CEO & Chairman, AAM
Having established a strong presence in Asia and South Africa, AAM is now looking at Africa as the next big destination. Scott Ramage, CEO & Chairman, gives some glimpses into the company’s future strategy and evolving technologies
AAM serves a diverse range of industries, from resources to infrastructure to finance. What are the key focus areas of your business and services?
AAM’s key focus area is mining. Even though expansion in the mining sector is slowing down, it still remains our largest area of operation in terms of mines maintenance and management. In fact we get more geospatial requirement in the operation phases of a mine as opposed to its expansion. Second on the list is the construction sector — both land survey and airborne survey — for managing major infrastructure projects. This applies to our operations in Australia and Africa. However, in Asia we are much more about infrastructure and infrastructure management.
Right now we are focusing on construction, asset management and infrastructure development, which we see as a natural shift, particularly in Australia. Construction in Asia is booming. Also, there is a strong demand for analysis work in major infrastructure jobs such as roads and railways. We have been doing a lot of work in relation to slopes and landslides in Malaysia, which is quite topical since there have been quite a few failures of late. So, we have surveyed hundreds of kilometres of roads to enable authorities to manage those more effectively and put in remedial measures in risk-prone areas.
AAM currently operates in Australasia, Asia Pacific and African markets; any plans for geographical expansion?
We don’t plan to go too far beyond the regions that we have carved out for ourselves. We started in Australia and are based in Australia. We know that the Northern hemisphere — Europe and America — is already served well by Geospatial/GIS companies. We don’t see any great value in trying to move into those markets all by ourselves. However, the markets in Southern hemisphere and Asia are much less developed. The needs in Africa, more specifically in the mining sector, are very much the same as in Australia. So it is very easy to translate the capabilities that we developed in Australia into the African context.
We are planning to invest more in the less developed markets. Since Australia is a very mature market, so there will be a continuous geospatial need. But in terms of expansion, Africa and Asia offer greater opportunities. At the moment we are putting quite a lot of our energy in Africa since it is a very difficult region to cover; it takes a fair bit of effort to get your business known across so many countries. Most certainly, we are seeing some big projects coming out of Africa.
AAM announced its merger with Vekta, another strong Australian geospatial company with almost similar line of services. What was the strategy behind this?
For a long time AAM and Vekta worked together on projects that neither of the companies could fulfil on its own. From the outside both companies look pretty much the same — we both do aerial survey and land survey. But we also complement each other quite nicely. AAM is much stronger in airborne survey while Vekta has deeper land survey capabilities. In terms of land survey too, while AAM is strong in industrial survey and mine survey, Vekta has a strong niche in construction and high-rise development. So we have that nice synergy to balance our portfolios in terms of capability.
Strategically, we wanted to take a leap forward in terms of the size and breadth of our capabilities. As I said, we need to develop ways where we can actually capture and deliver data more quickly and efficiently. To do that, you need a stronger and better resourced enterprise. Both our companies were at a point where we were trying to do this separately. It was much better to do this together.
You announced that the merged entity’s combined revenue is exceeding A$75 million. What is your revenue forecast going forward? Any further acquisitions in the offing?
We have set ourselves a target of over A$100 million in the next two to three years. We are not planning any more acquisitions at this time but will maintain an eye on strategic opportunities. The focus is more on organic growth and developing further on the platform that we have already built.
In Australia, AAM and Vekta are substantial in size. We intend to bring these two companies together and operate as one entity. The integration of the two businesses is well underway.
Our core has been geospatial content through airborne image and LiDAR capture and land survey. Geospatial content is ever increasing in demand as communities and businesses are realising the value of up-todate location information. Having said this, AAM is focusing on expanding the utility of the data we supply through cloud based delivery and advanced analysis and viewing tools. Another aspect we are focusing on is to provide our data efficiently across mobile devices and distribute it effectively across our customer enterprises.
A 3D city model of Sydney by AAM
A trend we can see out of these acquisition/convergence trends is that technology companies are now moving towards solution-centric approach. How do you see this trend affecting the dynamics of the ecosystem?
It impacts our business in one sense. Companies that we purchase our systems from are now providing services as well. However, in a business environment where customers are looking for very rich datasets, the demand is growing. So, while there is competition from more players than ever before, the market too has grown greatly. It is larger geospatial businesses with global resources such as AAM that will have the capacity to satisfy this growing demand. The system manufacturers are obviously very good at providing the systems and have moved into bundling solutions for non-geospatial users such as the agriculture sector. Our strong suit is providing complex solutions and undertaking large surveys for major projects.
Who is your biggest competitor in terms of the services and geographies you serve?
It’s a pretty easy answer. Fugro is our strongest competitor, both in Australia and in Africa. It’s not quite clear who is our strongest competitor in the Asian market because there are a number of small players.
Interoperability is a popular term these days in our industry. Being a system integrator, how important is interoperability for you?
Interoperability is becoming increasingly important as customers are expecting to be able to stack-in our data along with data from other providers; so we need to make our data work with many other data sources. Therefore, interoperability is paramount.
AAM is building its own library of GIS-ready digital content. Will this be one of your business focuses in the future?
Absolutely. We have been developing datasets that we provide on-sale for around 10 years and we will continue to do this. We don’t tend to go out and capture very large areas completely on speculation. We develop targetted datasets which we know have a strong market demand.
Over the years we have warehoused large datasets covering multiple epochs. They are valuable in the community and we will continue to maintain and add to them. What is changing is the accessibility of these datasets through the Web.
AAM is known for its technology innovations. How do you see mapping technologies evolving in the next 10 years?
I have always said our sector is much more about evolution as opposed to foreseeing radical changes. Having said this, the pace of evolution accelerates. For AAM, it’s going to be about the richness of the datasets, all in a 3D environment and Web enabled, with more sophisticated applications to view and manage this data.
There is much more that can be achieved to develop the presentation of data on mobile devices and in a rich 3D form. The merging of the actual built environment and augmented visualisation will explode in the years ahead. The 3D visualisation of the external environment is becoming widely available in urban areas but this will be fused with public internal spaces to allow the user explore and analyse seamlessly inside and out.
Another evolution that is occurring and will expand greatly in the next five years is airborne capture from unmanned vehicles. Whilst the process has started, it will take a while because the regulatory environment needs to be developed. This will allow more cost-effective capture of very detailed information, in confined areas.
So AAM is moving towards UAV as well?
Yes. The system will augment capture from our larger manned platforms. We see that multiple unmanned devices, probably even different types will be deployed by AAM as the regulator allows.