Growth driven by 300% efficiency savings in key processes


A consultancy business from mid Wales, which uses satellite technology to inform global companies on decisions regarding the siting of major infrastructure projects, has grown its client base, invested in new software and is preparing to increase its workforce, following the installation of direct-fibre broadband.


Crona Hodges started Geo Smart Decisions in 2011 from her home in Abergynolwyn, a tiny village in the heart of Snowdonia National Park. Just six years on and the firm is utilising the latest Earth Observation technology to analyse geographical data and deliver services to clients both locally, including Natural Resources Wales, as well as across the globe.


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Online technology is key


Geo Smart Decisions relies on internet-enabled technologies to provide specialist mapping, data management and analysis services to environmental consultancies, developers, oil and gas companies and marine planners.


It works with experts in areas like noise pollution, ecology, landscape and air quality, to complete important exploratory studies that enable major infrastructure projects to come to fruition. Information and insight from Geo Smart Decisions has helped its clients to make informed decisions on the siting and technical design of a wide range of installations, from gas pipelines and solar farms, to crematoriums, as well as the protection of important natural habitats and wider environmental impact assessments.


Collaborative work space


As the business grew, Hodges took the decision to move into external offices and recently became a tenant at the Welsh Government-funded ‘Forestry Hub’, a shared workspace facility in the Dyfi Eco Parc, near Machynlleth. The hub brings together organisations with a shared interest in environmental sustainability but also provides a modern, collaborative working space for ambitious new and young businesses.


“The move to the Forestry Hub was a significant step up in terms of creating a professional environment for the business, but the broadband connection at the time was not sufficient to meet our needs,” recalls Hodges. “We download large datasets at the outset of almost every project and the size of digital satellite imagery used within the industry is getting larger and larger. Upload speeds are also becoming more important, with greater use of cloud technology and the need to send large files to multiple clients all over the world.”


Reliability was also an issue, as hosting regular client meetings online via Skype became problematic as the connection dropped out, and using the internet to research and develop new techniques was also occupying valuable time that could otherwise be spent on advancing live projects. There were a number of occasions when Hodges had to make the 50-minute round trip to her old home office, in order to complete certain tasks.


Six weeks after moving into the Forestry Hub, a direct-fibre connection was installed and tested, resulting in an increase in download speeds from eight, to more than 70 Mbps and upload speeds of less than 0.5 increasing to over 20 Mbps for the tenants using the building.


Work is now completed three times faster


For Geo Smart Decisions, the new connection has enabled projects to be completed in record time.  The company’s recent mapping of geo-data along the route of a proposed gas pipeline in east Africa, which involved downloading and analysing a series of 30 high-res satellite images – was completed at least three times faster than would otherwise have been possible.


“The new connection means we are now a much more efficient company and invest the time previously spent waiting for images and data to download into processing and analysing information for clients,” says Hodges. “Our cloud storage facility is also much more efficient, as we can upload and retrieve large files in a fraction of the time it took before. Video calls are reliable and work at much better quality, and we can access client Virtual Private Networks (VPN) directly, which wasn’t an option for us before. Importantly, all our work can now be done at our new offices.”


Building for the future


Understanding the importance of internet connectivity to the business, Geo Smart Decisions approached technology-focused business support service Superfast Business Wales and attended an ‘Inspiring Action’ workshop. Hodges also accessed one-to-one support from a specialist consultant and, once the new fibre connection was established, has been able to put some of the resulting ideas into action.


The company is now looking into developing its cloud computing capability to facilitate jobs that exceed its normal processing power. This includes tapping into new, higher quality satellite imagery that has recently been made available by the European Space Agency, through its Copernicus project. Before the improvements in connectivity, simply downloading the files was an ordeal.


Time savings and additional capacity have also allowed Geo Smart Decisions to carry out research into new software that will allow the business to process and analyse geographical data obtained by drones in a cloud environment. The business is taking on two new members of staff, including one with web development experience, who will soon be engaged on a revamp of the company website.


“The combination of advice from Superfast Business Wales, the new offices and the upgraded internet connection has given us the confidence to bring people in and pursue some new ideas that will really help us to take the business forward. It is an exciting time for the business and the sky is the limit.”


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