Andy Dearing: CEO, Boundless

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Andy Dearing is the CEO of Boundless, the leader in open geographic information systems (GIS), and previously served as vice president of professional services at the company. A commercial pilot and self-taught geographer, Andy has been working with GIS for nearly 15 years. Andy resides in Missouri with his wife and four kids, and he enjoys hiking, fishing, and woodworking — when is he is not out camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop. Boundless offers an open GIS ecosystem through a unique combination of technology, products, and experts that gives enterprises deeper intelligence and insights using location-based data. The Boundless platform is built upon open source technology and open APIs that generate actionable location intelligence across third-party apps, content services and plugins for enterprise applications.

How did you get into the industry?

I actually got into GIS by accident. I graduated from college with a degree in Aviation Science / Management with the intent to pursue a career as an airline pilot. However, I graduated right after 9/11 when the airline industry (and thus the demand for pilots) plummeted, so I simply had to find something different. I ended up joining a startup that was looking for flight instructors who could make aeronautical maps, which I learned how to do using GIS.

Any emerging industry trends?

There are many breakthroughs and success stories in the geospatial industry right now that are propelling the science forward more rapidly than ever before. Integrating IoT data, mapping drone information, autonomous vehicles, analyzing imagery from small sats – GIS is at the root of these technology trends, and we are only beginning to really understand how these new sources of information can help us make better decisions.

With the proliferation of IoT and connected devices comes a rapidly growing source of new data streams as well. As a result, location-based analytics and platforms that can process and detect trends and provide intelligence are emerging as a popular trend. With self-driving cars and smart cities initiatives becoming more of a reality, it will be imperative to understand how all the location information can be used to make smarter decisions.

Additionally, open source technologies have become essential for modern IT enterprises striving to gather, organize and connect the dots between the vast amounts of spatial data at our fingertips. Open source enables these organizations to harness limitless scalability to understand and solve emerging business challenges.

Organizations are not only beginning to understand the “what” behind location content, but now also understand the “why.” This is a great time to see the next generation GIS taking shape and what it will become in the years ahead.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

It’s no secret that organizations today have access to more data than ever before, and it only continues to grow at an astounding rate. Now the problem is not gaining access to the data, it’s the ability to scale and process such large amounts to help solve business problems. After all, the data is meaningless if we cannot make sense of it. Geospatial data is no exception, of course.

We have seen the greatest opportunity for adoption of our technology among government organizations, who have been strapped with reduced budgets. Leveraging commercially-supported open source software is a way to reduce costs without sacrificing capability. Almost two-thirds of our customer base are in the public sector. Outside of government, the industries we see with high potential for adoption include agriculture, insurance, public safety, transportation, and energy, all of which are very competitive and require innovative solutions. The speed at which open source can adapt is critical to the success of companies in these sectors.

With the large amounts of location-based information being generated by connected sensors, the ability to have an IT environment to store, manage and analyze that information is paramount to the success of these organizations. With current Boundless offerings and the ones we will be rolling out this year, we are poised to help our customers bring their geospatial data to life beyond layers on a map.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

My vision is that Boundless will lead organizations to understand and appreciate that there is a new, more modern way of analyzing, visualizing and ultimately gaining value from their location data. You don’t have to use the traditional expensive solutions; there are very robust alternatives in open source. We want to disrupt the status quo. Most college graduates coming into the workforce think that there is only one option. Fortunately, the open source community is growing and it’s a force multiplier; we’ve seen it grow by leaps and bounds every year. This was particularly evident at the most recent FOSS4G conference in Boston, which was much larger than it was in previous years. IT departments already believe in open source in general, and we want to help people across all other departments get there faster.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We have made some exciting changes to the leadership team this year. Geospatial industry veteran Chris Tucker joined our board of directors, and we also have a new CTO (Tom Ingold), VP Sales (Jim Reiss), VP Marketing (John Opdycke) and our Chief Geospatial Officer (Anthony Calamito). Boundless is growing at an astounding rate each and every day, and each of these talented, experienced individuals play a critical role in driving innovation and strengthening our solutions.

We are also in the process of moving our company headquarters from New York City to St. Louis. We currently have 20 employees based there, with plans to add another 25 over the next few years.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Partnerships are a key part of our growth strategy. In July we announced a new partnership with Mapbox, a location data and mapping platform for developers, which gives Boundless users access to more robust analytics and richer content than they’ve ever been able to access before. In May, we solidified a partnership with Planet, an integrated aerospace and data analytics company that operates history’s largest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites, which enables Boundless customers to access the massive library of high-quality Planet imagery and fast-loading imagery basemaps within our ecosystem.  These partnerships have expanded our ability to deliver high-quality capabilities to our customers, and has increased our exposure to our partners’ user bases as well.  

Another important initiative for Boundless is supporting our local tech community by advancing education and entrepreneurship for women in tech. In August we donated $100,000 to LaunchCode, a nonprofit that places aspiring technologists in apprenticeships and jobs in technology, to support and expand its CoderGirl program throughout the St. Louis area. This initiative is key for enabling new developers and technologists and getting them on board with our tech stack as part of their onboarding into the space. We believe strongly in the program and we’ve seen the value first hand (one of our software developers is a CoderGirl alum). The initiative has been beneficial for evangelism and recruitment as well.

We also believe open source software offers the best tools to help students and educators learn about geography, which is why we have expanded the Boundless Education Program to provide open source GIS software and support for free to educators and students across the globe. Building upon the successes of existing open source geospatial education initiatives, such as Geo For All and GeoAcademy, the program provides free access to the Boundless Connect ecosystem and a global user community for exchanging information.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Everyday continues to be challenging – most importantly, getting the team, organization and community to rally around Boundless as a product organization, as opposed to a services organization.

Entire business models exist around providing packaged solutions, which are similar, in feel, to proprietary enterprise software – it’s just how the solution is packaged and delivered. Our mission at Boundless is for customers and the community to not only understand the value that we’re providing, but also understand the flexibility of our product, and how it’s so much more than just open source code.

The most difficult challenge we face is enabling more organizations to forgo proprietary solutions for open source ones. This challenge boils down to changing the mode and tempo of the way we think, so we have brought on product experts with experience at open source product organizations in order to lead this initiative.

While building a product organization takes time, there are many great lessons to be learned in transitioning from a pure open source services organization to a product organization. Thought leaders in the industry such as Cloudera, Red Hat and Pivotal, are writing more chapters on this story and how they have achieved more adoption. This ultimately creates more shareholder value, which is centered around how to contribute and maintain the open source stack,and how to package and deliver value-added services and capabilities on top of the open source stack. Thus, organizations can see value in adopting this new package into their software environment.  

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The ideal customer experience is not so much about saving them money as it is about enabling them to do more with that money. We want Boundless to be the leverage point for customers to massively scale their infrastructure, bring on more data scientists, and generally get more output. We want to help customers solve problems with our technology, of course, but we take this a step further by focusing on what they can do with their savings that come as a result of using it as well.

How do you motivate others?

I’ve found traditional monetary bonuses to be highly effective because they are based on the philosophy that when the company is successful, everyone is.

We are a global, virtual organization and we want our teams to be able to do their jobs from wherever they are. Instead of designated work-from-home days, we have work-from-work days. This level of flexibility expands our ability to find the right talent in all corners of the world.

In addition to work-from-work days, another way that we bring our team together is with code sprints, which involves mobilizing the entire company to solve one big problem – ex. Having a Hackathon in NOLA next week to wire up a mobile field data collection with other parts of our enterprise tech stack, specific to a customer workflow that came in from one of our sales reps. While we don’t package end-to-end solutions, this gave developers from every part of our team (mobile, enterprise, solutions engineers) all together in the room to solve a customer problem. We’ll have everyone take a week off from their normal duties and meet in New Orleans or another one of our office locations.

Career advice to those in your industry?

In today’s world, computer science and geospatial are tightly intertwined. If your major is computer science, I encourage you to take a geography or GIS course, as you will inevitably encounter locations at some point in your career. The same goes for geography or GIS majors; take a computer science course in order to acquire web development skills. These technology trends are having a strong impact the geospatial industry, and the most highly sought-after job candidates are those who have a comprehensive blend of these skills.