Chch Tech Stories: Orbica

This blog post is brought to you by Mark Denholm from The Talent Hive. Specialists in connecting IT & Engineering professionals with the right career opportunities. Christchurch’s tech sector is proud to be world class, connected and creative. The Talent Hive has been working on a blog series with a number of Tech employers in the region and we’re delighted to share those with you over the next few weeks.

First up is Orbica, New Zealand’s premiere location data intelligence consultants. Orbica take raw geo-location data and transform it into an asset. Mark spoke to top Orbicans Santosh (geospatial architect) and Kurt (CEO) about the future of satellite data.

How excited are you about 5G and what will it mean for Orbica?

K: It gives us access to more data, and it’s with data that the magic happens. It comes down to turning big data into big information. So, the Internet of Things – how do you actually use that within a business to improve operational efficiency at the executive level and get visibility over the operation?

Here’s how: pretty much all data is linked somewhere. If a data set hasn’t got coordinates or an address, you can normally reference it with a data set that does have that information. So, very little data in today’s world has no value. There’s always value by putting it on a map and unlocking its potential with map-based analytics and visualisation.

S: I’ve been a maps specialist for a long time. I love maps. I love looking at maps. Increasingly, what we’re seeing now is a more mainstream application of maps. Almost every app that you see out there has a map associated with it somewhere or other. It’s in front of people’s eyes. That’s generating a lot more interest in viewing data in a spatial format. And so that, for me, is pretty eye opening and inspiring compared to where we were 10-15 years ago, before Google Maps or any of these other things came out.

Are consumers wary of the monumental power of geo-targeting and other data-harnessing technology?

K: I think that what consumers may not realise is that everyone is using GIS – they’re using geo-spatial tech – it’s just not framed in that way. Our job is to take that data and make it useful, to put the tools and the power of the data in people’s hands, which is where we see the opportunity.

For us, data drives our business and determines what we can achieve for people. That’s exciting. We’re on an exponential data curve, which unlocks the opportunities for us to impart what we know to other people’s businesses and organisations.

Given how quickly technology advances and moves, is the industry being held back a little bit by a lack of regulation or an understanding of how the technology can be utilised? Are you finding projects are being held back or people aren’t doing things specifically because of the risk?

K: The regulation, probably not so much. Actually, it’s education. So, it’s educating people at bigger organisations and government organisations and big utility owners, people who are custodians of large data sets. It’s about opening this up and creating a data commons, almost.

The technology is there. Some of it’s a bit immature but it’s coming along fast. We just need to get the education and value across. For instance, look at address databases. There is no single address database that serves the purpose of all people who require that data.

Look at sales information for houses – most of that is hard to get. It’s locked up in big organisations like CoreLogic and overseas in many countries where geospatial data is open. At the moment, you basically can’t get the data here unless you’ve got millions of dollars to spend.

S: Opening up the data also increases the frequency of usage. So, if it’s open, more people are going to use it and more and more eyes looking at the data are going to find more faults, which is good. Data is always going to have faults. But more eyes looking at it automatically creates a QA/QC process of fixing it in feedback. Let’s fix the data!

For the general good of the technology and the progress of technologies, data needs to be open.

Is Orbica made for these times?

K: We’re trying to become the trusted advisors for imparting geographic knowledge to businesses. As a team, we keep scaling up.

We brought on an AI specialist. He has been with us for about five months and it’s been amazing. He brings a different skill set than the rest of the team and the combination is where the magic happens. You know, we’re used to data in a table, and we go, well, here’s a terabyte of data sitting in GIS format, what can you do?

It’s fascinating, and it’s unlocking very interesting discussions in the business. Within a few months, hopefully we can start to let people know what we’re doing in AI, once we’ve prototyped. We’re going to be different than our competitors and I’m super excited by what we’re seeing and what we can unlock.

Those new skills enable you to start asking more questions, questions that you wouldn’t have even thought of asking before, and that creates opportunity doesn’t it?

K: Yeah. I mean, the other guy that started recently, Andy, he’s got a Masters in Geophysics, and that’s fascinating in our world. He’s a GI specialist, he’s been on the GIS tools for a while, but he’s got a geophysical degree, which means he understands acoustic signals very well and that translates into an understanding of GPS signal. Couple this with his understanding of field data collection and it’s just augmenting the team. It’s an exciting place to be. It’s fantastic.

S: Right now, we are more of an IT company doing geography, whereas we would like to seen as a geography company using IT.

K: We want to develop and inspire geo-spatial champions, and internally we want to have geo-spatial thought leaders. We want to be on that cutting edge and known for “Hey, you guys are the guys that do amazing geography things and map things using all this cool stuff.”

At the moment, our perfect client is someone with a lot of data and they want to do stuff with that data, whether it’s management, analytics, collection or visualisation.

We work with them in a very agile way. We hop in there, we workshop. They go, “Hey, we’ve got some paypoints around the business, we’ve got these pockets of information, we keep collecting this data and dumping it in a database – we don’t know what to do with it.” Come in, let’s build some interesting rapport, let’s build some trust, let’s build an agile framework in which we operate, let’s see what we can do together. Let’s really innovate and push boundaries.

That’s our perfect client, and where that’s happened already this year, the outcomes have been very successful.

S: And it’s also part of engaging the research community. A lot of researchers out there are doing great research work, but again, it sits on the shelf in a library. How do we get that out? How do we make that useful for the community, and how do you make the community better with all this awesome research?

K: Commercially, there’s value to be gained from that amazing piece of work that sits on a dusty shelf at a university. That is bleeding edge, and we love to be there making the technology applicable and accessible to businesses that can take an amazing piece of research and actually implement it in some kind of cloud-based software platform that can deliver a tonne of value every day.


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