GDT puts the intelligence behind the map.
"That's really all we do is sell map data." Purely digital map data that includes such information as street names, addresses on the street. "It's the computerized information that allows you to make a Rand McNally map."
You've probably already used a map that GDT collected data on, if you've used MapQuest, MapBlast or Expedia to obtain driving directions off the Internet. Or if you've had a refrigerator delivered to your home, GDT supplies Sears with the data to make such deliveries. Pizza delivery restaurants use GDT data to ensure that pizza's are delivered within a certain timeframe, as do package delivery companies and car navigation systems.
As one of the 10 fastest growing private companies in New Hampshire, with $35 million in revenue this year and a 30-40 percent growth rate, GDT is one of the Upper Valley's largest employers.
When GDT started in 1980, maps came on paper. But Donald Cooke, company founder, knew that someday it was going to be different. Cooke was on the U.S. Census Bureau's New Haven Census Use Study Team, which in 1967 created the Dual Independent Map Encoding system that would allow map information to be stored in computers. Cooke knew that the DIME files would have to be enhanced if they were to ever have any commercial value. Coverage would have to expand beyond the 345 cities initially covered by the Census Bureau's release of the files, and users would have to be able to find addresses and match them to accurate coordinates anywhere in the country, as well as identify traffic zones and specialized territories -- all not included in these files.
So Cooke founded GDT 20 years ago in Lyme, with three employees, releasing their first standard product in 1981 when it created digital Census Tract boundaries for U.S. metropolitan areas. And the company continued to create and publish boundaries for Census-defined geography, which remain the standard used by major demographic providers today.
Throughout the eighties, Cooke maintained close contact with the Census Bureau, who wanted to migrate the DIME files to a more robust computer mapping system, referred to as TIGER -- Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing. -- which remains the street and address database used by the Census Bureau to help conduct the Census and other projects. And from those roots, the company has swelled to 500 employees and still counting (considering that to date there is no digital map in existence for the entire United States).
"Most people think that maps are already done, so it's a hard concept for people to understand," said Gerling. "The maps that exist in your glove box are more or less art because they are hand drawn, versus a digital map which can be accessed, manipulated, worked with, zoomed in, scaled down or cut, pasted and put into different places."
GDT is still working on the map of the US. and expanding that geography to include Canada, Brasil and Argentina.
The digital map data is mined in the Resources and Acquisition Department, where employees use such sources as police departments, municipal government, utilities, chambers of commerce, planning and tax agencies, 911 organizations -- anyone who might be creating anything on a map at a local level. They then turn that information over to the Database Improvement Department, where digital map technicians edit and update the core database.
"It's a two-step process," explained Gerling. "All of the inputs -- the different pieces of information -- goes into a core database, and then we create different products out of that."
There are three types of customers who need (yes, need) the maps from GDT First there are those who create Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. "Companies like Map Information based in Troy, N.Y, and ESI out of California -- companies who create computer system applications to do mapping analysis, and we supply the map data to them," said Gerling.
Then there are the companies who provide map information to consumer clients. "Companies like Microsoft for their Expedia software, as well as the maps that are downloaded off the Internet, and companies like AAA, we supply a lot of their information."
And the third class is businesses who buy data from GDT to create their own internal applications, such as large insurance companies, telephone communication companies and Fortune 500 companies. "The Fortune 500s use it for operational purposes -- marketing and sales analysis," said Gerling, "while the insurance companies use it for rating territories in order to price policies, as well as determine what their risk exposure is."
No matter what the application, accuracy is essential. When GDT becomes involved in the development of a local E-911 program, for example, database editors use specially prepared maps with specific street address locations to create detailed address ranges. And they're not going to stop there, said Bruce Bergeron, director of the Database Improvement Dept. Pointing to a map that shows a detailed street network of a neighborhood, he explained that their goal is to know the number of every house.
When you use the Internet to find driving directions from companies like MapQuest, it is possible that the results you were given were less than reliable. And Bergeron said that that is not surprising considering that the data can be extremely outdated. Which is why GDT runs three shifts, seven days a week, in order to accommodate their customers and provide the most up-to-date information that they possibly can.
Imagery and photography is used in the creation of the digital maps so that the map technicians can see the streets, as well as the various levels, in order to accurately show all the routing characteristics. The transportation data that GDT provides is not only accurate, but detailed, including information on airport roadways and terminals, rail facilities, dirt roads, landmarks, points of interest (toll booths, rest areas, ferry terminals, etc.), bodies of water and more.
"We sell the lines that show where Lake Winnipesaukee is, all in a computerized, readable, digital format," said Gerling. "And these are the databases that companies like MapQuest need to drive their applications. They don't create the maps, they create the software that uses the map."
There are a whole series of 40-50 products that come out of GDT's core database, all geared and tied to the maintenance of the mapping information they collect.
"Like the zip code boundary map for the U.S." said Gerling. "The U.S. Postal Service doesn't know where the zip code boundaries are. To them, the zip code is to make deliveries to the right post office. They don't think in terms of where people live when they deliver mail. GDT created the first zip code boundary map in the U.S. in 1985, and we continue to be the people who continue to define that. The list of zip codes in the back of the phone book? It was created downstairs, not at the post office."
Plotting the future
Gerling said that there is no end in sight to GDT's growth, "because it's a really big country, and there are a lot of demands with what we're trying to do. Five years ago those who sought such information were largely a specialized market comprised of pretty sophisticated users who knew how to create a spatial search And it took a lot of hardware to process map software. But today that has changed, and with the delivery of location-based applications, the normal consumer is becoming more electronic map-oriented. The idea of going on the Internet and saying, 'I'm here and want to find an Italian restaurant,' this is a very new phenomena -- driven by the capabilities of the hardware."
And what that in turn has done is put a lot of demands out there for high quality maps. "The technology is out there to deliver the products," continued Gerling, "and the one piece necessary is the foundation -- the map -- to display your world on. To show what's around you, the choices in a spatial standpoint to create a model of the world on your desktop. And that's our job, to create that model. And the demand is taking off, and so the company is really growing to fulfill that demand."
One of the key components in the concierge services that are starting to become standard fare in luxury cars is a very high quality map. "So the concierges can determine where your car is, or where is the nearest service station, it is critical that they have the maps to do that."
And even if GDT manages to complete the map of the United States, it won't end there. "The U.S. Postal Service has over a million changes a quarter," said Gerling. "Whether it's renaming streets or changing zip codes. And as 911 services have come to towns, if a few roads or streets changed in a town, on a local scale that's not that big of a deal. But multiply that with the 15,000 communities that exist and you can start realizing the amount of change that occurs."
Towns also change where their boundaries are. And while that may only happen three or four times in New Hampshire, it happens hundreds of times across the country.
"So we'll always have a job," said Gerling, "because it doesn't end. We're actively collecting mapping data in Canada and we're looking to move off into Mexico, because people travel from those places. So it's a big job and we're looking at lots of growth for a long period of time."
Today Cooke works. three or four days a week, but he is no longer involved with the daily operations. Gerling said that he helps with strategic planning, and is a very good voice to the industry. "In terms of digital and computer mapping information, he is one of the founding fathers. Seven years ago I didn't even know this industry existed, and he's one of the founders of this concept.
"He's very active in the arena, and one of his personal passions is education. He looks to connect GDT with the community and local schools through teaching. He's passionate about bringing geography to the world."
Gerling said that it is important that GDT be a fun place to work. "Environment is very important, and pay scale is very important. Our benefit packages are scrutinized, we provide a very flexible work environment, we have both short-term incentive goal programs as well as an annual bonus program and we've recently initiated an employee stock option program. I'm very biased, but this is one hell of a place to work and we're going to keep it that way."
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|Title Annotation:||Geographic Data Technology Inc.|
|Publication:||New Hampshire Business Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2000|
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