Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging Rebrands as ERDAS and Takes Aim at the Enterprise Geospatial Market

April 4, 2008

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Editor’s Note: For this exclusive report, Directions Magazine Editor-in-chief Joe Francica met with ERDAS President Bob Morris and his executive team on March 27th to be briefed on changes ongoing at the company, as well as receive product updates. ERDAS provided travel expenses to Directions to facilitate this report.

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging announced today that it is rebranding the company as ERDAS and will add as their tagline, "The Earth to Business Company," a clear signal that it wants to be a more aggressive player in the enterprise geospatial market. Unshackling itself from the Leica brand allows the company to develop a stronger software persona instead of being defined by a name more closely associated with a superior optical system. As such, it will leverage the ERDAS name, the moniker of the company it acquired in 2001, and of its flagship image processing software that has been in existence since 1978.

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging, now ERDAS, took a hard look at the current developments and disruption in the geospatial marketplace over the last three years and set a course to acquire technology and experience that would make it a more complete geospatial solution provider. By acquiring IONIC, ER Mapper and Acquis during the past 12 months, ERDAS bought technology that will allow it to manage larger and more complex data, both raster and vector, to solve any business challenge in most any industry sector. In short, the company is looking to be recognized as a viable alternative to the current geospatial solution providers.

ERDAS had been playing largely in a world of photogrammetric data capture and image processing of remotely sensed satellite and airborne data. The company believed that it was not viable in the total geospatial arena of GIS and enterprise platforms. In addition, the company felt that it needed to develop solutions in the emerging 3D market and process data from any sensor device. As it was, the former Leica Geosystems group was gaining approximately a 5% market share in what it believed was a $1.1 billion market. The Leica brand did not provide much additional market value in the geospatial solution space, while the ERDAS name had strong notoriety with global desktop deployments and more than 40,000 customers.

Since being acquired by Hexagon in 2005, Leica Geosystems’ various divisions were developing products primarily for industries in measurement technologies and precision tools. Those groups will remain under the Leica branding, in particular, its well-established place in surveying and construction. But to be number one or two in each industry sector, Hexagon was interested in further developing each group’s identity and making sure that it could maintain its goal of reaching 15% growth in earnings per share each year.

The Roadmap
In order to implement its goal to better serve the geospatial market, ERDAS had to establish a roadmap to deliver enterprise solutions. The basic underlying philosophy of the company was, and is, to build a unified enterprise platform with a services oriented architecture (SOA) infrastructure. This was the primary reason for acquiring IONIC.

This architecture, ERDAS believes, will allow it to address a variety of client applications including those that ingest and process geospatial data from various sensor and mobile platforms, offer analytical solutions using rule-based applications, provide the ability to “crawl” databases for feature data and imagery; and invoke models for geoprocessing. In support of this framework are the acquisitions the company had made that include: Acquis, for better vector data handling and managing data stores; ER Mapper, to supply compression and image server technology, as well as access to the oil and gas market; IONIC, the backbone for enterprise solutions and adherence to Open Geospatial Consortium web services specifications, as well as a client framework to build web portals. The result is a solution value chain that includes the ability to author or capture data (through products like ERDAS IMAGINE [SEE MORE BELOW] and LPS), manage data (IONIC’s Red Spider), connect to in-house or share data sources (TITAN [SEE MORE BELOW]), and deliver data (ER Mapper’s Image Web Server and IONIC’s RedSpider Web).

Roadmap Implementation
“Our objective is to develop a comprehensive geospatial business system for managing, analyzing and delivering data and information products,” said Bob Morris, president of ERDAS. “We have all these tools but how do we bring them all together?” Morris asked rhetorically. The company recognizes that its existing customers represent a smaller niche of the total geospatial market that includes data providers, GIS service providers, airborne sensing, national mapping agencies, as well as state and local government clients. To reach a different audience, including urban planners, real estate professionals, environmental consultants, land developers and others, a new product development strategy is necessary. The remedy is for ERDAS to embark on a multi-level project that will span four phases to build a comprehensive geospatial business system.

Phase I – ERDAS Image Manager
Enterprise image management was the objective of this first phase while kicking off different development threads. Using an agile development strategy, ERDAS Image Manager addresses the problem of discovering, describing, cataloging and serving image data.

Phase II
The objective in this phase is to provide an integrated web toolkit and bring that into the mix to offer server –based geoprocessing. Supporting additional sensor models and working with OGC specifications are also key ingredients.

Phase III
Here, extended enterprise data management using the Acquis Data Editor (ADE) takes center stage to provide full vector support, data store support, and interoperability with all desktop clients. In addition, mobile technology will be integrated and a complete web tool kit will be offered as well as transactional web feature services.

Phase IV
The last phase of this project is focused on completing the enterprise-enabled geoprocessing, with 3D solutions integrated into a complete geospatial business platform.

The bottom line on the rebranding effort for ERDAS is that the company felt it was not participating in the total geospatial market. As such, in order to capitalize on the market expansion, it needed to pursue technology through acquisition and develop solutions to address other markets and industries. It had an eye on aggressively attacking the highest growth markets in Brazil, Russia, India and China - the so-called “BRIC” countries. And in order to truly bring a comprehensive solution to market it must offer an architecture coincident with the mainstream information technology software.

Will this new direction enable the company to compete against Intergraph, Autodesk, ESRI and others? ERDAS wants to be recognized among this group, whether in partnership or independently, to offer solutions. However, its stated direction is to bring a comprehensive approach to any business or organization. No longer does it wish to be seen solely as an image processing solution; with its acquisitions the company can now deliver an enterprise suite of tools.

But rebranding is never an easy exercise. Reeducating the market is especially challenging in an environment where the dominant voices in the information technology sector are also trying to carve a niche in the geospatial market. So, ERDAS has its work cut out for it - to rise above the din of an increasingly crowded field of heavyweights.

More on TITAN
In a previous article, Directions Magazine reviewed Leica TITAN (now ERDAS TITAN). Its official release was this past March. In brief, ERDAS positions TITAN as a “geospatial data bridge,” in other words, a way to share geospatial data and web services within a secure environment. It uses a “globe” metaphor to visualize information and employs a geospatial instant messenger (GeoIM) to stream data from one client to another. According to ERDAS, users of the GeoIM create a “MyWorld, a geographically enabled personal space to upload data, set permissions and share content with other users in the network.”

The ERDAS TITAN GeoHub enables an organization to participate as a community on the ERDAS TITAN Network. The TITAN GeoHub provides security so that data can be shared and published internally to each organization that uses it. TITAN can also serve data to Google Earth and Microsoft Live Local.

More on ERDAS IMAGINE Feature Extraction Tool & ERDAS Image Manager Product Overview
ERDAS has created a new feature extraction tool that will be released as a module, part of the next ERDAS IMAGINE release. The product’s Beta will be released later this April. ERDAS Image Manager is a solution to support the understanding of where imagery resides in multiple image stores and provides a way to secure and manage data assets with the objective to expose imagery to a broader audience. It crawls a department for files related to raster data, such as TIF files, and looks at metadata associated with the image. The data are then stored in an OGC-compliant catalog. Security models can be assigned by person, by resolution or by geography. Certain protocols can be leveraged to send imagery to many people using the ECW compression technology. The product provides a gateway to a variety of applications on the desktop, the web or mobile. It allows scalability throughout the organization because it is based on standard IT protocols. ERDAS Image Manager is SOA compliant to integrate with other enterprise applications.

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