Killpack Takes Pixxures of the Future

By Joe Francica

Pixxures recently hired ex-ESRI executive, Chuck Killpack, to be its president.He comes to Pixxures as the remote sensing imagery business goes through some turbulent times.Directions Magazine Editor-in-Chief Joe Francica interviews Killpack for his insights on the industry, where he sees Pixxures in the future and why he left ESRI.

Joe Francica (JF): 2002 was a difficult year for the satellite data providers.What is in store for the remainder of 2003 for this industry?

Chuck Killpack (CK): There is no question that 2002 was a difficult year for all imagery providers. We must realize that the aerial providers were more negatively impacted than the satellite data providers, with no logical way to collect imagery overseas.The entire mapping industry suffered the effects of the reallocation and delay of local, state and federal spending.

What happened in 2002 had a dramatic impact on this industry, including such things as 1) aerial providers becoming very aggressive, scrambling after any possible work; 2) more production was being sent overseas as a reaction to competitive pricing, while at the same time, procurements were beginning to state that production cannot be done outside the U.S. or NAFTA; 3) the satellite data providers focused on the defense market and reduced their commercial initiatives; and 4) the market has come to expect a much lower price for imagery and ortho products.

What is in store for the remainder of this year, as well as the next, is that aerial providers must find cheaper ways to create standard products and satellite companies must alter their license and delivery structures to be competitive. I believe that the satellite companies are beginning to understand the value of their products and, in many cases; their products could replace aerial imagery if the license structures reflected the market and the products were readily available. I also see increased demand and understanding for direct digital imagery, whether satellite or aerial. The sales of digital aerial cameras, like those from Leica and others, are strong indicators that these aerial businesses see new ways to obtain a positive return on their investment, a very positive step for our industry. One also cannot ignore the U.S.Administration's new policy on commercial remote sensing and the long-term impact of NextView.

With all that said, one only has to visit local governments, federal or GIS vendor Web sites to understand what has everyone's mind share - Web services.It is clear where resources are being directed. So, in thinking about what is in store for this industry, one cannot ignore all the energy and money being spent on these initiatives, and I am confident that Pixxures is well positioned to support these efforts.The major challenge is to develop a framework of technology and business relationships that connects the data content with the user.

JF: You've spent many years in the geospatial business.What made you want to move from ESRI to PIXXURES?

CK: There is more than one reason that I am now at Pixxures. Like ESRI, Pixxures has some really cool technology and energetic people. I made the move to Pixxures because I saw an opportunity to get involved with people and technology that are creative and cutting- edge, and I felt that my background in the geospatial industry could contribute to an already successful company. Also, I have to admit that I grew up on a farm in Utah and have always wanted to get back to that life style, I am in Colorado, living on a farm and working with Pixxures.

I am interested in helping Pixxures expand its business and contribute to making geospatial information more accessible and useable. Another interesting thing about Pixxures is that they are more than a Web imagery content provider; we have a very strong traditional mapping and imagery production business as well as some very sharp people in Web technologies and services. The well-rounded nature of Pixxures' business is what attracted me to Pixxures and I have always been a real believer in a company using its own technology in projects to better understand how to deliver solid products to customers.

JF: What possible legislative or other government initiatives (e.g. homeland security) will affect your business in 2003?

CK: One only has to look at the number of federal procurements and initiatives to see the impact on the commercial remote sensing business. The list is long and the implications are immense; for example: the USDA's NAIP program and Technology Service Provider RFI, Census Map Modernization, FEMA Multi Hazard Mapping Program, the Administration's policy statement on commercial imagery, GeoOneStop, USGS National Map, as well as Homeland Security. The imagery business is driven primarily by the government sector and, as you indicated, the major driver has been the federal government. It is clear that many issues related to Homeland Security can be addressed though the use of high-resolution, up-to-date imagery. This includes all aspects from planning to first level responders to assessment. It is not practical to have all information in one physical place with many access points.The challenge of connecting up-to -date information resident in many physical places with many diverse access points is monumental and the development of the technical and institutional frameworks to address this challenge will impact our business as well as the industry in general.

The potential amount of work surrounding collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating remote sensing products will be enormous, and we anticipate that many of these government initiatives will include private companies. There are many areas where private industry has created COTS solutions to address these governmental initiatives. I believe Pixxures is one of those private companies that can offer cost effective solutions to the government. Pixxures understands the issues surrounding both the collection and dissemination of imagery. We anticipate our business to grow by supporting both the traditional aspects of imagery and mapping as well as the Internet services.

JF: The recent USGS CRADA with Pixxures allows you to create a portal for The National Map.What other opportunities do you see for the company in the near term?

CK: The National Map CRADA is a validation of the robustness and scalability of Pixxures' online delivery capabilities.This is one of the largest Web services opportunities to date, and Pixxures is excited to be part of this program.There are a number of other opportunities of this scale on both the government and commercial sides of the business for which we are either in pilots or detailed discussions.These projects help Pixxures validate our ability to deliver enterprise-scale deployments.

JF: Where is PIXXURES' competitive advantage in the remotely-sensed data marketplace?

CK: As I indicated in my previous answer, one reason I came to Pixxures is the fact that we are not only a major Web services and content provider, but we are also a major mapping company.I think that this grounding effect has a positive impact on our Web strategy.In essence, we understand the characteristics of the data and perhaps more importantly, the requirements of the users. I believe this unique combination of expertise under one roof enables us to build a strong, solid business capable of addressing the ever-changing Web environment. For example, we can contract to acquire new imagery, create orthos, register existing GIS data to the new and better orthos, and provide a dissemination platform.

As you know, imagery is often not the end product, in and of itself. The imagery must be compatible with other existing imagery and vector data. Pixxures has developed some proprietary techniques for performing very fast and accurate vector alignment of multi-layer GIS datasets called LineWorks. This is not a rubber-sheeting process, it is much more robust than that. Customers who have participated in our early projects describe our LineWorks technology as nothing short of a technological breakthrough.

Among its other innovations, Pixxures has developed a unique single-frame georectification process.This product, which we call VROOMTM, is so fast that we have new technicians rectifying a frame of film in less than 10 minutes.One of its strengths is that it utilizes reference data that's available online from our huge imagery archive, making it extremely efficient. This process is being used extensively within the company, and we have recently started to act as an outsource partner for companies that have large volume requirements for this type of work.

As I see it, Pixxures competitive edge comes from its approach. I guess that not unlike many software and services businesses, where their services group depends on their software products for a successful service business, Pixxures relies on its mapping business to influence its Internet business.There are many mapping and Internet companies, but there are very few that are doing really innovative technological and process development that will make them stand out as industry leaders in the future.Pixxures has that opportunity.

JF: How does the remote sensing industry "jump-the-chasm" into providing more mainstream products that are cost effective? Why has it taken this long for imagery to become commodity data products?

CK: I believe that unlike the GIS, Database and other markets, remote sensing has not had the leadership or visionary thinking that is needed to do just that. This is a grassroots industry and, although the satellite companies get most of the mind share, the predominant choice of imagery in the non-defense market is standard aerial photography. This grassroots nature has not allowed one entity to drive the marketing of remote sensing.

Think about it.Except for the satellite companies, all the other remote sensing companies, whether they are in collection, production or software products are all relatively small.To actually "jump-the-chasm", however, I believe that a seamless, easy-to-access virtual data store of this grassroots data is the answer.

Again, if the traditional remote sensing user, as well as the non-traditional user, can easily find, view, and integrate imagery into horizontal applications as well as simply purchase what they want, we have jumped that chasm. At that point, the market will drive the availability of imagery. We are now witnessing the beginning. This is not unlike the days when GDT and others decided to make available good street-level data to the market. We all know what having a consistent and available dataset meant to GIS and to the consumer market - users could finally have a good street map, find an address and directions - on the Web, no less.An organization could deliver solutions to users without spending years and many resources collecting the data. The similarities are remarkable, and I believe that Pixxures' WebPix solutions will make a difference. Having ready access to imagery will create a demand for more imagery and services, just like having access to good street data created a demand for better data and application tools.

It is a lot to expect an uninitiated professional needing imagery for the first time to know who to call, how to do it, or to have the confidence to even know what type of product is right for their application.It is companies like Pixxures that make these products readily accessible and easily affordable, even to the novice user.Imagery will become a viable commodity that is just used everywhere. Think about the coverage of the Iraq war - we came to expect to see satellite imagery of what was happening. In future events like that, imagery will be a commodity. Access and dissemination will help us "jump-the-chasm".

JF: Will you work with software providers to offer a software/data package in which customers can purchase a single solution for a specific geographic area?

CK: Pixxures is already doing this with partners.For example the new ArcWeb USA offering is essentially a pre-packaged combination of Pixxures' online DOQQ library with ESRI's ArcWeb software.We have also initiated discussion with other major software vendors to provide a data source to their desktop and Internet products through either a Pixxures extension or a standard Web services. We are a strong believer in open systems and interoperability and our vision is to provide seamless imagery content to as many users as possible.

We are also integrating our online services with other customers' online services in "turnkey" Web hosting offerings.Oftentimes you won't see Pixxures' name, but it is Pixxures' engine running in the background.

JF: How will you alter PIXXURES' business model?

CK: I think that we can all agree that any company that is involved in building a business in whole or in part around the Internet must be prepared to continuously evaluate its business model.The Internet landscape is constantly changing and the platforms that support this industry/technology are simply unwilling to sit still. Having said that, I believe that Pixxures has a solid business model, although evolving.

I want to ensure that Pixxures never loses its cutting-edge thinking or technology, and at the same time, I want to extend its business model to what I call "technology transfer". Pixxures has some of the most talented people I've seen when it comes to managing imagery and understanding its dissemination over the Web. I want to expand the business model to transfer this technology and knowledge to our customers.

You might say it another way; we want to expand our service line to deliver whole turnkey imagery solutions. This can be a cradle-to-grave approach where we acquire the imagery, build orthos, align existing vectors, install a Pixxures WebPix service and deliver this all as one turnkey solution, or we might customize WebPix services by building a private-labeled Web site for organizations that have massive amounts of imagery and need a transparent delivery solution, or we simply provide access to our content through a subscription service.

Finally, in a modest way I believe that Pixxures' business model of creating and delivering new and better ways to disseminate content will help the remote sensing market contribute to the many global challenges we face.I do have a belief and vision that if we make geospatial content and technology readily available, this will lead to better, more informed decisions that will in turn help us create a sustainable global environment- the most critical issue our society faces. I do believe that access to geospatial information is the bottleneck and I hope that we at Pixxures can make a small but significant contribution to addressing this problem.

Published Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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