Complex algorithms are both the underlying core capability and inherent in-built knowledge protection for Optima Corporation’s unique emergency management software being rolled out around the world.
Getting the right ambulance or fire engine, with the right personnel to the right place as quickly as possible is a complex scheduling and logistic challenge.
“It’s a very difficult thing to solve,” says the Auckland-based company’s chief executive, Chris Mackay. “What we provide is something that’s much faster and more effective than a human mind can do.”
Users of Optima’s mathematical-based software are presented with an interface and graphics that are easy to use and provide recommendations of which ambulance (or fire engine) should be used, from what geographical location, anytime day or night. It also optimizes where emergency services should be and how it should be staffed at any time of day.
“What it does provide is improved and superior performance, where the right unit gets there quicker,” he says.
As a provider of unique software tools, Mackay says the company wants to take advantage of the fact it has virtually no competition, and as well as educating the market about its programs’ capabilities wants to spread its sphere of operation beyond the current 30 implementations across six countries.
“We have a long sales cycle of one to three years which currently is averaging two years,” he says. “Every time we talk to a new opportunity, we receive their immediate attention. The market’s responding, and as it is still leading edge technology, for us the opportunities are substantial.”
The software also enables emergency services to carry out scenario simulation modeling – changing variables such as funding and being able to demonstrate how that will affect operations
Mackay estimates that North American alone is a $1 billion market, with Western Europe about half that. The private company has grown by 60% in the past two years, and expects to expand by another 50% this year.
Its 25 person team has two fulltime sales representatives in America and Europe, as well as pre and post sales support often flying out from New Zealand to its customers’ bases. Of those staff, six have a pHD, and there’s numerous master degrees in residence. “We’re semi full of semi rocket scientists,” Mackay says.
Optima is also one of 10 entrants into the University of Auckland Business School’s 2010 Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, all competing to win capital funding from a $3 million endowment gifted by ex-pat financier Charles Bidwill. The funding is to enable expansion into overseas markets.
If he wins, Mackay will use the loan to put more sales resource into the market, “more people on the ground,” he says.
“For us to build ongoing momentum and take advantage of the window of opportunity while the competition sleeps, we need to do a land-grab exercise and secure as many customers now as we possibly can,” he says. “Competitors will turn up at some stage.”
A direct customer relationship is a critical part of its business compared to relying on others to introduce Optima to emergency management organisations.
Optima’s genesis was in the aviation industry ten years ago, when it helped Air NZ schedule which planes should fly where, as well as matching those flights to staff rosters. This exercise allowed the national carrier to save $14 million a year Mackay says.
With the 9/11 bombings in New York however, suddenly all airlines contained their spending. An approach from the Melbourne Ambulance Service asking if Optima could help manage its operatin better exposed the company to a new market, emergency management services. Optima’s team of mathematicians used the same logical processes to provide solutions for the new market.
Mackay says the company hasn’t patented its proprietary software “though its complexity is its safeguard.”
Its business model is a relatively typical in selling software licences, a one-off implementation fee, and ongoing and reoccurring support and maintenance fees.
Optima’s future is “certainly to secure ourselves as the dominant software supplier in emergency management services,” Mackay says. “We would argue we’re already there, but we want to consolidate the position.”
This base would also allow it to expand into other markets such as police he says.
Ironically, Optima is also reviewing its opportunities in the airline industry once again.
“There’s plenty of competition there however,” he says. “It’s a case of having limited resources and thinking about where we can best apply those resources.”