Executive Interview: Peter Batty, Intergraph’s New Vice President and CTO

By Joe Francica

Peter Batty, vice president and chief technology officer, Intergraph

In late October, Intergraph announced that Peter Batty was joining the company as Vice president and chief technology officer.Before joining Intergraph, he was the co-founder and chief technology officer for Ten Sails, a company focused on building businesses in the area of spatial and location-related technologies.Before that, he was vice president of technology at GE Power and worked with the GE Smallworld product, used primarily in the utilities and communations sectors.Before Smallworld, Batty worked at IBM in the spatial and location-based technology field. He holds a master's degree in computer science and a bachelor's degree in mathematics, both from the University of Oxford.

Joe Francica (JF): Peter Batty, you have the clout in the industry to probably join any company you like; you clearly see some great potential at Intergraph.What does Intergraph offer from a technology standpoint on which you can build?

Peter Batty (PB): I am excited by the work Intergraph has been doing to integrate its geospatial software with its incident command systems, intelligent video and other sensor systems.Over the next few years, I believe a key growth area in the geospatial industry will be real-time operational geospatial systems, and I think Intergraph has several unique strengths in this space.At the moment, the homeland security market is demanding this type of application.Intergraph recently won a contract to provide an electronic security system for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), as part of a team led by Lockheed Martin, which is obviously a very high profile deal in this space.

I also like the fact Intergraph is focused on vertical applications in specific industries.We face disruptive change in our industry with the entry of players like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, and I think that vendors focused on providing horizontal platform solutions face a greater challenge in addressing this change.Vendors providing vertical applications are much better positioned to leverage these new developments and take advantage of the growth they will bring to the overall market, rather than trying to compete with them.

Several non-technical factors were important in my decision to join Intergraph.I have been very impressed with the people I have met from Intergraph, and I see a strong commitment from the executive management team to renewed innovation.Intergraph has a strong financial position and a great depth and breadth of technical talent.I think key innovations in real-time sensor-based geospatial systems are likely to emerge from large projects like New York MTA, so in many ways a large company like Intergraph is better positioned to lead innovation in this area than a small company without the resources and credibility to address this type of project.From a personal perspective, I am excited about expanding my experience into vertical markets where I have not worked before, as well as into new application areas for me such as plant design, which we'll talk about more I'm sure.

The opportunity to be chief technology officer of an industry-leading billion dollar company, at a time with so many new interesting market developments, was too good to turn down.

JF: Your work with Smallworld/GE and more recently Ten Sails / Ubisense always stuck me as having a strong cutting edge/new technology edge.To my mind Intergraph has more of a conservative, traditional mindset in terms of technology.Do you see it that way? Do you hope to shake things up technically at Intergraph? Which technology threads are likely to receive the most attention?

PB: I do not agree that Intergraph has a conservative and traditional mindset with regard to technology.Projects such as New York MTA, which I mentioned before, are absolutely at the cutting edge of our industry in terms of technology.And, over the years, Intergraph has shown significant innovation in various areas.

Of course in any large software company with numerous products in many markets, some will be seen as leading-edge technology and some will be at a more mature point in the product lifecycle.This is true with Intergraph and we will be looking to inject some new ideas and innovation into a few areas.I see good opportunities to develop a number of ideas I have been interested in and exploring over the past few years, including real-time systems that leverage wireless communications and various types of location-tracking devices.These interests fit very well with Intergraph's strong application areas, but I also think we will be able to leverage products we develop for the security and public safety markets into other areas in the future, especially as location-tracking devices become even more ubiquitous.

JF: There are forces in play in the IT world shifting packaged products into Web services.Intergraph has not been very active in that space in geospatial.Is that a fad or is it an area into which the company must move?

PB: I wouldn't say geospatial Web services are a fad, but neither are they the answer to all problems.Intergraph has always played a leading role in the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc.(OGC), and has done significant work on technology to support Web services.In addition, Intergraph uses a service-oriented architecture, which is a powerful mechanism for integration.

The provision of packaged Web services, including data, is most applicable for relatively standardized applications.This is rapidly becoming a commoditized market as new players such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have joined the fray.I see Intergraph continuing to focus on high value vertical business applications and leveraging services from these new players where appropriate, rather than trying to compete with them.

JF: Intergraph has focused on its traditional markets in government, public safety and utilities.These markets have generally adopted traditional applications by GIS vendors already.What are the greatest technological challenges these traditional markets face and what will a traditional vendor, like Intergraph, need to do to address them, either on its own or through partnerships with other technology providers.

PB: As I mentioned already, I think there are significant opportunities in the public safety and government markets to integrate more traditional geospatial capabilities with incident command, intelligent video, location-tracking devices and other types of sensors.Intergraph has a uniquely differentiated proposition through combining these different technologies.

I think the utility market, especially at the medium to large end, has been relatively slow in terms of new GIS procurements for a few years now - most large utilities have invested significant amounts of money in implementing one of the major GIS products, and most of them do not see sufficient benefit in switching systems to justify the cost of doing so.I think it will require a fairly radical technology jump, rather than just incremental changes in functionality, to persuade many utilities to purchase new systems.I have a few ideas on that front but am not going to talk about those just yet!

I think there is opportunity to sell additional vertical applications into this space: currently outage management and workforce management are more active markets in the utilities industry than core GIS, and Intergraph has strong offerings in these areas.I also feel there is potential for growth in mobile applications.

JF: Intergraph has not tried to enter non-traditional markets or address emerging business opportunities where location technology is integrated with mainstream enterprise computing.However, many of its competitors have sought to address the applications in this sector, either with existing solutions or through partnerships with business intelligence companies.Do you believe that Intergraph needs to change its software product suite to address these emerging markets and potentially other opportunities that it will need to grow its geospatial business?

PB: It depends on your definition of "non-traditional markets," but I see the type of applications we have been discussing in security and public safety as new markets.And, these are also applications for integration with mainstream enterprise computing.I see Intergraph having probably the strongest relationship with Oracle among the traditional GIS vendors.Oracle Spatial is a fundamental part of our solution rather than an optional feature we reluctantly pay lip service.This and other aspects of our architecture enable us to integrate with mainstream enterprise computing very well.

JF: Intergraph has tried to compete by promoting its relationship with the OGC and adherence to standards.This has had limited success. Open source geospatial technology is now being taken more seriously as well.How do you see Intergraph positioning its technological strengths at this time given that its competitive posture seems to be undercut by other market forces?

I see Intergraph's commitment to OGC standards being a competitive advantage when compared to the more proprietary approaches of our major competitors.This is becoming more important as the acceptance of OGC standards continues to grow in the industry.

JF: Your job title is CTO and your background is in geospatial technology.Will you be assisting the company's other division in Process and Power as well? How do you see your experience fitting in with this division?

My role covers the whole business, including the plant design and related products in the Intergraph Process, Power and Marine division.I am excited about getting involved with this part of the business, which has some great software, is currently our most profitable division and boasts our highest market share.While it may not be classified as classic "geospatial" software, there are significant aspects of my background I think are applicable here.Some of the key innovations we introduced at Smallworld are related to network modeling, version management and long transactions, all of which are applicable in the plant design space.There are a number of areas where we could potentially use common functionality across both divisions, including mobile applications, intelligent design rules, schematics and other types of rendering.

As a side note, my good friend and mentor Dick Newell founded two successful software companies before Smallworld, the first of which developed a plant design system called PDMS, which is still around today and competes with our SmartPlant application.It's a small world indeed - I hope a little of Dick's flair for plant design software has rubbed off on me!

Published Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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