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Keeping track of it all
American author and former dot com business executive, Seth Godin once said, “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
This is exactly what the Managing Director of GISCAD Ltd, Desmond Dougall and his partner Sudesh Botha did when they decided to take a leap of faith and ploughed their savings into an entity that was being divested by its parent company which was undergoing a diversification drive.
A combination of two acronyms - GIS and CAD - Dougall said the successful partnership came into being 14 years ago when he and Botha, who were both employed by Illuminat at the time, “Decided to divest this part of technology they were in, so we took it over and started our own company.”
A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data.
It is widely used to optimize maintenance schedules and daily fleet movements.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is the use of computer systems to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design.
CAD is an important industrial art extensively used in many applications including automotive, shipbuilding, and aerospace industries, industrial and architectural design, prosthetics and many more.
A father of three, Dougall said even though uncertainty surrounded the move, “We took over some of the distributorships and clients they had in this area which was very limited at the time and we developed it from there.”
The Petit Valley resident who holds a Masters in GIS from the University of Holland, laughingly referred to himself as the “tech geek” in the partnership.
Dougall, who acts as the main face of the company explained, “It is a very specialised field dealing with land information systems.”
Indicating the many roles he has had to adopt over the years, Dougall said it became imperative in order to ensure the company’ s continued survival and growth.
He said, “From an entrepreneurial side, this is how many companies fail because everybody is either technical or administrative, but you must have a mix as everybody can’t be technical.”
However, Dougall said it hasn’t been quite as smooth as some believe.
He admitted, “We got into some hardship between 2008 and 2010 because we weren’t really paying attention to those kinds of issues.”
“But we had to buckled down and put some real structure and discipline in place, financial-wise.”
Having determined the niche market they wanted to reach, Dougall said they started off providing consulting services and advising mainly government clients before taking on a larger customer base in the form of commercial entities.
Their client base today now extends further afield to several territories in the Caribbean including the Barbados Statistical Office.
In T&T, Dougall said, “We were helping the Ministry of Planning, providing satellite imaging for the entire country. High resolution and detailed imaging to help with the physical planning of the country.”
Although they enjoyed the benefits of such work, Dougall said, “In order to provide bread and butter money at the same time, we took on a few distributorships for technology companies.”
This resulted in them becoming the Caribbean agent for AutoCAD.
AutoCAD is a commercial computer-aided design and drafting software application.
Dougall said this meant they, “Interact with all engineers, architects, surveyors, contractors, construction companies, governments and utility companies.”
He said consultancy work was akin to that of a roller-coaster ride in that, “Sometimes things are good, sometimes things are terrible so you need things to even out the cash flow.”
Two years after they formed GISCAD Ltd, Dougall and some friends hit upon the idea to provide GPS tracking services in a country where the field was relatively new.
Setting up GeoTrac, Dougall said it now boasted the reputation of being the leading Fleet Management System in the Caribbean region.
It is a GPS based fleet and asset management solution designed to assist business owners, managers, and supervisors to manage all of their mobile assets
With GeoTrac, Dougall said a company could be provided with up-to-date-information regarding their cars, trucks, trailers and mobile phones at the touch of a button.
Channeling their efforts into providing this service for commercial clients, Dougall explained, “We wanted to provide a higher-end service that provided a lot of information and reporting for commercial clients so it would help them understand, not just where things are but how their drivers are driving, where they are visiting, what their day looks like and general intelligence about the use of their assets and their personnel.”
He added, “It helps them with their HR management, stock and inventory management and helps them ensure their drivers are representing the company in a positive light.”
Pressed to say if the service was used by employers to “spy” on their employees, Dougall said it could be interpreted in this manner.
With over 300 clients utilising their services to date, Dougall said their fleets ranged from 275 vehicles for one company down to a one/two-car fleet for a smaller organisation.
Asked how they were able to manage the thousands of commercial vehicles currently outfitted with GPS traversing the nation’s roads, Dougall stressed, “We don’t manage it. We allow the client to do that.”
He said GISCAD only installed the device following which the client is provided with the appropriate software to continue the process, thus ensuring they maintain control of the system.
He added, “We train you on how to use the system and it’s all online, so you can access the information from anywhere in the world, even off your phone.”
Dougall said while many companies go this route mainly for security purposes, they firmly believe clients should receive the full range of services to suit their needs.
As such, he said, “We are providing a continuous service to our clients. We are not just giving them a one-time facility. We are helping them with efficiency and improving investment.”
Going one step further for their clients “who have clients of their own,” Dougall said they had undertaken two “mapping” exercises across T&T in 2008 and 2013 respectively, moving from 8,000 points to 25,000 points.
He said, “Every single road in the country was mapped, except where was considered dangerous.”
The 2013 exercise took nine two-member teams a period of nine months to complete.
Dougall said, “We are providing a lot more information to our clients to help the efficiency of their systems and that was why we stayed with commercial clients.”
He said the rationale behind it was, “If we are not providing something of value, then we are of no use to our client.”
Declaring this to be their mantra, Dougall said it had been reinforced even more so in these trying economic times as, “You can’t be a nice-to-have in these times, you have to be absolutely integral to the operations of your client’s business.”
He went on, “If you are not integral to your client’s business and not providing value on a daily basis, then you are of no use to them.”
Dougall said while many companies had experienced a contraction, GISCAD continued to record growth as their clients valued their operations.
He said, “While business in T&T has not dropped, it is not growing fast either. It has stabilised and there has been minimal growth which is more than most companies can say now. However, our growth outside of T&T is growing rapidly.”
He said although they experienced a “dip” in their financials during 2015/2016, they have since recovered due largely in part to sound business structures.
Elaborating about their operations abroad, Dougall said they decided to expand the services sector into Guyana where they were now ranked as the number one provider of GPS tracking services in the territory.
Similarly, they also enjoy the same status in Grenada and St. Lucia - with fledgling operations in Antigua, Haiti and Belize.
With so much commercial growth outside T&T, Dougall said they had not been adversely affected by the local foreign exchange shortage.
He said, “Anybody who only has a business that their income is in TT and their expenses are in US, they can’t survive.”
Dougall urged companies to explore opportunities further abroad in order to survive these tough economic challenges.
He said, “Find something that people need and want to buy.”
Dougall credited his wife as being a pillar of support and an invaluable resource during the time it took to establish the business and ensure its success.
He admitted to missing birthdays, holidays and special occasions but he said the love of his spouse was the “glue” that kept him sane and also ensured his kids turned out to be normal, happy and healthy individuals.
Dougall concluded that establishing and maintaining the lifetime value of a customer was a carefully blended concoction of targeted engagement and relationship building - all drawn from meaningful data analysis.
He said it was only when business owners understand their customers needs and provide a solution to effectively alleviate those pains, would it create interactions mutually beneficial to the company and user.
His big take away is, “When customers are put first, revenue follows.”