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“The geospatial industry community is growing rapidly”

Executive director,
Atheeb Intergraph Saudi COMPANY,
riyadh, kingdom of saudi arabia
[email protected]

Atheeb Intergraph Saudi Company and its sister company, Intergraph Middle East LLC headquartered in Dubai, distributes and supports Intergraph products and provide ancillary system development, system and data integration. In this interview Mr. John M Sasser, Executive Director of the company shares his views about the evolving market scenario, the various user segments and the future of the GIS industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is witnessing wide usage of GIS and the varied industries are now recognising the importance of the technology. In your opinion in which direction is the geospatial industry in the Kingdom moving towards?
The trend in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the use of geospatial systems and data is very much like that everywhere else. Executive management of the Saudi municipal, utilities and planning agencies in the Kingdom have recognized that associating their geospatial data with their asset, resource, finance, planning and budgeting, and other corporate systems leverages the value of these other systems, and, consequently, they are moving rapidly to integrate these geospatial systems within their Enterprise computing environment. This trend is being enabled by the advent of web-based GIS technology and the movement of the GIS system vendors to open their GIS data structures. This trend has precipitated others. As geospatial data goes mainstream within the enterprise, the need for the geospatial data to be accurate and current becomes fundamental. This has led many agencies to field-verify their geospatial data and to re-examine the business processes they have in place, to ensure timely and accurate updates. Some have awarded geospatial data verification and update contracts, but there is increasing consideration being given to outsource entirely the process for collecting, maintaining and verifying an agency’s geospatial data on an ongoing basis. Although creating and maintaining geospatial data is vital to an agency, it is often tangential to its core business activity, and outsourcing becomes a cost-effective alternative.

Whether an agency elects to create and maintain their geospatial data themselves or outsource it, the investment in such is not trivial. This has prompted many agencies in the Kingdom to seek ways in which they can sell their geospatial data to third parties to offset their production costs. Many municipal and utilities agencies are actively studying alternative models, and you can expect to see many such experiments in the next few years. Finally, in recent months there have been important initiatives by a few key agencies in the Kingdom to establish the warehouse and portal infrastructure for the sharing of geospatial data among partnering and contributing agencies who would remain responsible for creating and maintaining their own geospatial data. These initiatives are predicated on interoperability and therefore have the potential to result in the widespread adoption of geospatial data and system standards across the Kingdom. Sophisticated metadata management tools will be a fundamental enabling technology for these initiatives – the most sophisticated I’m aware of for any geospatial data project in the region.

Please tell us about the activities of Atheeb Intergraph Saudi Company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? What are the various products and services, which you are offering?
Atheeb Intergraph Saudi Company and its sister company, Intergraph Middle East LLC headquartered in Dubai, distribute and support Intergraph products and provide ancillary system development, system and data integration, and O&M support services for these products. Mirroring Intergraph’s basic product lines, we address 5 business segments: 1) Mapping and image processing, 2) GIS, 3) Utilities plant management systems, 4) Process plant information management systems, and 5) Emergency response management systems. We believe that we have several key advantages. First, Intergraph’s GeoMedia technology enables direct, native and real-time interoperability with multi-vendor, geospatial data warehouses without having to create closed intermediate geospatial data using proprietary middleware. Second, Intergraph’s geospatial data formats are openly published. Thirdly, we have a very large and highly qualified technical staff presence in the Kingdom and throughout the region to support our clients.

We find on-site, same time zone, same workweek support to be vital to success of any high-tech project. Moreover, we have rather extensive experience in the region managing large geospatial projects. Finally, we have been in the Middle East for more than 20 years and know the geospatial community very well. Often, our clients find it beneficial to know what other agencies involved in geospatial projects are planning and doing.

How do you perceive the trends evolving in the geospatial industry in the entire Middle East region? Which application areas are emerging as the most proactive user segments?
I believe the trends I described in the Kingdom are equally applicable to developments throughout the region. Regarding the most proactive user segment, this is difficult to specify. There are enterprising individuals throughout the region spearheading new geospatial projects in many diverse applications. The mapping agencies, municipal town planning departments, the public utilities and oil companies have each been very active for years. Similarly so for the process plant owner/operators and EPC contractors. I might say that newest users are those in the security, command and control, and public safety agencies.

What role do you perceive of regional cooperation in maturing the industry?
The experience of others can be a catalyst, a reality-check, and a guide. Intra-regional geospatial data exchange is not in the offing any time soon, but the exchange of experiences is well underway in a variety of regional forums. The geospatial industry community is growing rapidly, and the number of conferences and exhibitions addressing specifically this industry group is keeping pace. At some point soon, I believe that future conferences will need to consider focusing on specific geospatial industry segments to maintain participant interest.

May you mention some your interesting and worthwhile case study services? What are your immediate plans for the future in terms of products, services and technology?
We’ve been involved in many interesting projects in the region for a wide variety of customers. We believe the outside plant management systems we’ve provided to the Saudi Telephone Company, Batelco and Omantel are each highly capable and productive systems. Our work with the Dubai Municipality to develop a navigation and routing application that integrates a Dubai basemap with road network impactors and real-time traffic information that is accessible across the Internet or on the PDA via GPRS is an exciting development.

While we shall continue to aggressively pursue each of the geospatial market segments I mentioned earlier, Atheeb Intergraph has been actively targeting the LBS market, which we think will become significant very soon. We have also completed development of a mid-range solution to Intergraph’s high-end public safety solution used by 911 agencies which we believe will more appropriately address local user requirements at a far more attractive price point.

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