Interview

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Interview with 2017 EARSC Company Award winner

Giovanni Sylos Labini, Chief Executive Officer of Planetek Italia

Planetek

EARSC Company of the Year 2017

Planetek Italy is the winner of the fourth edition of the EARSC Company Award 2017. This is for the company recognised by both peers and international experts as having made the most significant contribution to the growth of the EO services sector in Europe, please tell us what this means for you and how the important the prize is for the Planetek Group?
Planetek actively supports EARSC since many years. We believe EARSC is a real authority in the EO scenario, and what makes a great association is the quality of the associates. EARSC represents the best of our industry all over the world and this makes the EARSC Company Award like an Oscar Prize within our industry, which obviously gives us enormous satisfaction!

Planetek Italia

Tell us a bit about the history of Planetek and how it has grown over the years?
In 1994 I founded Planetek with three young partners: Mariella Pappalepore, Vincenzo Barbieri and Sergio Samarelli. At that time, we were the only personnel of the company and our first year turnover was about 50,000 €. Nowdays, Planetek Group (including Planetek Hellas, founded in 2006) has over 60 highly skilled employees with a turnover that will exceed 6 million € this year.

When the company started in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was the driving force?
The first motto of Planetek was “GIS & Remote Sensing” and the idea was to build a company focused on application design, meeting users’ needs more than following the technology push.

What has been the greatest challenge the company has encountered and how was it overcome?
At first, the greatest challenge was to explain to potential customers what our services were useful for. 23 years ago, the Internet was a new thing for tech gizmos only, and we were based in one of the most disadvantaged regions in Europe. In order to cope with these difficulties, we made strong investments in education and training of our potential customers. We also largely benefited from the Internet as a marketing communication tool and an easier and faster way to connect with our international partners.

Please tell us a bit more about what Planetek does? What are the key markets that you address?
Planetek is structured in 3 Strategic Business Units that are largely autonomous in their markets: Business to Business, Government and Security, Space Stream. This structure normally helps us in smoothing the single market cycles and in doing a serious cross-fertilization of user experiences within different markets.

What do you consider are the most important competences of Planetek that help you succeed?
Of course an obsessive user-focused approach in all our activities. I truly believe that if you ask anyone among our thousands of users and customers acquired over the last 23 years, you will easily find an overall positive impression about our services and products. We always do our best to intercept real users’ needs, rather than looking at the world through the distorted lenses of technology,

What do you see as the main challenges facing the company in the next 1-2 years?
We will continue carrying out our strategy of market diversification and growth, both geographically and in terms of applications. To accomplish this goal, we are taking advantage from the standardisation of our services and from the cloud as a way to boost marketing. Currently, we are within the greatest transition of our product focus: from geoinformation towards geoanalytics. We are well in the business and, in meantime, the IT big guys start being seriously interested in our industry. The challenge for Planetek is to balance the huge investment that IT big players are going to put in our industry with our experience on EO service design. The result of this strategy is our award-winning Rheticus® platform, which is based on our new business model.

Market Views

The quantity of data is exploding in every direction. Every individual, business and government is both generating data and consuming it. Data revolution has already started.

What are the main issues you consider may affect the evolution of the market you are addressing and where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth?
Thanks to EARSC, we are pushing more on a market development approach. At last, the EU Commission, ESA and Member States understood that in order to maintain EU autonomy and leadership in EO, they should implement a strong demand-oriented policy effort. Well, this could be a great chance for EO companies in EU, and we are ready to catch it.

Are there particular threats which you see for your business?
As already said, the EO services look central in order to exploit geoanalytics, but our industry is still small and disperse compared to the IT industry, so the risk is a commoditization of EO services that could erase our niche market.

At the moment, innovation seems to be on everyone’s list of things to promote, what is your perception of innovation in the EO services sector? How do you approach innovation within the Planetek group?
We are making huge investment in R&D, luckily supported by EU programs, ESA, ASI and so forth. Within Planetek, there is a specific internal team, the Design Lab, which takes care of the innovation agenda of our business units.

What is your vision about the democratisation of Earth Observation?
Well, if you mean an easier access of people to EO, this is obviously a benefit for our industry. It helps to build a strong opportunity towards emerging countries and towards potential consumer markets, hardly to be imagined a few years ago.

How you plan your vertically-integrated EO system (space base geospatial big data collection, processing, and information management system)?
At Planetek we think that the long-standing separation between Upstream and Downstream will not survive the technological revolution, so we are positioning Planetek in the design and development of space-stream services, exporting our capabilities in EO application service design in the space segment.

EO Service Development and Stakeholders

In the EO services sector, governments can have a strong influence over the way business develops. Aside from being a good customer, what’s the one other thing governments can do to support the development of the sector?
Like said by Marianna Mazzuccato (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariana_Mazzucato) in her book “The Entrepreneurial State”, Governments should not limit themselves in regulate market, but they have to make precise choices in order to “tilt” the playground in the direction they believe an entire new market can flourish: “EO and Space Services” is one of these for sure.

EARSC is the European trade association dealing with the geospatial services sector; what for you are the main benefits of EARSC membership?
Trade associations have a vital role in establishing relationships among Governments, People and Industry sectors. This is crucial in the EO industry, which is made by small and disperse companies. Moreover, this is a very single point shop for good ideas and cooperation with other subjects in the field.

What do consider is the main issue for EARSC to address today on behalf of the European EO services sector?
The challenge of establishing a true strong internal market for the private sector in EO.

Future

Finally, what can you say about your outlook for the sector and how companies in this sector should be positioning themselves?
Innovate: Capitalize on progress also in related technologies. Internationalize: address extra European markets. Implement non-organic growth strategies.