES OF THESE REJUVENATED INFOTERRA/IMASS EXPANSION MODELS? DF: We are currently assessing which markets to target in this manner. However, Infoterra has made considerable strides of late in both the insurance sector within the UK, and in land administration/cadastral markets overseas, and by combining the skill sets of the two businesses we feel that we can enhance our offer in both these sectors.GEO: HOW THIS WILL FIT WITH THE OVERALL STRUCTURE OF EADS?DF: EADS is the prime contractor for fire control - although this is a different part of EADS than the part (Astrium Services) which owns us - but that wonât affect how Imass works for EADS. However it greatly strengthens EADSâ offering in the public safety sector and for that reason EADS has been very supportive of the acquisition.EADS, a multibillion euro group, is our ultimate shareholder. It is comprised of a number of different businesses of which Airbus is the probably the most well-known, but which also includes other large businesses such as Eurocopter, Military Transport Aircraft, Defence and Security, and a space technology and services business called Astrium. Within Astrium there are three elements: Astrium Satellites, Astrium Space Transportation, which builds launchers like Ariane and parts of the International Space Station, and Astrium Services. The Astrium Services business covers secure communications, navigation services and, earth observation services. So the structure is EADS â Astrium â Astrium Services, and then the Earth Observation Division, which incorporates Spot Image and the Infoterra Group, both of which have operations in a number of European countries and beyond.GEO: WITH THE TYPE OF DATA YOU NOW PRODUCE WHAT IS THE PROSPECT FOR CONVERGENCE WITH CAD TYPE PRODUCTS?DF: In this sector, Imass is essentially a reseller of Autodesk products and Infoterra has been doing a similar job for ERDAS in the UK (selling the ERDAS imaging software) and we have already seen the benefit of leveraging Imassâ expertise in this kind of business. And we are looking to build upon Imassâ relationship with Autodesk, but this is at an early stage.However, there is convergence too with the type of data we are now able to produce with Rapid Surveyor⢠- mobile laser mapping system. The level of accuracy and granularity is now increasing to such a degree you are starting to see convergence with CAD modelling, particularly in the architectural sector.Infoterra is currently enhancing it\'s comprehensive portfolio of UK 3D data, not only by updating our airborne LiDAR data by creating an even denser and more accurate product, but also by making available the most accurate urban data through systematic use of the Rapid Surveyor technology. Our programme will map every UK city centre to levels of detail and accuracy which have simply never been achieved before. We will be releasing more details of this programme in the very near future.GEO: WHAT THEN IS YOUR MAIN MESSAGE TO OUR READERSHIP?DF: First, we are putting together two highly complementary businesses. With my Infoterra hat on we are looking to really learn from Imass - how they deeply understand their customers and serve them . Then we want Imass to access a wider range of markets than they do today, because although as an SME they have grown quite quickly, they have now hit a ceiling in terms of their growth. With our access to a broader range of markets and international connections we believe we can grow that business. Infoterra also has good products and technology, and by combining them with Imassâs portfolio we can really improve our service to all our customers.GEO: THROUGH THE SUMMER WE HAVE SEEN ACCELERATION IN ACQUISITIONS AND CONSOLIDATION IN THE INDUSTRY â IS THIS A SIGN OF SOMETHING HAPPENING?DF: I think the consolidation has been going on for the last couple of years and shows no signs of slowing down. I think itâs a sign of GIS and geo-information becoming embedded into larger business processes - we are not operating in a niche sector any more. As a result you are seeing larger and larger players getting involved and EADS is one example of that.GEO: FOLLOWING ON FROM THAT DO YOU THINK THAT IF THE âGYM CLUBâ REALLY MOVED INTO THE SECTOR THEY WOULD IN EFFECT DOMINATE IT?DF: Obviously, there has been a great deal of activity by such players, where for example Google has acquired niche technology companies to strengthen their own offering but how far they will move into the service sector has yet to be seen. What we are seeing though is new, large companies investing in both geo-information services and related technology businesses, such as Autodesk and the Fugro Group, all addressing geo-information from different perspectives, but all converging towards a central place within the geospatial sector.

Author: Maria Pellegrini

Bio.: Editor, Geoconnexion Ltd, [email protected]

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Mapping the environment â meeting the 3D data challenge

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