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e-geos interview: Marcello Maranesi

© GeospatialWorld, September 2014. The earth observation industry is becoming more user-driven. Marcello Maranesi, CEO, e-GEOS discusses how his company has moved from data acquisition and supply business to value-added products and services.

There is a definite change of dynamics in the earth observation industry with a data-deluged world increasingly turning to analytics. How has the EO companies reacted to this trend?

This change from data to analytics is definitely progressive. About 20 years ago, we were talking about remote sensing. That was our business. Then it became earth observation, and then the concept got broader and became geoinformation. Now, we are talking about a whole new subject of geomatics because our data and information layers which are derived from satellites have to be compiled for application solutions. This means that they have to be embedded into a software procedure that ultimately contributes to the operational workflow of an end-user, which can be an institution or an industry. EO data is valuable only in the sense that it is capable of contributing to the process of decision making that the end-user is interested in. We are only contributing to a solution. We are not the solution, and our products and services are valuable if they provide the customer with analytical information suitable for its decisions.

Is this trend demand-driven or supply-driven?
Initially our industry was more supply driven but we are progressively becoming user driven. And this would remain so since new capabilities will be added. For example, hyperspectral sensors will determine a completely new era in terms of the quality of information that can be acquired. We will see users playing a major role as they start demanding user-specific applications and services.

As far as e-GEOS is concerned, we have made a move from data acquisition and supply business into value-added products and services. We have also started application solutions, where we go inside the operational workflow of an end-user in specific market segments to understand how we can bring value to the existing workflow, speed-up their operations and make them more efficient by adding new capabilities and competitive advantage. Our Integrated Space Applications, where e-GEOS combines earth observation with navigation information derived from GPS (and in the future from Galileo) as well as with space telecommunications, benefits from being part of the Telespazio Group who is a major player in all space service sectors.

We need to capture the culture of the segment or industry where the customer is operating in. It is not only sufficient to be a technology or data provider. e-GEOS needs to become a multi-technology and multi-culture organisation. And this is quite exciting for us.

Which are the main business areas of your company? What is the USP of e-GEOS and what sets you apart from your competitors?

Our major business areas are defence, agriculture, environment protection, land management and maritime surveillance. From the industry side, oil and gas and transportation are also two key areas of interest for us. In terms of geographic markets, around 80% of our revenues come from the international market with the remaining 20% from Italy.

e-GEOS is a JV between Telespazio (a Finmeccanica/ Thales company), which is the majority shareholder, and the Italian Space Agency. We benefit from our cooperation with a number of companies that are part of Telespazio Group, which has subsidiaries in Europe, including countries like Spain, France, UK, Germany and Romania as well as outside such as Argentina, Brazil and the US. So these subsidiaries help e-GEOS in pursuing local geographic markets through local presence.

We use various types of data sources like satellite, aerial and different sensors to provide a variety of data products in form of services, applications and solutions. All these leverage the competitive advantage of Cosmo-SkyMed SAR satellite constellation that provides unique operational capabilities. We have a complete portfolio of products and services among the whole value chain. We have the capability of providing services for data reception, acquisition, archiving and processing, and also supply and distributing. In addition, we have a number of value-added products and geographic information layers. With our focus on application solutions, we are concentrating on specific vertical markets and trying to enter into the operational workflow of the end users to provide a clear benefit in terms of economic value for the customer.

Our unique capability resides in our ability to exploit radar data into applications. We started developing products and services based on radar data in early 2000. Initially these products and services were more technically driven. Later, with the help of competitive contracts from the European Union, we developed and tested more application products with a strong involvement of the end-users. We are a leader in providing environment and maritime services within Europe as demonstrated by our role in the GMES (now Copernicus) European programme. Our Munich-based subsidiary GAF is also a great asset. It has undertaken and successfully delivered more than 200 projects for governments and investment banks such as World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and Asian Development Bank, in more than 100 countries. For us, it is just one step further in enabling our customers to get the best out of new technologies and capabilities from geospatial information.

The European Commission has agreed to permit free access to data from its Sentinel series of earth observation satellites. Will this move affect your business?

We do not have data comparable to that of Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 2. Sentinel 1 is in C band while COSMO-SkyMed is in X band; Sentinel 1 has 25m resolution while COSMO- SkyMed is 1 and 3 metre resolution. Even when users need a lower resolution, the combined use of both the satellites provides better revisit or geographic coverage.

In fact the Sentinel data and our COSMO-SkyMed ones data are complementary in terms of resolution and bands. So, we see only a positive impact on our businesses. Availability of Sentinel 1 and then Sentinel 2 data would lead to a number of applications that stands to benefit from free and open data distribution. In the process, the availability of Copernicus data will support commercial business based on COSMO-SkyMed data, and improve our applications and services to end-users and even enable us to lower our prices.

How do you see the low-cost nano-satellites affecting the current setup of the EO industry?

Nano-satellites are going to be more and more important in the future. Having a technology which is delivering high results at lower cost and faster time is going to dramatically change the business. We are used to high-performing satellites which cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Nano-satellites may not have the same performance in terms of resolution and collection capacity, but they will surely open up new applications and new ways of making business for the industry, especially because their low cost will enable the launch of many of these satellites in a constellation model. With many satellites in orbit, we will have the capability of imaging a given site on the earth at different times of the day, something we are not used to. We welcome the availability of these new satellites as they enlarge the possibilities for our applications.

How do you envision the EO industry shaping up in the coming times?

In the past, the EO industry was split between the satellite operators, data distributors and value-added producers. Now satellite operators and data distributors have already merged. On the other hand, value-added producers are progressively fading because the game is not anymore to add value to the data or just process the data, but it is to start from the customer side and define/provide him with a specific solution for the specific market segments.

The EO industry is now trying to combine various types of data for producing variety of services and solutions. Therefore, the so-called EO industry is transforming into a geoinformation industry. I am convinced that in the coming times the geoinformation industry will progressively enter the world of information technology and open up a new sector called geomatics. We will be interfacing more and more with IT companies providing specialised solutions to specialised segments to be embedded into an overall system or service for an end-user.