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Interview with Han Wensink, CEO of BMT Argoss and EARSC Chairman


Q: Thank you Mr Wensink for your time, firstly, tell us a bit about your company BMT-Argoss, what it does and how it has grown over the years

We are a global operating company with offices mainly in Europe, Asia and former USSR. We provide support to clients where their activities are being hampered by environmental conditions and where their activities might have impact on the environment.

Q: Explain to us what does your company does and how it operates?

We provide high quality Metocean data, Metocean forecasting, design and operability services, and vessel performance consultancy mainly to the oil and gas and maritime transport markets.

Q: What are the most important competences of BMT- Argoss that help you succeed in the market? What are your main competences?

Amongst others, we have core competences on meteorology, oceanography, modeling, data assimilation, satellite observations and processing and naval architecture.

For us satellite data are an important almost essential source to calibrate and validate our models on which we build and provide our services. We have built up in house a huge quality checked archives of satellite data of wind, waves, currents, sea level and water quality parameters over the last 25 years on which value added services are build upon and around. One of those services are maneuvering and towing of platforms but also the mooring and berthing of vessels in ports.


Q: What are the key markets that you address? and If you look beyond 2013 where do you see the industry greatest prospects for growth coming from? How will the commercial market evolve or if you perceive emerging markets as an area for expansion?

As a company we are addressing the energy and maritime transport markets. These are interesting and steadily growing markets where environmental data are essential and where solutions are required on a day to day basis.

Q: How do you perceive emerging markets as an area for expansion? Does that type of geographical expansion and diversification change a significant step for the industry?

Our company’s energy market business at the moment is principally in the oil and gas sector, but also the renewable energy sector is steadily emerging. We are focusing on the markets in Asia, West Africa, Russia and to some extent Brazil and the Mediterranean. Important are services related to harsh environments (e.g. deep water, strong currents, high waves, ice) where specific information services are needed for planning and design as well as to support day to day operations. Although the market in the North Sea is declining, many opportunities still exist because the oil majors are leaving the North Sea and smaller oil companies are entering the market and looking for specialist services.

Q: How confident of growth are you in the current environment?

Within the oil and gas sector there is a tendency to move towards managed service contracts. These are turnkey, long-term, framework contracts providing full 24/7 services and usually includes delivery of data, staff, in situ measurements, high-tech back office systems and resources for operational processing of data. We are running major projects with some of the big oil companies and we are heading for more contracts of this kind.

The market size is quite considerable (>>€50m/year) and growing. Despite the current economic downsize and some delays in major projects, it is anticipated that opportunities in the energy market will steadily grow.

On the Maritime transport markets we provide niche services and products related to safety and efficiency associated with Metocean information such as weather forecasting and routing services. However, most of these services are given in near isolation, whilst the market is looking for full turn-key integrated solutions.

We continue to observe that safe navigation and weather avoidance (routing) is still a weak crutch. We see many opportunities in this area (e.g. shipping, environment, Metocean, safety at sea) and satellite data is and will play an important role into this for the next decade.

Regarding the earth observation sector, the major income is still coming from governments. However, I have seen and I expect that the importance of private markets will increase further and significantly in the coming years. For our industry major opportunities exist in geographical areas outside Europe where the infrastructure is less developed than in Europe and where satellites play a crucial role in observing and understanding our environment we operate in.

Q: How do you perceive emerging markets as an area for expansion? Does that type of geographical expansion and diversification change a significant step for the industry?

I have already seen an uptake of the oil and gas sector in certain regions and I am convinced that many opportunities will appear for our members in the oil and gas sector. As chairman of EARSC I have therefore taken initiatives already a couple of years ago to create awareness within our EO sector of opportunities in the energy markets by providing market intelligence to our members, by supporting joint conferences, by establishing working groups and as you are probably aware of one our working group on Geomatics (OGEO) is currently fully integrated in OGP, the Association of Oil and Gas producers.

Q: Can you talk further about how the attractiveness of different countries and different regions is changing?

For our sector the markets outside Europe will become very important and this will require companies to understand these foreign markets, to qualify for these markets and to position for these markets. Hereto, organizations such as ESA and the EU, as well as national bodies are playing an important role for our sector to prepare for this future business.

For the next years and mainly outside Europe major investments (multi billions) are scheduled for exploration and production of oil and gas. Together with these investments strict conditions are being enforced on our clients to develop local economies that are transferred to our sector. This will have impact on our sector and require us to adapt and to develop service companies with local staff in the regions where these investments take place.


Q: One of the most important dialogue´s governments can have with this industry is connected to our entry into a new place to do business…. Beyond economic policies, what’s the one thing governments can do to better support the sector? What can governments do specifically to help and support the industry?

Governments (but also associations like ours to a certain extent) have an important role to play in helping companies in identifying new markets, to help them in qualifying and positioning companies for those new markets, help them in understanding the legal and financial framework the companies need to work in and help them in removing barriers that prevent or make it difficult for companies to operate.

Q: How should be the effective collaboration between government and the private sector?

Governments are playing already an important role in this by gathering intelligence information through for instance their Embassies but also by developing government to government agreements, by technology programs to position companies to provide the services needed in those new markets. However, I notice a shift in legal and financial requirements in countries where governments can play an important extended role by removing certain exceptional liabilities by providing financial export guarantees.


_EARSC (the European Association for Remote Sensing Companies) is the European trade association dealing with the geospatial services sector, the EARSC mission is to foster the development of the European Geo-Information Services Industry._ 

Q: As Chair of EARSC, could you describe in a generic sentence what is the EO trade association for you? and what for you are the key responsibilities?

EARSC is for me an important association to help growing our sector by identifying, sharing and help developing business but also to help solving issues which form barriers to our members to growth. My key responsibilities are to identify business issues of our members and to assure that our association adds value and allow them to focus on their business and growth.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main benefits of EARSC membership? How is EARSC developing its membership and services? Is this an area for future priority?

The key benefits of being a member of EARSC is that we have a two way communication from the markets to EARSC members and from EARSC members to the markets to create awareness and to identify business. Secondly, we have a strong communication within the EARSC members to help developing partnership to provide business. 

Q: To what extent has the EARSC strategy changed over the past years i.e. evolution, association business model and what are the main objectives for the year 2013? and What are some of the key industry issues currently under review?

Our industry has changed in the last 10 years and will be changing in the next 10 years. Over the last 10 years our industry has grown significantly at around 8% per annum and has become very professional. As an association we are looking forward continuously to identify together with our members what the upcoming challenges will be and develop strategies to anticipate and overcome them. 

Q: What would you say are the most important strategic and operational advantages EARSC need in implementing the current strategy or driving those changes that EARSC is starting to contemplate?

Since it was formed in 1989, nearly 25 years ago, EARSC has operated as a sort of club where the directors have needed to take on actions themselves. This worked very effectively whilst the EO industry was mainly concerned with R&D activities. EARSC took a significant step forward in 2004 with the appointment of our executive secretary and has taken another one with the appointment of our secretary general in 2011. Now we have become more widely recognised as being a serious voice representing the industry it is time to consider the next step again.

As I have described for my own business, today the industry is evolving from this environment of R&D and government led business to one with a much more commercial focus. In my opinion this is as a result of many factors one of which is the much easier access to multiple sources of data; not just multiple satellites but also in-situ data and many others. So, as the industry is evolving so should EARSC. I have encouraged the move to interact with the oil and gas community and look now for us to work with others. ESA’s lead into working with International Financial Institutions can be one path, the insurance industry could be another; we shall have to evaluate this and other possibilities over the next few months. At the same time, I want the association to do more to help companies in the export market.

This comes just at the point when GMES / Copernicus will start to deliver and we should ensure that it is the European industry that reap the benefits of European taxpayer investment – to deliver an economic return to Europe.

Hence one of our key objectives for 2013 is to re-evaluate the strategy for EARSC. We have spent the last few months completing a comprehensive survey of the industry and so we now have a good picture of what it looks like, where it is working and what are the strategic priorities – as well as the difficulties that it is facing.

This will allow us to examine what we think the Association should be doing for it’s members and to adjust it’s activities and also its governance accordingly. At the same time, we face an increasing need to engage – even more than we have been – with the European Commission and this must be factored into the deliberations about our future set-up.

So it will be an important year for EARSC and I look forward to steering the Association into a position to play this role effectively.

Q: How does EARSC see its relationship with the other major trade organisations developing over the next 5 years?

For EARSC it is important that we don’t operate in isolation but that we are well connected to all stakeholders of our sector, i.e. our members, policy makers and other associations representing our suppliers and clients. Therefore we are in continuous discussion with ESA, the EU and national governments but also with associations representing the customers of our members with the objective to help our members to operate smooth and to grow.


Q: What is your view of the outlook for the sector? What factors are most important to this industry? And how this industry should be moving?

The economic outlook for our sector is very good. Different market intelligence reports show that our sector will grow in the next decade. The most important geographical growth areas for growth are in Asia, Russia, Africa and South America but Europe will still be important to build capabilities for our members. Our sector will offer employment to many people in and outside Europe. However, the competition in the sector from the USA and also from other areas outside Europe will be huge and therefore a European export strategy is needed to position European companies and to foster their growth. These are also the areas where we as an association would like to help our members in developing their business with our motto that a strong sector will both foster and require a strong association.