Ben Franklin

INVESTING IN PENNSYLVANIA’S FUTURE

GeoDecisions: Providing Customize Geographic Information Systems for Clients around the Country

To know where you’re going, you have to know where you are. This simple axiom has guided GeoDecisions through 20 years of growth and multiple awards. The Camp Hill-based IT company specializes in creating customized geographic information systems (GIS)-computer applications that allow clients to store, view and analyze geographical information, especially maps.

GeoDecisions

GeoDecisions’ staff of more than 160 professional consultants, analysts and developers has a complete understanding of integrating geographic or “spatial” information with cutting-edge technology.

According to CEO Bob Scaer, GIS is valuable because it can easily create analyses and reports with very limited information. “For example, using a combination of road center lines and county tax parcels, we can use GIS to figure out which properties will be affected if a county closes a particular road,” Scaer says.

GeoDecisions, a BFTP alumni company, started in 1986 with two land use analysis projects, including a habitat evaluation procedure for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. From there, the company started doing tax parcel land management, taking old maps showing tax parcels and subdivisions and converting them into a digital format.

The Ideal Outsourcing Service

“In those years, GIS was phenomenally expensive and no one could afford to do it themselves,” Scaer says. “We’d say to clients, ‘Give us your paper maps or data. We’ll make them electronic and give you the answers you need.’ This model really got the company jump-started.”

One of the reasons GeoDecisions is thriving today is because Ben Franklin Technology Partners invested in the company when it first got started 20 years ago.

“The company was originally formed by faculty and staff associated with the Office for Remote Sensing of Earth Resources at Penn State University,” says Scaer. “They believed in what was then a new technology, so they went to Ben Franklin and got a grant that was absolutely key in the formation of the company.”

Gaining a Parent Company

After working independently for six years, GeoDecisions was acquired in 1992 by Gannett Fleming, an international planning, design and construction management firm. “Since then, we’ve been a separate division-a company within a company,” Scaer says.

Gannett Fleming invited Bob Scaer to be president in 1996 and since then, the company has grown from 10 people to more than 160. Scaer also blazed a trail into custom solutions. “Instead of being a mapping firm, we became an IT company with a strong understanding of GIS. Not only did we have the core GIS that the company was founded on, we had people who thoroughly understood mapping, databases and statistics.”

Thanks to a strong intellectual position, GeoDecisions’ management found they could handpick the markets they wanted to pursue. “We chose transportation, military, commercial and state government,” Scaer says. “And we’re doing so many wonderful things. We’ve built real-time tracking of trucks for the Army. We have a contract with FEMA to help them track hurricanes. And there is much more on the horizon.”

A Smooth Road Ahead

Scaer looks forward to working with BFTP in the future, helping share the experience and insight the company has gained over the past two decades. “I’ve been asked by Ben Franklin to evaluate startups and their business plans. I haven’t had a chance to do so yet, but if I can help get these businesses going by throwing in my two cents, it would be my pleasure,” he says.

Meanwhile, GeoDecisions continues to set new standards in the design, development and implementation of scalable and robust solutions to support clients across the United States.

Scaer, whose genuine love for the business is evident whenever he talks about the company, says, “We continue to grow and win awards. In March we were named 2006 Technology Company of the Year by the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania. Last year we won the Center for Digital Government’s ‘Best of the Web’ competition for the U.S. Attorney’s Office PSN MAP system. Best of all, we’re having fun.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes October, 2006
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