nearmap spies offshore opportunities for geospatial service

nearmap, which provides a Web-based aerial imagery service, is already assessing the potential to take its product to other countries

nearmap MD Simon Crowther.

nearmap MD Simon Crowther.

nearmap, a Sydney-headquartered company that provides a Web-based aerial imagery service with built-in geospatial tools, is assessing opportunities for overseas expansion, according to managing director Simon Crowther.

nearmap has been "open for business" for around three years now, Crowther said, providing Web-based and Web Mapping Service access to frequently updated, high resolution aerial imagery of most of the country's major cities and surrounding areas.

nearmap's customer base ranges from large enterprises, such as Western Power which has used imagery sourced from nearmap's WMS server to cut its site visits, down to small businesses and sole traders, Crowther said.

The company's business model is based around patented aerial photography and image processing technology. Crowther said that unlike some competitors, nearmap doesn't operate its own fleet of aircraft. Instead it charters aircraft and uses a 'roll-on, roll-off' photography system developed by Stuart Nixon and based on off-the-shelf components.

"Using commercially developed components allows us to capture very large areas very quickly, very cost effectively and then be able to recapture those areas, because our cost base is in comparison [to other aerial surveying companies] relatively low," Crowther said.

The recapture of areas allows nearmap customers to assess changes in an area over time, such as new building activity or, in the case of Western Power, vegetation encroachment around infrastructure.

The second leg of nearmap is its image processing technology. "A traditional aerial surveying company can take weeks, if not months, to be able to process the output from those surveys,” Crowther said.

"In our case it takes hours or days to be able to do the same thing. Our IP is software that we call 'Hypervision', which takes the raw data from our cameras and then stitches it together in a fully automated process and makes that available on our Web front-end."

"The biggest limitation for us at the moment is the courier sending the files back from wherever the survey was to the office," Crowther said. "The actual process of processing that content and publishing it is now minimal."

Since late last year the company has worked on putting in place a seat-based subscription service, having previously relied on IP whitelisting to give enterprises access to nearmap. Customers range from the large enterprises that integrate nearmap into GIS systems, such as Western Power and WA's Water Corporation, down to small builders.

For example, Crowther said nearmap had seen significant uptake from small solar panel contractors, who can use the service to measure and provide quotes for installation without visiting a residence.

"We know that we get very good traction with the solar industry, the roofing industry, architects, planners, surveyors, those kind of people," Crowther said.

"In fact we've actually built four or five landing pages specifically for the user groups on the site that we know that we have some great resonance with...

"We've got many thousands of small businesses now using nearmap and we've now got many thousands of bigger enterprises using the product as well."

The company is still tweaking the subscription model for the variety of customers that are using nearmap, and is also looking at how to incorporate more data feeds and overlays into the core Web-based service.

"We have a terrain data set that we'll offer to people. We have a reverse address lookup which means you can right click on a location and you can see the address that you're obviously hovering over. That dialog box will increasingly offer you more options and more data."

The future of nearmap is "around becoming a data business as opposed to mapping business," Crowther said. "We want to offer more and more data sets and data layers on top of our maps. For example, demographic information, property data etc. so people who are using the product get much more utility from it."

The company has reached a cash positive position despite having a negligible marketing budget, the nearmap MD said. "I believe that the vast majority of people in Australia have never heard of nearmap and we think there are many, many thousands of businesses out there who will be interested in taking a seat. Our objective as an organisation is to have somewhere 30,000-40,000 subscribers in Australia."

The company hasn't released subscriber numbers, but it reported revenue for FY13 of $11 million, up 93 per cent from the previous financial year, with a net loss after tax of $1.4 million compared to $10.4 million for FY12; the company has no debt and a cash balance of $13.4 million.

Bedding down a stable subscription base in Australia will open up the possibility for overseas expansion, Crowther said.

"We're starting to look at other markets," he added.

"The objective's always been to make sure that we don't take our eye off the ball in Australia. The most important thing is that we achieve a growing and stable business going forward. I think the danger is that when you start to look to scale internationally you start to stretch your resources and also your supply chain and various other things as well."

However, he added that company's ambition is "to be offshore". "We just want to make sure we do it at the right time."

"You can't be in the technology business and not think about trying to do business in the North American market. Equally, I think we have opportunities in Asia Pac that are appealing to us as well," he said.

The end of 2013 will mark 12 months of nearmap's new subscription model, Crowther said.

"I think then, going into the new year, really my focus is about scaling the technology and scaling the business offshore as well.

"If we were to go look at the US, we wouldn't be looking to go and fly the whole of the [country] we'd be looking at flying, to start with, say, the main cities in California or the southern states... There are definite opportunities in a market like that for innovative products like ours."

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