A Global Map Quest

Posted on Mar 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

From left: Barb Wenninger, Jim Reid, Joe Roehl, American Digital Cartography

Twenty years ago, the acronym “GIS” (Geographic Information System) was unknown, and paper maps were often the only resource for navigation. Fast forward two decades. Navigating systems are light years ahead, GIS is omnipresent, and mapping information is utilized not just for street directions, but for a multitude of corporate applications.

Making the world a little smaller and bringing those highways and byways into clearer focus, and usable form, is the mission of American Digital Cartography Inc. (ADCi) – a tiny company, unassumingly located in a small, dark office space in downtown Appleton.

Based on their name, one might think ADCi creates maps. Instead, the company “slices and dices” map data provided by global companies, such as NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas, and licenses it to end users to accommodate their specific needs.

“The majority of people have some sort of interaction with navigational data every day. Now more and more businesses are using GIS information,” says Barb Wenninger, ADCi’s director of sales and marketing.

Clients around the globe, such as school districts, utility companies, state and local municipalities and corporate accounts, rely on the data for many applications.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), for example, uses customized data to service wastewater treatment to 28 communities.

“It provides us a real current view of the communities,” says Don Nehmer, capital program business manager for MMSD. “We only use a small portion of the data set, so they make it very easy for us. They’ve saved us a bunch of internal time and headaches.”

Such customized data is not only time saving, it’s cost effective, as well. According to ADCi President Jim Reid, anecdotal research indicates it’s 50 times more costly for companies to create their own mapping data.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect data set,” he adds. “It’s always changing.”

ADCi was founded in 1988 with rather modest, accidental origins, according to Reid, who has been with the company 14 years.

The founder was asked to create a map of bicycle trails in the area, but back then, “there wasn’t much mapping software,” Reid says. The founder used AutoCAD software to accomplish the task.

Initially, ADCi focused on making digital map data affordable and accessible to civil, environmental and utility engineers. Most digital mapping was performed only in large, institutional settings, using United States Geological Survey (USGS) data in an obscure format.

As technology progressed, so, too, did ADCi and its target audience. Engineers are no longer the only end users of GIS data.

“More and more people are thinking of innovative ways to use the information,” says Wenninger. “I think we serve more critical applications than previously.”

Reid adds, “More people realize the value of mapping. The return on investment from using this data is very quick.”

One of ADCi’s clients, the floor cleaning firm Stanley Steemer International, for example, licenses NAVTEQ data for the entire United States with a Mobile Asset Management license.

“The mapping application we have needs fresh data to keep up with new streets being developed around the country,” said Tom Juncewicz, assistant IT director with Stanley Steemer International. “It is helpful in that new roads show up after an update that may not have been there before, which cuts down on the crew’s time contacting the base for directions or fighting with a paper map or map book.”

Technology has gotten better, faster and more efficient – effectively cutting down ADCi’s lead time for delivering map data to customers, from about six weeks to about six hours. Also, hardware has gotten more cost effective. Reid says ADCi purchased a server 13 years ago for $100,000; it was replaced just a few years later for only $12,000.

ADCi, which has only six employees, has $3 million in revenue and has shown continued growth over the past eight years, Wenninger says. “We’re an extremely lean company,” she adds.

Last year, Reid says sales increased 30 percent over the previous year, and he expects a 20 percent increase this year.

“We continue to get better at what we do,” he says, adding that maintaining solid partnerships and return customers has been a key business asset. About 85 percent of ADCi’s orders are repeat business.

Reid adds that keeping ADCi’s focus very targeted – and not branching out into other realms, such as creating their own maps – has aided the company’s bottom line as well. “The kiss of death for a small business is to do so many things,” he says.

ADCi has come a long way from those bicycle maps 20 years ago, but Reid believes the future of mapping and navigational data will provide even more opportunities.

“I think mapping is just going to get bigger,” he says. “The ‘where’ question is so big.”