‘Interactive geo e-Learning will become a game changer’

‘Interactive geo e-Learning will become a game changer’

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Arina Stepman
Arina Stepman
Business Development Manager
4CGrid, Belgium

Specialising in geospatial online training, 4CGrid, a two-year old Belgian-based company, is making its mark worldwide with customised and interactive training approach.

What is the mission and vision of 4CGrid?

4CGrid is a geospatial ICT incubator. Our mission is to support professional and efficient personnel performance by transferring geospatial knowledge and developing operational skills. To achieve this, our main goal is to ensure the delivery of high quality project consultancy, project implementation, support and customised trainings. We find the best suitable solutions for our customers and make sure they are being smoothly implemented in their operations.

What are the main business areas and geographic coverage of your operations?

Our customers are from different industries, either related to geospatial domain – mining, oil & gas, utilities & rail, marine, or not directly related to it, e.g. entertainment. We support both private and governmental organisations, as well as end-users – surveyors, engineers that would like to get advice on which software and hardware is best for their tasks, to learn working with it in the office or in the field or to update their skills and/or knowledge.

4CGrid is based in Brussels. We provide quite some training in Belgium and other European countries. But Europe is not the limit. We are very mobile; during just two years of operations, we’ve provided trainings to South and Central America, Middle East, Africa… The furthest we travelled to was New Caledonia. Quite a distance! So our geographic coverage is basically the world map and this aspect works well within our multilingual team (on a good professional level we speak in total 5 languages – English, French, Dutch, German and Russian).

Where did the idea of GeoICT incubation service come from?

4CGrid is a spinoff of two Belgian companies – a geospatial solution provider for Belgium and Luxembourg and its training company. Our main shareholder, Marianne Couderé, has been receiving many geospatial consulting and training requests from abroad. She has also foreseen a global need for integrated learning approach and customised trainings. Hence, together with 2 other shareholders, Marianne started 4CGrid.

Which are the business domains that you focus on and why?

4CGrid supports and works closely with different types of organisations. Some of them are top geospatial manufacturers of hardware and software that, with implementation of our interactive e-Learning, can benefit from added product value and proposition of efficient and innovative trainings to their end-users. As an example, we have worked with Trimble to produce e-Learning on their field and office software, Trimble TerraSync and GPS Pathfinder Office. Such e-Learning could be beneficial to any manufacturer with an international users base, e.g. Leica, Topcon etc. and also to smaller companies, if they target different markets, e.g. software developers like AgiSoft, Carlson Software, Pythagoras and others.

Another type of organisations we work closely with and want to focus on is governments. Governmental organisations see the business realities and have to go hand in hand with businesses and sometimes innovate even more in their non-manufacturing business. They are learning to be more efficient in processes, teamwork and delivering outstanding service to their users. That is where 4CGrid can support organisations in building up their first steps in this direction and implementing customised trainings and unique information transfer solutions – both for employees and the end-users.

Do you see good market prospect for this kind of service in the long run?

E-Learning gives many benefits to end-users, being a bit similar to studying in a classroom but with the flexibility of location and time. Speaking of interactive geospatial e-Learning, we believe that it is in its starting phase, and we’re pioneering in this area. We receive positive feedback from our customers, including educational organisations. So we definitely believe in the high potential of geo e-Learning.

We believe the requests for classroom trainings, support and proof of concept will be more and more towards customised trainings, will require more mobility from trainers and more collaboration between different service and solutions providers. There will always be a need for one-on-one trainings and personalised approach but online trainings will have a much higher growth rate and a user base whereas the conventional trainings requirements will stagnate. As soon as companies start looking at long-term benefits and stop concentrating on fast return, interactive geo e-Learning will become a game changer and the key to end-users’ hearts, which will help move this industry further.

SMEs are considered as the interface between technology MNCs and end users. How does 4CGrid fit into this role?

In this sense 4CGrid would be an independent consultant and a liaison between MNCs and end-users. We analyse the market and the users’ needs from an independent outlook, we speak to both sides, apply our experience and knowledge of best practices, and we propose and build up solutions based on these analysis. So both MNCs and users can talk to us to find solutions for their challenges.

What are the challenges that SMEs face in Europe?

For geospatial SMEs, the challenge is to catch up with the rapidly-evolving industry. In the last 15 years, the nature of geospatial business has changed a lot, shifting from a few big companies to many small ones. The technology is developing so fast that by the time you have figured out your business model, it has already changed and you have to adapt. You need to be always up to date and be ahead of others. It is difficult for SMEs to focus on operation and market research and strategy at the same time. Here is where 4CGrid steps in to support other SMEs in the geospatial domain.

The next major challenge would be financial investment. It is relatively easy to start a business but taxes can as easily kill it. It is a difficult decision for SMEs to hire full-time employees: many SMEs in the first years of operations have to work with independent workers and freelancers and keep a small core team. Without strong support from financial institutions, it’s hard for SMEs to breathe and develop organically. Government should look into how to support SMEs’ growth so we, too, can contribute to the country’s economy.

Based on your service demands, are there any industries that you see emerging as new users of geospatial technology?

Geospatial technology has always been connecting many fields and applications. If we speak about recent development, the UAV technology is definitely one of the main drivers to bring new users to the geo community. Its rapid growth is also driven by the fact that the technology looks so appealing to many non-geospatial industries for its clear benefits and easy use. Entertainment, retail, travel industries have definitely become some of the new users of the geo technology in this area.

However, it’s always important to keep in mind that each business area requires its professionals. It’s easy to step in a new business but without a proper education and training, one cannot reach the results that he or she wants. The challenge is not only to get the data but mostly to interpret the information it provides. Therefore, for non-geospatial industries to emerge into “geo world” may not be that easy.

What are your growth plans in the next 5 years?

Being located in the heart of Europe, we are quite mobile and are already globally active. Permanent physical presence in different countries is not really required in our business. However, it is important to be available for customers, be flexible for different time zones, and in some cases to provide our service 24/7. We are looking for additional investments in the company to expand the team, have stronger marketing to become more visible to customers and build up a solid portfolio of geospatial online trainings. Within the next 5 years we see 4CGrid as the number 1 provider of professional and unique geospatial e-Learning, well recognised within and outside of Europe.