President & CEO, Ambercore Software
Most of your products and services focus on acquisition of data through ground and aerial surveying. Do you think these technologies will overtake satellite remote sensing?
There are different types of spatial information. Certainly there is satellite, certainly there is remote sensing that takes different ways varying from laser to acoustic to seismic and certainly there are different formats. It is important to identify these as different elements of one single industry and bring the different formats together, just like the telecommunications industry looks at voice and fax and data as different types of information. The GIS industry must bring all types of information together. This is what we do. We are certainly in the business of collecting information with very large data sets and we have software that can handle such large laser datasets. Our expertise enables us to bring different types of three and four dimensional data – sometimes even two dimensional data. This data fusion is the key to extract competitive information that facilitates the best analysis out of the spatial data.
How do you deal with interoperability issues?
Talking about software interoperability, all our software use modular C++ code. We have a reusable code library. It is .net based. We have data APIs, plug-in APIs. We are working with Autodesk and our software will help Autodesk deal with large 3D data. We have developed software that can handle different types of data, that can handle the geographic reference into a common format and the best part is we have no limit on the file size. Many software run out of steam working around a few million points. We have been able to deal with billions of points. That’s our specialty.
Do you see your software getting integrated with open source software available online?
One has to be careful with open source software. We certainly welcome open software initiative and we support it. There are many good things about open source software but there is a difference between open source and open architecture. We certainly are open architecture where we allow other software to work with us. But, because our software is special, we patent algorithms and produce immense value, we don’t have a business model that opens this software up to everyone in a way where they can simply reuse it. We license our software and that is our business.
Your products are meant for enterprise-scale implementation. How cost effective are they for scaled-down implementations?
We often promote our products at enterprise scale. However, it doesn’t mean they cannot be scaled down to smaller implementations. In fact, a typical sale cycle begins with a smaller implementation. Many of our clients derive advantage by using our software and by allowing
different departments to communicate and look at the same information. You might think that many large companies are already doing this but the truth is there are many more who are not doing it and this is a great market opportunity.
You mean to say customers are only the big departments, not the general public?
We typically sell to companies – public and private enterprises. We also sell to governments. We do not have for example, a Web based model, where individuals can use the software. Our software is of engineering scale. Typically, a large engineering company, department of transportation, energy or mining company may be interested in our software. We have offices in Canada, US, Europe, Eastern Europe and South Africa. We are now looking to move to India. India is witnessing so much activity in terms of infrastructure, transportation etc. The economy is growing so rapidly that we believe our software will be quite useful in places like India.
Do you have plans to enter into Software as a Service (SAAS) model?
SAAS is an interesting and exciting trend. We are certainly looking at this, because this model cannot only span the gamut of general public but also inter and intra company. So you can deploy, for example, SAAS, in a large company, the same way you deploy it for individuals. This is exactly the kind of model we are looking at and this is exactly the type of functionality our enterprise solution is moving towards. This is a strong trend and you will see it evolving further.
Could you enumerate a few trends that the GIS software development industry is witnessing?
There are lots of exciting things happening right now. First, the world of spatial information and GIS, which has been fragmented for many years, started embracing many IT concepts, looking seriously at elements that would unify the industry. Spatial information is a special type of information. It has certain attributes. In some ways it is structured, and in some ways it is unstructured data. Being able to work with both of these is a strong trend emerging in the industry right now. Another strong trend is the use of spatial data as a distinct type of data that needs to be analysed in specific ways, stored in specific ways, moved and managed in specific ways.
These are exciting times for GIS and for a 4D company like ours because information is maturing and people are recognising that it’s not just a simple map. It is information that needs to be taken care of. For us, the idea that GIS is maturing to a point where information is being treated intelligently in a more unified, standardised way than before is exciting. On top of this, software itself is maturing over time. It ranges from open source, to SaaS, to various ASP models, to the analysis of unstructured data. The exciting thing is many of these concepts apply to spatial three and four dimensional information, so it is a great time to take advantage of this. It is a great
time to build value back into GIS.
Do you see more acquisitions similar to the one of Terrapoint’s? Any plans to acquire an LBS company?
The answer is two-fold. First, the acquisition of Terrapoint has been an important step for us. The reason behind the acquisition of Terrapoint is that we wanted to be a company that can touch each part of the spatial chain. We wanted to be a company that builds equipment, like our Titan product that can collect spatial data and also use the product as a service to collect it, deliver to the client and also integrate it wherever the client has invested in. Once you’ve done this, then you can do the traditional business of Ambercore – modelling, simulation and extracting intelligence out of spatial data.
So, the main thinking behind the acquisition of Terrapoint is
“The world of spatial information and GIS, which has been fragmented for many years, started embracing many IT concepts, looking seriously at elements that would unify the industry”
to create a company that goes from one end to the other. We are strong in LiDAR as well. As you know, LiDAR is a laser based technology that allows you to collect detailed 3D data both from air and from ground and now even from a mobile moving platform such as Titan. LiDAR is becoming the de-facto standard for survey work and we wanted to be a piece of this future.
But then, we didn’t want to just deliver the LiDAR data but wanted to be able to deliver it in a way that clients can make use of it. This was the main reason behind the acquisition. And about future acquisition, I think all things are possible. We are aggressively expanding into new markets although right now we are not actively involved in another acquisition. However, we would for example, be interested in expanding with companies that collect LiDAR information and companies that have strong intellectual property.
Finally, we always look at the application space. The users have to ultimately do something in order to get the information and put it into a context that they can understand, they can do their engineering or whatever they have to do. We already have software in mining and energy and we are looking at other application areas. But acquisition is not the only way that we can work together with other companies.
We will partner with both at the application level, where other software can make use of our engine but we will also partner at the data layer where other companies that have collection businesses, may come to us for data processing. So, partnership is another way we grow and we are active in that.