CartoPac maps growth path in mobile tech

FORT COLLINS – CartoPac has hired a new CEO who it hopes will guide the geographic information systems company toward fresh growth in mobile technology.

Carl Lee, with CartoPac since 2001, was a management consulting partner at Ernst & Young, where his efforts centered on emerging and midsize technology companies. Lee is also chairman of CartoPac’s board.

Lee is “stepping in as a CEO to help us focus on what we’re doing with mobile solutions,´ said Glenn Vlass, founder and vice president of CartoPac. “He has a good consulting technology background that’s going to be an asset for us.”

Established in the early 2000s, CartoPac started out as a company called Mountain Trails. At the time, it created digital maps for CDs that accompanied outdoor guidebooks or were sold separately.

The company would scan printed maps from government agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management onto computers to make high-quality digital maps. It layered the maps with features such as photos and four-wheel drive trails as well as comment sections.

But Mountain Trails suffered from low margins, so Vlass and co-founder and Vice President Scott Crouch decided to make a change.

“You run into challenges that you have to adapt to,” Vlass said. “That’s one thing as an organization that’s been one of our core traits; (it) is that we have to be very adaptable and very flexible.”

They secured patents they used to divide maps into pieces for quick loading on low-performance home computers instead of loading the whole image at once.

Turns out, the company could use the same technology for mobile phones. The smartphone was a dream in the future at the time.

CartoPac hired skilled engineers and taught them GIS to move its own technology forward.

“We got very, very good performance on some of the early Windows mobile devices,” Vlass said. “When manufacturers of hardware saw that, that started transitioning us from being a recreational company to being able to step into the professional market.”

CartoPac is one of a string of GIS businesses from Loveland to Fort Collins well-known as GIS Alley.

The magazine GISWORLD, now GeoWorld, started in Fort Collins in 1989. The city also is home to early pioneering GIS companies like Innovative GIS and Red Hen Systems.

Red Hen shares a similar story of adaptation. It started out developing mapping software for agricultural applications, but later shifted to video mapping systems.

“There is a rich GIS history in Northern Colorado and in the 1980s and ’90s it was often referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley of GIS,’´ said Joseph Berry, an adjunct professor of Natural Resources at CSU. “Today, it still holds a prominent position in the ever-evolving geo-technology fields.”

However, companies such as Google, Oracle and Apple that have entered the field in the last decade have moved a significant portion of development from small, local shops to mega-companies worldwide, he added.

But local GIS companies like Colorado Customware Inc., ESC Engineering and Numerica remain strong. Those three companies alone posted combined revenue of nearly $31 million in 2010 and employed a total of 230 people last year.

CartoPac didn’t want to disclose its revenues, but it’s among the top eight companies of its type in Northern Colorado in terms of number of employees.

Early on, CartoPac sold its software to archeologists that used it to pinpoint the locations of artifacts they discovered in places like Mesa Verde National Park.

It now sells field data collection software to oil and gas industry companies, engineering firms, the National Park Service and others for surveying.

The company employs 15 people with a range of expertise, including engineering, technology and business development and management.

CartoPac could grow by 30 percent in the next year, adding new talent in software engineering and product management, as it moves from its location on Whaler’s Way to a nearby office.

The growth comes from its large customers that have incorporated mobile technology to a greater extent into their operations.

“It is now becoming mandatory for a lot of these companies to have a mobile strategy,” he said. “The productivity, the type of data, the quality of data, the accuracy of data, those really are starting to become expectations for a lot of organizations.”

Its customers include Chevron, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the city of Fort Collins, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

CatroPac’s technology allows users to record data on their mobile devices while in the field.

Oil and gas companies use the software to access information about their pipelines. In the heavily regulated oil industry, operators must keep track and report pipeline activity.

The software gives operators access to information such as pipeline size, manufacturer and composition. If a pipeline fails in a particular area, the company can determine its location and what it needs to fix the infrastructure.

They also use the technology as part of their drilling applications with the state of Colorado to map structures, utilities and wildlife habitat near where they plan to drill.

Vlass believes that the technology will simplify to the point that a driver could report the exact location of a pothole from his or her phone using the form.

“Are there other people who do exactly what we do today?” he said. “No, but I think that the market is rapidly changing.”

CartoPac, for its part, is doing all it can to prepare.

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