HxGN RADIOPodcast

Welcoming Thermopylae: A Bridge between the Geospatial and the Operational Worlds

In this podcast, we talk to Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon’s Geospatial Division, Tammer Olibah, President and CEO of Hexagon’s U.S. Federal Division, and A.J. Clark, President of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology about the recent acquisition of Thermopylae by Hexagon. We’ll be discussing more about the products, the strategies, and how the synergies between these companies helped to create a bridge between the geospatial and the operational worlds.

ML: Hello, I’m Matt Langan and welcome to HxGN Radio. We are here to talk about the recent acquisition of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology by Hexagon. Specifically, we’ll be discussing more about the products, the strategies, and how the synergies between these companies helped to create a bridge between the geospatial and the operational worlds. We’re joined by Mladen Stojic, President of Hexagon’s Geospatial Division, Tammer Olibah, President and CEO of Hexagon’s U.S. Federal Division, and A.J. Clark, President of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology.

Let’s start at the top with A.J. Our listeners might not be familiar with Thermopylae, and if you could give us a quick background on the company and the problems that your products address, that would be great.

AC: Yes, thanks. We’ll jump right in here. Thermopylae, initially, was founded in 2007. We started with a focus on the federal space, and really wanted to take some of the complex geosystems and software to your everyday users, intelligence analysts, operators, folks like that. And we saw tools like Google Maps and Google Earth as common denominators that hundreds of millions of users were able to identify with, and implement in their day-to-day lives.

There was a saying at Google that says, “Work the way you live.” We kind of took that to heart, and we worked to bridge more of the GIS world with those operational users. Where we are now, you know, we’ll blend vector content from roads and rivers to raster imagery from satellites down to small drones, along with terrain data ranging from 30-meter of global terrain data down to 7-centimeter terrain data that can be accessed and disconnected environments.

Everything we do is born in the cloud but designed to function seamlessly in a disconnected environment, and that’s fully disconnected if necessary. That’s a core element of our value proposition, which is taking cloud scale, taking exquisite technologies, but breaking them down to something that can run on a mobile device with a regular standard user. So that’s kind of our background. We went from 2007 and evolved that technology stack, expanded into the private sector a little bit along the way about five years ago. And that’s what we do, what we offer, and how we got here.

ML: That’s excellent. Thanks, A.J., for that run down there. And let’s kick it over to Mladen. From a high-level perspective, what was it about Thermopylae that interested Hexagon? And how does the company help to advance our 5D visualization portfolio?

MS: Sure. If you remember, Matt, as soon after we acquired Luciad, in 2017, we basically met with the Luciad team and understood who their primary customers were, and who they were servicing. And one of their customers/partners was Thermopylae. And they recognized the importance of having fast visualization in analytics technology that can help them deliver large volumes of data.

And we recognize that Thermopylae had established a very strong presence in the U.S. market. Recognizing we needed to also expand our footprint not only in the U.S., but internationally, we saw a perfect fit to basically meld Hexagon with Thermopylae to give us a stronger push in the U.S. market, but also leverage what the Thermopylae team has done with products like Jeep, and their relationship with Google, and now extend that or at least have the ability to extend that outside the United States in international markets. With respect to the 5D strategy, clearly, it fulfills all the elements of the 5D strategy with the solutions that they’ve built. And now we have the ability to extend that beyond the U.S. market and go much further beyond that.

ML: Excellent. Let’s shift over to Tammer. From a DNI/federal perspective, how will this acquisition help Hexagon U.S. Federal to basically enhance its overall offerings?

TO: Excellent question. I mean, you have a good flavor of what Thermopylae is, and you have a good idea of what Hexagon Geospatial Division brings. It’s important to know where Hexagon U.S. Federal sits in the ecosystem, right? The cadence and the way we work and sell to our customers here in the DoD and Intel space, we’re able to bring all of the software and hardware platforms in through the proxy into kind of solution-based type capability to all of our customers. And so, as we do that, we also have folks that sit on the ground, right?

We have boots on the ground on all of these agencies. And so what Thermopylae brings us is an enhanced portfolio around our geospatial solutions, as well as enhancement in our footprint to the key customers that we currently work with every day today. And this is more of a, I would say, marriage between Hexagon U.S. Federal and Thermopylae. We work in the same spaces, we work with the same customers, same capabilities, same software suites and toolsets. And this is a natural merging that I think is going be very positive for us in the solutions we provide today.

ML: That’s great. And A.J., let’s kick it over to you. Let’s hear your perspective as to why Hexagon was the ideal buyer for Thermopylae.

AC: I think what we saw was a couple of things. And one of the primary reasons that we thought they were an ideal buyer was the pattern they were establishing with acquisitions. The fact that they bought the Luciad IP, that corporation, was a good indicator for us of where they were looking in the future, and showed a commitment to the kinds of pieces that we felt we would want if we were to organically invest in our own growth. So that was really great to see. In addition to that, Hexagon had many of the complementary components that Thermopylae would have spent our own dollars on, had we continued forward independently.

To break those down, maybe four or five points, the global sales presence was huge. We had a North America presence, but always had an interest and had some pressure from Google to expand internationally. The second thing would be the 3D web APIs. Having Luciad brought into the fold was key. We had a partnership with Luciad, and we really felt like their 3D APIs, as well as their ability to manage point clouds in 3D data, was really integral to the next generation of geo-technologies that were delivered to a broader set of users than just GIS analysts. And the other element was having access to sensors, aerial sensors, space-based sensors, terrestrial sensors, to round out that ecosystem or supply chain of how you get really important data to a broader user community without encumbering it by unique standards or really expensive software, things like that.

Those all came together to give us the fundamental pieces we felt were going to be necessary for any organization that was really trying to get rapid growth and kind of break through into geo-space over the next decade. In addition to that, what was really exciting for us was the fact that we could nest our private sector business, which we have been investing a lot in, as well as our federal business, in one organization. And there’s not a lot of unique companies out there like that. And Hexagon really brought that to the fold with us. So the ability to take that cleared work in a robust federal organization, and then also the private sector stuff, kind of ran along the foundation of all our decision-making and those points that I mentioned earlier about those particular technologies that really were exciting for us.

ML: That’s great. Thanks, A.J. Great insights there. And, Mladen, tell us about how this acquisition helps to enhance the vision of a smarter digital reality for customers.

MS: To echo what both A.J. and Tammer had said, what was unique and playing off what was unique about Thermopylae, in parallel to what Hexagon was doing, we’re not only interested in, let’s say, designing, building, and delivering sensors, or let’s say the same with software, designing software, delivering software, or just being a services shop.

With Thermopylae, we basically had an organization and continue to have an organization that can sell content, that has sold and continues to sell sensors, but also, designs, builds, and delivers software as a combined solution. If we look at what is a smart digital reality, a smart digital reality is a dynamic system and solution that includes sensor technology for collecting data, software for processing, and ultimately, using that data to solve a mission-critical problem and/or solution. And then wrapping all that around a turnkey solution or service that adds value to the end user and the end customer.

If you have all those ingredients together, you ultimately have a smart digital reality. And if we look at Thermopylae, very much like Hexagon, they were not one-dimensional with regards to how they go to the market and how they deliver value to a customer. They weren’t just delivering software, or hardware, or a service. They were combining all that together with content. And that’s very, very much in line with how Hexagon approaches the market because we will understand that the old days of these siloed approaches to adding value and delivering value to customers are over. You have to be able to deliver integrated capabilities that solve mission-critical problems, that will need everything from hardware sensors to content to software wrapped around the service, adding value with support to the end user and the end customer. And that’s a smart solution. That’s smart digital reality. And once again, Thermopylae knocks it out of the park when it comes to that.

ML: Right. Thanks for those insights there. And A.J., we touched upon this a little bit earlier in the podcast. But I’d love to hear more about the momentum that you all have built up over the past several years, both in public-private sector, and why that kind of enhanced you all as being an ideal target for this acquisition.

AC: I think that we had to make a choice about five years ago, and working with Harris Eisenberg, inside our organization, we identified that there was a demand from Google to, I wouldn’t say outsource their sales, but really leverage a partner that was an expert with how you put together geo-technologies, geo data for visualization, as well as location intelligence, and could assemble the solutions or help coach customers on how to assemble them with some of the Google APIs in their Google Maps platform. We went kind of all in on that, and we’re very successful.

We were able to establish hundreds of customers over the last five years in that space. We knew that there were synergies in that private sector space with our federal business. And to really do something interesting and look at scaling, we had to continue to grow it. I think that that’s a really positive market channel for a lot of the Hexagon capabilities. We immediately see the opportunity to provide content through it. We saw a need and a demand from customers to have access to content with unique and flexible Terms of Service. The Hexagon content really is going to give us an opportunity to allow customers to do things with derivative works.

And they may still use some components of Google’s technology, but we’ll give them this core content, which many customers in that market channel are hungry for. I think that really positioned us well, from a Hexagon perspective, to fit with some of the things that they already had. And that momentum has, you know, just grown each year over the last five years. The other thing, you know, that’s been really great for our growth is supporting a customer base that has requirements to operate on their own networks that are physically separate from worldwide web.

And we expect that to be a large customer set into the future, regardless of any kind of technology changes because of the policies associated with, whether it’s an Emergency Response Center, if it’s a banking institution, or if it’s a government on a secure network. So our goal over the last five years was to roll up hundreds of thousands of users in that space that were using technologies like Google Earth, and allow them to sustain their access to it, whether it was Google Maps and the web or Google Earth on the desktop.

And that really was a culmination of a decade of work partnership with Google, implementation of Google Earth Enterprise, and then the investment in Google Earth Enterprise platform, which is the sustained and supported version of Google Earth that we provide to those disconnected users. Bringing together a new market channel in the private sector for Hexagon, there was a lot of momentum around that, and it kind of came together at the right time. And then having that momentum of capturing those hundreds of thousands of users and providing them in a cleared space or a disconnected space, access to a technology that they depended on, and utilized on a day-to-day basis, that was really the inflection point for us where we had all of that momentum from those two communities. That was exciting, and obviously caught some attention from Hexagon for acquisition.

One other thing on that is that, the momentum was focused on those two capabilities, but the reality is, there’s a management team, and there’s engineers and sales staff that were able to realize that. So apart from just momentum on a technology side or a customer market channel, there was actually a highly performing team on this end that was also part of the momentum. All of those piece parts came together on the momentum side.

ML: That’s great. Congratulations on gaining that momentum over the past five years, A.J. The insights, they’re awesome. Tammer, let’s switch it over to you. We often hear in the GEOINT defense sector the need for advancing real-time intelligence at the tactical edge for the warfighters. It’s been a common theme in the sector for many years. So, from your perspective, how will the integration of Thermopylae solutions into the Hexagon and Luciad portfolios help with this?

TO: Well, I mean, let me hop on something that A.J. and Mladen were touching on because I think it’s important. I mean, what you’re hearing is what Thermopylae is representing, right? It’s an enabler and a force multiplier for everything that we’re doing today across Hexagon, and then Hexagon U.S. Federal. So, I mean, what you’re hearing here is, as it pertains to kind of the geospatial software, you’ve already heard there was an existing partnership already where Luciad technologies was working with the different solutions that Thermopylae has today. And that’s going to continue to integrate and move forward under the Hexagon U.S. Federal umbrella. But then you’re also hearing kind of that larger piece, and I know it’s kind of been drilled down.

But I think it’s very important from a Hex federal side to the DoD intelligence customers is the brand here is sensors, analytics, and then secure solutions. And we have it all, soup to nuts. And I think what you can hear from this conversation is where Thermopylae sits in that ecosystem as the force multiplier, right? What we can provide to these customers to get to the warfighter, to get to the tactical edge, is everything from your sensors, the data collection, the ingest, the vetting of that data, the analytics on top of that data, the visualization of that data, and the integration with other capabilities to provide solutions with that data. And Thermopylae works across that string to include imagery content, as you heard earlier. And so, from our perspective, here at Hexagon U.S. Federal, I mean, that’s why it’s just a natural marriage and natural integration piece here with us that pushes our vision and our growth strategy forward.

ML: Mladen, I would love to hear your overall vision of how this acquisition will positively impact the future of Hexagon’s Geospatial division.

MS: Just like we did with Luciad, we can’t underestimate the injection of culture and innovation that a company like Hexagon gets when bringing on companies like Thermopylae into the organization. They certainly have a unique perspective and approach that has worked, a recipe for success as demonstrated through the very positive feedback their customers continue to provide, given the long-term relationships and solutions that they deliver to customers who rely on them, who need support. When you bring a company like Thermopylae, and just like we did with Luciad, into the organization of Hexagon, you’re effectively injecting the larger organization with that positive culture, with that spirit of innovation, that entrepreneurial approach that is much needed across any organization.

But clearly, you get that when you bring companies like Thermopylae into the family. So, from a vision perspective, our goal is to focus on innovation as opposed to, let’s say, integration. There needs to continue to be that entrepreneurial approach to innovating based on what they have already done, and successfully, that is within the U.S. base and now carry that forward even further with Tammer’s team in the U.S. base, but even broader beyond that globally where we can see a need.

And now we have a solution with great capabilities, like Google Earth Enterprise platform, iSpatial, and other solutions that have been proven to succeed and work for our customer base in the United States. So our vision is to continue doing what we’re doing and expand. So it’s scaling up what we have here, and going global, and applying the same recipe that AJ, Harris and the team at Thermopylae have used and replicate that recipe elsewhere. And we’re gonna do that very pragmatically, very practically, in a measured form. And I’m convinced it will work because we have a great team.

And clearly, when you look to acquire a company, you also, in addition to the due diligence that you do, the financial due diligence, the technical due diligence you do, when you do an acquisition, you also look at the people and you look at the culture, and you look at the fit. And in dialogue with Tammer and team, we clearly early on identified AJ and Harrison’s team, have that culture, that spirit, that passion that Hexagon respects, and certainly wants more of as we go forward. So our plan and our vision is to scale up to take the recipe of success and effectively multiply that elsewhere around the world. Hopefully, that answers that question.

ML: It certainly did. Yes. I’m glad. And thank you very much for sharing that vision. And let’s kick it over to Tammer. Tammer, before we sign off today, any final thoughts? Anything we may have missed?

TO: No, I will piggyback onto some stuff Mladen said. You heard the theme of scale-up, I mean, what you’re going to see with Thermopylae entering the Hexagon family and operating through Hexagon U.S. Federal is a broadening I think it’s the best way for me to put it. I mean, when you see the diverse portfolio that Thermopylae is kind of walking into, so it goes both ways, right. but if they’re walking into everything from public safety, to LiDAR single photon LiDAR sales, to data production, and professional services across almost every three-letter agency when they walk into Hexagon Federal. And what we’re going to do, from a technology standpoint, is work a go-to-market strategy more broadly across the entire customer base.

And what you’ll see is a broadening of what Thermopylae brings with what we currently have in-house to a much larger set of customers. And that’s one big piece I think you’re going to see in the coming year. Also, another piece that MS touched on was kind of that innovation and engineering shop. I mean, that was, from my standpoint, something that I was incredibly impressed with across the board with Thermopylae. And I think what we’re going to see there is, you know, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I think you’re going to see kind of a bolt-on approach internally from our end. And I think that’s going to pay great dividends for Hexagon and Hexagon Federal.

ML: Excellent. A.J., any final thoughts on your end?

AC: Tammer is spot on there with that synopsis. You know, we have lots and lots of eyeballs, which is lots and lots of customers. And Hexagon is going to bring a lot of additional tools that we can provide to those customers in a way that’s seamless, right? They don’t have to struggle with the integration and try and find vendors that can integrate things, and, you know, risk not achieving a certain result. We’re extremely excited about that. As engineers and entrepreneurs, that’s a very exciting opportunity to contribute to this next generation technical stack that’s all under one strategic umbrella from sensors to content to software.

And just from my perspective, as I see it, you have, you know, Hexagon, which provides support to a lot of legacy software, but they’re working to merge it with new software and build the next generation of software. You have within the past, and we’ve built up all this GIS foundational data, you have the tools now where you’re democratizing that and putting it out to 10s, 100s, and millions of users. And then that helps inform where this next generation of technology is, this 5D concept of geospatial digital cities. You know, all of the virtual representation or recreation of that world, it requires a pretty big technical stack.

And I think you need a team that has access to that legacy stuff, the current stuff, and then that builds the future. So we plan to leverage the massive user adoption of Google Earth and maps, blend it with the on-premise scalability of Luciad tools, and then integrate some of the legacy features of prior tools, GIS tools, and expose them out through what would be a modern platform that integrates with some of the new sensor technologies and produce content that only that platform can manage, while we take our engineering team, which is now part of Hexagon Federal, and just try to aggressively innovate to bring easy-button analytics and visualization tools to manage all of that technology that’s in that stack.

And that’s an aggressive goal. And it’s going to take us some time, but the cool thing is that rather than spending our time competing against the Luciad or competing against the Hexagon sensor, we’re all under one roof. And I think that’s where we’re going to get some economy of scale and years down the road where we have a bird’s eye view into what the users need, to what the legacy GIS producers produce, and, you know, through whether it’s acquisition or our own innovation, our R&D, really build out that next generation platform for the geospatial community and your regular everyday user.

ML: A big thank you to our guests today, Mladen, Tammer and A.J. for taking the time to speak with us. For more information about today’s topic, visit hexagongeospatial.com. To listen to additional episode, or learn more, visit hxgnspotlight.com.