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It’s a ‘small’ world

Every company, including Esri, was at one time an SME (small & medium enterprise). Small businesses are a seed of innovation; they often are places where new ideas can be birthed and tried out. They are also often close to end-users and are best able to respond to their needs. Today, many of the companies that were start-ups in 1960s and 1970s have become large geospatial companies with toolsets and partner programmes that enable small businesses to develop their solutions faster without the risks those early start-ups faced. This has resulted in thousands of new businesses being created and extended, some becoming large companies in geospatial marketplace.

Esri’s experience and history provide a good pattern to understand the functioning of SMEs. We have seen five kinds of companies that have been very successful in this industry.

Database creation companies
These include companies that do survey and mapping, data conversion and aerial photography. Having a strong COTS GIS software platform for data creation process has contributed to their success. Initially, this was a high-risk business. Conversion vendors typically used a combination of their own software as well as CAD and surveying software to create and automate more intelligent map data, resulting in quality issues, particularly when the data was completed for use in GIS. Gradually, most of them migrated to the GIS software platform and dramatically lowered the risk by creating ‘GIS-ready’ datasets. Many of them have added GIS services to their list of offerings.

These are companies with GIS technical knowledge that help end-users understand their needs and design GIS systems (technology, databases, applications, workflows and organisational/governance) as well as work plans for their implementation. Here, the COTS platform has made this effort far easier and lowered the risk of end-users.

System integrators
These are organisations (small and big) which implement systems. They take databases, hardware, GIS software and other software applications and craft complete systems for agencies or businesses. These systems bring together all the components of the GIS and provide them as working systems for end-user organisations. Sometimes these companies build custom interfaces between systems. Many SMEs have been able to work with the end-users in bringing all the various pieces of the GIS together and provide services to manage these systems as well.

Application software developers
These companies leverage the core GIS platform to build end-user solutions for specific industries and workflows such as engineering, emergency management, cartography, asset management and hundreds of others. The main focus of these organisations is to build applications that respond to very specific end-user needs. Companies that build these industry-specific applications often wind up productising their development and selling it to others. They are most in need of developer-oriented technology with good documentation and software development kits. There is a huge marketplace for these solutions.

Web developers
These are interested in building simple maps and business location applications based on web services. This market is a fastgrowing area and promises to be the largest and most pervasive.

Most successful entrepreneurs have fundamentally had a vision or a passion to make a difference. A number of them subsequently sold their businesses to become part of a large organisation that took their ideas to scale. One of the fundamental elements driving success it to have this passion to invent or create something. This passion is more than simply financial success. It often involves making an impact on society or the world.

The challenge is to reach out to the new web community that is less interested in the details of GIS technology and more interested in having simple mapping APIs that can be embedded and used to build their applications. There awaits a huge opportunity for geospatial industry to leverage the work it has already done to help the new community. This is a new and exciting business for the geospatial industry and one that promises many rewards for SME participants.