By Bruce Smith, Co-Founder & CEO GEOGRAPH
2023 was a banner year for GEOGRAPH®, especially for our fiber mapping solution CrescentLink®. With advancements in broadband technology, FCC funding, and programs like BEAD, ORS, and Capital Funds Projects the need for a Next Generation GIS Fiber management system is key. GEOGRAPH® is quickly becoming the leader in advanced fiber management software.
GEOGRAPH exists to shape a new era of network connectivity through technologically progressive value-added products and customer-centric services that strengthen your advanced communications networks.
As we look back on 2023, it is astonishing to see the advancements that were made. After coming off one of our best years ever in 2022, the goal was to continue making strides to be the leader in GIS Fiber Mapping and Management. There were several areas of interest that we wanted to focus on during 2023. One of which was in our technical and software development. Looking back to 2012, CrescentLink launched as an extension of Esri ArcGIS Desktop. Over this time, CrescentLink continued to add advancements to the solution. Functionality like Project Planner, Custom Staking Sheets, and Proposed Splicing added much-needed mission-critical workflows for customers. The team at GEOGRAPH also added web capabilities with the launch of CrescentLink Web Experience in 2022. Recently, Esri made the announcement that ArcGIS Desktop would enter into end-of-life long-term maintenance which slowed any new advancements to the CrescentLink Desktop Extension. This caused a stronger focus for our Development team to create the future of our Fiber Mapping tools. The other area for GEOGRAPH to focus was our outreach and communications. Growing our account management team as well as our marketing team was a big initiative. It has always been a joke around our offices, that GEOGRAPH is the best-kept secret in Fiber Management, and we wanted to change that. Taking a look back over 2023 and examining the details of how GEOGRAPH changed relative to these areas of focus has been a humbling and exciting endeavor.
Research and Development
Going into 2023, our R&D team had been working on what we believe would be a new tool for alternative target markets than we traditionally have dealt with. This meant that to be a customer of GEOGRAPH, an organization needed to have an Esri infrastructure in place. We saw an opportunity in the Telecommunications industry to create a web-based SaaS solution. Our research showed that there are numerous organizations that operate advanced fiber networks, with small teams. This adds complexity and cost for these organizations to have both Esri and GEOGRAPH. We wanted to move in a direction that moved the cost and energy of the Esri infrastructure from the customer side to the GEOGRAPH side. Our R&D team focused on creating a Beta release of what we called GEOGRAPH Cloud. This product would be fully supported online and would have the opportunity to purchase and download online. Our vision was that a simplified hosted fiber mapping program, available fully online, would give the smaller to mid-size organizations a tool that did not require sophisticated IT infrastructure on the back end. The first half of 2023 was spent building a new foundation to support GEOGRAPH Cloud. This product would continue to use the Esri infrastructure, as well as new data model techniques to improve performance. The new system utilizes the AWS platform for speed and scalability. We were able to get a first version beta for the program completed and did external testing with several of our clients and partners. The performance, ease of use, and availability made this an attractive option for our future prospects.
But as the old saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men. Our future would have to wait.
ArcGIS PRO, a next-generation GIS mapping tool by Esri, has been in the market since 2015. This platform was meant to be the replacement desktop application for Esri. As with anything new, the adoption of ArcGIS Pro has been slowly gaining momentum. This is something that GEOGRAPH has kept a close eye on throughout the years. This summer, at the end of our first beta release for GEOGRAPH Cloud, we were faced with a fork in the road and a decision to make. We could continue to develop and launch Cloud or move to migrating CrescentLink to ArcGIS Pro. As excited as we were to launch Cloud, we knew the importance of giving our current customers, and future prospects, the ability to operate on the most up-to-date technology available. Thus we made the decision to halt production of GEOGRAPH Cloud and focus the team on creating the first available Fiber Mapping and Management solution for ArcGIS Pro. During our 2023 user conference, held on September 10-12 in Greenville SC, we announced to the 100-plus attendees that we would release CrescentLink for ArcGIS Pro on Dec 5th. That was a three-month window to move all the functionality of CrescentLink for desktop over to CrescentLink for Pro. The team started with the mindset of creating a one-for-one move so that we did not disrupt the workflows and familiarity of our customer base. This also allowed us to keep the user-friendly tools like; Network Manager, Splice Analysis, Connector, Distance trace, and our popular Project Planner for Construction prints, BOMs, and Fiber Design intact. I am happy to report that our team met the delivery date, and on Dec 5th, GEOGRAPH became the first organization to launch an advanced communications network tool for ArcGIS Pro.
The GEOGRAPH research and development team is a small but mighty group. As much as we want to solve all the problems for everyone, we have to be selective with how we move forward, or we could face a paralysis by analysis situation. With the launch of CresentLink for ArcGIS Pro, our team has derived a future path. We avoid the term“roadmap”, because as mentioned earlier “the best-laid plans of mice and men”. Instead, we look at development in three phases: Near-Term, Mid-Term, and Long-Term. For Near-Term projects, we consider these “Definite” and will be accomplished within the next 8 months. Mid-Term projects are “Probable” and will be accomplished in 8-18 months. Long-term projects are “Strategic and Amendable” and will take 18-36 months. Mid and Long term projects will be dictated by several factors such as market trends, customer needs, and achievability. Our plans as they stand right now, are to continue hotfixes and small updates to the CrescentLink for the ArcGIS Pro add-in. We also plan to upgrade and simplify the CrescentLink Web Experience. Mid-term projects include further advancements and updates to the CrescentLink for Pro add-in. Adding increased functionality to Web Experience, including editing, ISP Modeling, and splicing to achieve consistency with the CrescentLink for ArcGIS Pro add-in. Long-term projects will continue the GEOGRAPH Cloud and Hosted SaaS models for the web. 2023 has been a big year for the team, and the future is bright moving forward.
Outreach and Marketing
Another initiative for GEOGRAPH this year was to eliminate the mantra of being the best-kept secret. We have made a concerted effort to be the first name mentioned when someone asks about Managing Fiber Networks using GIS. One of our goals was to enhance our partnership with Esri. We are happy to announce that in 2023 GEOGRAPH was selected as a Top-Co Sell Partner and the award was presented at the Esri Partner conference in Palm Springs in March. This award means we were one of two partners that influenced the most upgrades and new purchases for Ersi Next Generation products. We were also selected to advance our partnership to the Gold Level with Esri, meaning we now have access to deeper technical advisement and understanding within the Esri ecosystem. This gives our products and services a leg up when staying consistent with System Ready requirements of Esri Next Generation Network GIS systems. Building a lasting and strong relationship with Esri will be an important and ongoing part of GEOGRAPH’s future.
The next exciting initiative was to increase our marketing staff and our communications within the industry. With the addition of a graphic designer and web developer, Wil Martin, GEOGRAPH rebuilt and innovated our website. Having the ability to create, change, and modify our website in-house means that the information presented to our customers and prospects is up-to-date, fresh, and accurate with our activities. Trade shows are another part of our communications that keep us present in the minds of our industry. Historically we attend about fourteen trade shows throughout the year. Our headliner shows include the Esri User Conference in San Diego, NRECA’s TechAdvantage, Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber Connect, and Esri’s IMGIS. The amount of work to coordinate, and schedule these conferences takes on a whole new level for our team. The addition of Marketing Coordinator, Elisabeth Ford, means that we are communicating more regularly, and consistently. Our account managers can now fully dedicate themselves to attending trade shows and conferences without any logistical distractions.
2023 also saw increased attendance at our annual GEOGRAPH User Conference. Our User Conference is now in its fourth year. Due to increased interest and attendance, we moved the conference to the new AC Hotel in downtown Greenville, SC. The intent of the conference remained unchanged. Our goal is to provide our users with up-to-date information, direct access to our staff, world-class speakers, and five-star entertainment. This year’s attendees enjoyed presentations from Dr. Steve Shepard – Shepard Communications, Gary Bolton – Fiber Broadband Association, and Randall René – Esri. As well as hearing from these world-class speakers, attendees also received demonstrations and updates from the GEOGRAPH Team. As 2024 begins, we look forward to continuing this exciting event and look forward to meeting even more of our customers in person.
Lastly, 2023 meant increased collaboration with our professional services and account management teams. We take pride that every customer of GEOGRAPH is assigned an experienced account manager. The task of the account manager is to keep an open line of communication with each account. This means that as a customer of GEOGRAPH, you always have a direct contact. As we move into the future, our goal is to keep enriching our Professional Services and Account Management teams. Having the resources to support not only our customers but our prospects is important to us. Customer support and service is what we feel separates us from our competitors. Our goal is always to answer, always to respond, and do whatever it takes to solve your problems. A Fiber Management solution is only as good as the team that supports it, and we strive to continue to provide and add the best support and service teams in the industry.
As 2024 begins, the landscape for Fiber Network Providers, Consultants, and Operators in the Telecommunications space is moving at light speed. Technologies like XGS PON, IOT, fiber optic cable advancements, and the ever-increasing need for broadband mean that organizations need to react fast, stay ahead, and manage their networks like never before. Having a tool like CrescentLink gives your team a leg up when it comes to having an in-depth knowledge of your networks. Being able to make decisions at the speed of knowledge is the key to being ahead of the game both now and in the future.
Bruce Smith is Co-Founder and CEO at GEOGRAPH and he began his career building copper and fiber networks over 25 years ago. He has overseen the construction of more than 10,000 miles of network improvements and he has designed, engineered, and managed projects and installations throughout the United States. Since June of 2018, Bruce has been at the helm of GEOGRAPH and has worked to establish a world-class organization focused on customer success. Today GEOGRAPH supports over 160 customers in 38 of the United States and in Canada, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Guam, and Guyana.