There are not many 30-year-old software firms whose founders can say they have never taken on an outside investment or loan, and that is still entirely owned by them, but such is the case with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) firm Safe Software.
Founders Don Murray and Dale Lutz met while working on a geospatial forestry data sharing project, and it did not take long for both to realize that while the need to exchange data across different systems and organizations existed, a solution did not. Safe Software was created soon after.
On its website, the Vancouver-based company states the two “experienced the challenge of data interoperability first-hand. Exchanging data and maps while working on a project for the provincial government to help with forestry projects was not easy. Since different organizations use different systems that use different data schemas, information was often lost when shared. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Data systems just weren’t developed to handle these challenges.”
“But that didn’t mean they never would. Safe Software and the idea of what would become FME began. Safe and FME wouldn’t just help the forestry industry with spatial data – it would later become a key tool used by anyone using any kind of data.”
That was in 1993, and clearly they were on to something, for since then, the company has never reached out for a bank loan, and according to a corporate fact sheet, “has successfully weathered every financial storm from the dot-com bubble burst to the 2008 financial crisis, Covid-19, and now, the current tech downturn.”
Revenues last year totaled $70 million, Safe is on target to record revenues of $90 million in 2023, and the plan for Murray, Lutz and their employees is to reach the $250 million mark within the next five years.
In April, the company unveiled what it described as a new corporate identity that revolves around the company’s FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) platform and associated tools that are being used around the globe in a number of different use cases.
These include using FME to create a report that analyzed 140 million UK Class 4 Ministry of Transport (MOT) driving records to get accurate views of average vehicle mileage across England, Scotland and Wales, and working with the University of Denver on a project that involved the rendering of 3D models in augmented reality to research and preserve the site of Amache, a World War II internment camp.
FME has also been used in architecture and engineering projects, assorted government initiatives around the world, the utilities sector, as well as defense and aerospace.
All are important examples of spatial data in use, but none can compare to what is happening in the Ukraine, where as part of a pro-bono initiative, Safe is helping The HALO Trust and all of the humanitarian work it does.
HALO had been operating in Ukraine since 2015, a company backgrounder notes, clearing minefields in the east of the country, but after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022, its members had to stop, and instead work in areas around Kyiv, where the fighting had dwindled.
Safe states on its site that in order to enable operations in an active war zone, the Information Management team at HALO started leveraging open-source data: “Information about different types of incidents involving explosive ordnance was collected from various open data sources, such as social media sites and data aggregators, and then processed, geolocated, and published to their Esri ArcGIS web maps.
“Particularly, FME Flow workflows were set up to automatically pull new data from the sources via the APIs every few hours, transform and publish the data to interactive web maps, providing its field operations teams and executives at HALO, government donors, as well as international stakeholders with the latest information about where threats, contamination, and munitions are located inside Ukraine.”
Murray says that whether it is using FME to track where outbreaks of Covid-19 are likely to happen, or combating a natural or manmade disaster, having the right data is the key to responding quickly.
Lutz adds that “with all the tools we make available to our customers, it allows them to bring data together really fast to help them produce actionable insights.”
Another key reason for the company’s success is its partner network, which currently sits at around the 200-mark and includes value added resellers (VARs) which sell FME and provide services, systems integrators (SIs) who use FME as part of an offering, and technology partners such as CityWorks, a subsidiary of Trimble, which specializes in GIS-centric public asset management.
CityWorks and FME, said Safe, are “utilized by cities for processes like asset and land management, natural disaster relief, community services, infrastructure challenges, and utilities, to name a few. With the help of FME, data is made accessible wherever the city needs it, which is vital to quick decision-making in the field.”
The partners, said Murray, drive upwards of 50 per cent of total revenues and “maybe a bit more. Business is all about relationships, and there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting and having these partners around the world really facilitates that. We’re largely in Canada, and Vancouver is far from everywhere, we always say.”