As one of the three divisions of the Airbus Group, Airbus Defence and Space is among the top 10 defence intelligence companies worldwide. Bernhard Brenner, Head of Geo-Intelligence activities, provides an insight on the business direction of the re-branded company, the challenges and the evolving market.
Astrium was re-branded as Airbus Defence and Space. How will the name change affect the company’s position and branding in the market?
It is a much deeper process than a mere rebranding. We want to extract maximum synergies out of the previously independent companies — Airbus Military, Cassidian and Astrium. From being a business division of Astrium Services, formerly known as Geo-Information Services, we have now become a programme line of Airbus Defence and Space, part of the business line of Communications, Intelligence and Security (CIS). This is an important change because it brings together activities from Cassidian with the existing capabilities from Astrium Services. There are not too many changes within our organisation, but a lot of deeper opportunities open up in CIS and — on a larger scale — for Airbus Defence and Space. Rebranding was a very positive move as we want to grow and explore these new opportunities.
Did it facilitate certain kind of optimisation of resources within the group? When you are using the term ‘geoint’ what is the scope? Is the focus going to be on defence and intelligence community?
The new organisation will indeed allow us to be more competitive within the defence and intelligence community as the reorganisation brings us closer to Cassidian, the former defence and security division of our Group. In 2013, for instance, we received a contract for border control in Saudi Arabia, part of a large Cassidian project. We even called this project Cassie, after Cassidian. We aim to tap such similar opportunities in a more systematic manner.
We have added the term ‘intelligence’ for two reasons: Intelligence is linked with all kinds of business intelligence, not just military intelligence. The word ‘intelligence’ in the name was important because we are of a part of communications, intelligence and security. But we are not focusing on the defence sector. For example, we have a new customer, RS Metrics, which provides intelligence solutions for hedge funds on Wall Street, as well as our other core businesses in mature vertical markets such as oil and gas.
Governments have started making access to high resolution imagery free. What kind of niche does that create for companies like Airbus Defence and Space?
It is pretty clear that the industry will move towards higher resolutions, but this business is not all about resolution and accuracy. It is mainly about activities — in what timeframe can you provide the images and how flexible are you with your services. Imagery may be available for free — but is it up-to-date and of the required resolution? We have two satellites that are pretty new —Pléiades1A and1B — and they still have a long life. Most customers like the kind of images we are selling and appreciate our responsiveness.
We also have location-based services after we reached an agreement with Google last year. There are many others in the market who could be interested in our business. We also have traditional customers in the civil institutional market. The way forward is to go more into solutions-based approach, but we will continue to work with our resellers and address some verticals directly.
Airbus recently announced a partnership with Esri to make its imageries available to ArcGIS Online users. Can you share more details about this partnership and how it is going to benefit Airbus as you open up your data for free?
Our 20+ years’ partnership with Esri has continued to strengthen, especially over the last couple of years. The most recent examples of this are the inclusion of our SPOTMaps and Pléiades imagery products into Esri’s World Imagery basemap and the launch of our new Premium Imagery Services in the ArcGIS Marketplace. Data included in the World Imagery basemap that Esri purchased is indeed open to all ArcGIS Online users free of charge, and this is used as a foundation imagery layer for many projects. Our new services provided through Esri’s ArcGIS Marketplace enable users to easily purchase fresh, premium Airbus Defence and Space imagery products and services to use on top of or in addition to this foundation basemap.
We see great benefits in providing both options. Within the World Imagery basemap, our SPOTMaps 2.5 mosaic provides users with seamless coverage over most of the world. This data is enhanced by fresh 50 cm Pléiades imagery products, giving ArcGIS Online users very good global coverage and updated information over major cities worldwide. Users can then build on this by utilising our Premium Imagery Services to purchase themed imagery layers. Imagery purchased through these services is quickly delivered directly into the user’s ArcGIS Online account. This enables users to order and begin working with the imagery in less than an hour in many cases. Through this partnership, Esri users can now easily access fresh, high-quality imagery products faster than ever before, and we are broadening our industry reach by expanding our customer base from mainly remote sensing experts to all levels of GIS users.
We are technology agnostic when it comes to partnering with companies. The more we are able to feed data to different systems, the better for us. Another area that needs attention is ‘analytics’ — interpreting the data, driving the conclusion out of the data and combining it with other sensors — which I think is very crucial.
Airbus Defence and Space has been pretty aggressive in the market over the past couple of years. Are you doing it to capture the market or develop it? What would your ratio of defence versus civilian imagery be?
I think we must be creative because we do not have one main customer. We have many customers worldwide and we aim to offer the ideal solution to each of them.
The ratio of defence versus civilian imagery is well balanced. There is an open market and there is a fight for every customer allied to the need to develop the market beyond the defence community. This industry is still developing and there are different business models. Many low-cost companies are coming up with low-cost approaches. The question is: what is the next business model and what is the way forward. I think there is a lot of change ahead.
With the launch of Pléiades satellites, we now offer new products for different market segments that we were unable to address before — namely the VHR training — and we try to make the best out of this opportunity. In the imagery segment, we have the imagery product and related solutions, and about half of the solutions can be customised to match the customer requirements. We have an internal strength for solution business and that makes us unique compared to the other players. First is the uniqueness of optical and radar, and the second is the good balance between solutions and data.
In terms of turnover, I think we have to catch up a little bit. Last year we did 10% of growth of turnover and this year we are targeting a 15% spurt in growth.
We treat our resellers as partners and have always felt that they add value to our products. We want to grow directly in the vertical segments and create solutions. Last year, we held successful channel partner conferences in the US, Europe and Asia, and this year we are doing the same.
We are leading in the DRS business too. Today, we have about 40 DRS in the world. So the telemetry part of the DRS is becoming important for us. We recently delivered the first multi-mission DRS in Alaska, equipped to receive data from all our sensors. Such long-term relationships will help us bring more stability in our business and better forecast in our figures.
What are your prime markets in the world at the moment?
Europe is definitely a strong market for us, along with the Middle East and Africa. We are already quite strong in Asia, and the US was a country customer with us for the first time with a deal from NGA. We have over a thousand active customers.
Several national governments have invested into building the capacity of remote sensing. Some of them have built their own ground stations and some of them have built their laboratories or satellites. These governments, in a way, are expanding the market. As a group, I think this is fantastic as we do not just tell them that we have the best satellite at the best prices; we give them real-time experiences in terms of services. We are talking about not just selling hardware but also selling software and expertise, and hence creating win-win situations.