Like many companies, Applied Geographic Solutions was born of a combination of necessity and entrepreneurial drive. The necessity came about because the company I worked for at the time – Urban Decision Systems – was sold at the end of 1995. The preferred buyer was the UK based predecessor to Experian, but the deal collapsed, with the newly merged firms of Claritas and NDS making the acquisition solely for the purpose of handing it to the company dog for backyard burial. The drive was already present – I had started two separate companies in Canada in the late 1980’s and have created two additional companies since AGS was formed in early 1996.
Our first product was not demographic data. It was the Freeway drive time system which would become the core product of Applied Spatial Technologies, formed with my good friend and longtime colleague and business partner Don Segal and his company Spatial Insights. Freeway is of course still going strong after all these years, and has a new global API version.
It was Don who urged me to get back into the demographic data world, and we did so in classic disruptive fashion. Having no army of sales reps, and no software, we chose the channel partner route with Spatial Insights as our first partner.
The industry was back then a combination of some powerful software and data companies (ESRI, Mapinfo, Claritas) and a collection of consultants and application developers who licensed data and software from them.
We priced data so that these consultants would keep more of the sale while the end user paid less. We focused on creating products and technology that would meet the requirements of our partners and clients at the best price possible. Surprisingly enough, this did not make AGS particularly popular. The president of one company took me aside at a Business Geographics conference (remember those?) and told me that I was killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I responded by telling him that since it wasn’t my goose, and I was not partaking of its eggs, I cared not in the least about its health. Another told its reseller channel that if they dared sign agreements with AGS, they would be terminated as partners.
Our unruly behavior continued as we released products that took us into environmental risk, crime risk, and segmentation systems – and in every case, we deliberately took aim at the pricing strategies of our competitors.
We also returned to our roots somewhat in developing the software engine, ASDE, for Anysite Technologies which also served as the basis for our production system SnapSite. At the time, it was a radical system that improved the performance of Anysite by an order of magnitude.
As often happens, companies tend to plateau at a certain point. AGS was no exception, having become successful we lost our innovative drive and disruptive spirit. About five years ago, we decided to renew our enthusiasm. Our longtime data wizard Matt Needham and I wanted to have some fun again, and so we set off on a broad range of new data, methodology, and delivery initiatives aimed to again benefit the industry. The fruits of those labors are just now starting to be noticed, primarily since we have actually discovered the concept of marketing in recent years!
Our path forward includes a wide range of efforts which focus not only on data, but on how data is delivered and analyzed. Our Snapshot API is expanding with every week and now supports reports (including drive times) and can feed thematic mapping engines with data on demand. The PDF report writer has recently been released and sports what is likely an excessive amount of customization of content and styles.
Our expansion continues, and we hope to be announcing in the next few weeks a partnership which will deliver data for both Canada and the United States to our partner channel and will result in a truly international version of Panorama later this year that is equally adept at geo-demographic segmentation and household classification.
On the analytics side, our new Snapshot engine takes advantage of modern computing speed and adds new benchmarking capabilities using percentiles and z-scores, site signature analytics, Panorama modeling tools, hot spot analysis, and even includes formula functions that allow consultants to embed regression models in any trade area report. We are actively working on analytics models with several of our partners that take advantage of some of the unique AGS data products and modeling capabilities.
We are truly excited about the direction we are taking, and hopefully taking our industry along with us.
The key to our success has always been our relationship with our channel partners. With few exceptions, most of our channel partners have been with us for at least fifteen years, and some of them from the very beginnings. Through all those years, we have maintained relationships not just because of the quality, range, and pricing of our data, but more importantly, because we have always sought long term mutually beneficial relationships that adapt over time to an ever-changing world. It is those long-term friendships that have sustained us and drive us ever forward. I won’t mention by name those channel partners – friends really – who have so helped AGS along the way – you all know who you are!
While I might be starting to get a little long in the tooth, the next generation of leadership of this rambunctious small company is already in place (and, I suspect, actively plotting the overthrow) as we look forward to the next twenty-five years. By the way, that doesn’t mean that I am going away any time soon. I am barely out of warranty, and plan to be involved for much of the next fifteen years or so! We are just having too much fun for me to even think of hanging up my skates just yet. So, stay tuned, and let the disruption continue.