2020 was a tough year by any definition. Alison Atkins, CEO of acQuire, reflects on leading a multinational company through a global pandemic and on how corporate culture helped acQuire weather the storm. She also reveals exciting news and discusses company milestones as she looks ahead in 2021.
Challenging, but also rewarding. Being a global organisation, we have teams in different regions that have been impacted differently by COVID-19. The goal has been to see how we can collectively remain in contact and still run business sustainably. It’s been rewarding to see how everyone has gone out of their way to remain connected.
There has been more transparency and communication across all of our teams, and greater connection with customers. We’ve been able to run our business irrespective of the global pandemic we’re experiencing.
Self-care is the biggest issue. One of my biggest personal challenges as a leader is helping people find balance when they’re working from home. This includes being conscious around working hours, taking breaks and taking leave. And trying to get more sleep! We find people work longer than they need to because their computer is set up in their kitchen, living space, or home office and it’s easy to respond to an email outside normal work hours. And, due to travel restrictions, it’s been difficult for people to take time off and have downtime.
We have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at acQuire and we’ve encouraged people to use it. I’m glad we had it in place before we started 2020; it’s a fundamental initiative allowing people to get the help and assistance they need, and to have another sounding board.
It’s been particularly important across the globe where people have experienced COVID very differently. We’ve been extremely lucky in Australia, but in other regions people have been impacted personally.
It’s an interesting question, because I don’t think I’d call it a challenge. We’ve built resilience into the organisation. This was just another milestone or circumstance that we needed to bridge. Everyone in the organisation has embraced the challenge presented by a global pandemic. We’re a technology company; we have the infrastructure in place, we already had the flexibility of people being able to work from home.
We’ve always used technology to engage and connect with our global customer base and other stakeholders. From that perspective, the decision we made back in March to close all the offices was an easy one. We made the decision and on the following day everyone had the ability to work from home.
In Western Australia and Queensland, we’ve been pretty lucky. In Australia, our teams phased back in 3-4 months and we still offer the flexibility of people working from home.
In our other regions, they’ve had very different experiences. In Chile, the team had only begun re-entering the office after nine months and have just gone into lockdown again.
In South Africa, they’re moving into a new office. It had been a good eight months before that team were able to re-enter our physical office space and collaborate face-to-face again. Now things are escalating again and it looks like more lockdowns will happen.
In Calgary, they started transitioning back a few months ago but have subsequently gone back into lockdown.
It’s something I think we’re going to be living with for at least another 12 months, even with vaccinations coming out now, things will be very different from the past.
Everyone’s embracing the challenge of responding to instantaneous changes and have collectively recognised their own personal accountability. We can put strategies in place to create safe working environments when people physically come back to the offices but it takes individual commitment to make it work.
Everybody at acQuire is doing an amazing job being conscious for their own wellbeing and for everyone around them, including our customers. We are starting to have in-person meetings again with customers in different regions.
We haven’t been able to attend large events that have historically been important for our business. Everyone’s in the same situation, so we’ve looked at alternatives. We’ve actually had a higher success rate for our digital seminars than we’ve had in the past.
We’ve pivoted all of our face-to-face training to online and have had a lot of customer uptake in that which has been great to see. We’re lucky we’re aligned with the mining industry which is quite resilient in itself. It’s used to boom and bust cycles, and even during this pandemic there are peaks and troughs happening on a weekly and monthly basis. Those organizations are pivoting and changing and we’re actually able to do that with them.
There hasn’t been one major highlight but there have been lots of milestones we celebrated. The first one was our resilience as an organization. We are doing extremely well. We’re still engaging with our customers and they’re getting the same high-quality support they received pre-2020. We’re still bringing in new business. We’re developing our product and getting multiple software releases out the door, so we hit quite a few milestones.
We developed additional capabilities in the mobile space, which is fantastic, and additional technology partnerships, with companies like Imago. And we’ve just completed our first acquisition which has been an interesting process and quite an exciting milestone for us.
There are three key milestones for us.
Our major release in 2021 is putting us on a fantastic stepping stone. We’re looking at licensing and simplifying it for our customers. We’ve been working on these changes for quite a while and have been listening to both our customer base and our internal stakeholders.
It’s exciting to leverage our experience in the mining space and diversify and expand. Adding the EnviroSys product means we have added a new office in Adelaide and a product team with another 11 people.
2021 is definitely shaping up to be a great year for acQuire. It’s perfect timing for our 25th year. We have a huge milestone in our product strategy around GIM Suite and are bringing in a second product. We’re looking at where we can take the organisation, with more acquisitions to complement our software suite, and to give our customers a lot of choice.
I never imagined I would have been with an organization for 20 years. Coming from a geology background, the longest I’d worked anywhere was three years. I’ve been privileged to see the company and the product grow in that time.
One of the key milestones was when we made the business decision to focus 100% on developing our own software, GIM Suite. We were resellers for a general mine planning solution and had two teams focusing on different parts of the mining value-chain. We made the business decision to focus on our core product and reorganised the business. That was one of the biggest tipping points when we committed to making GIM Suite the best geoscientific information management solution in the industry.
We are now the market leaders, working with a majority of the big majors and mid-tiers in the mining industry. After making that decision, we have grown exponentially across the customer base. This was our biggest milestone.
Another key milestone was establishing our partner program, the Nova Network. It enabled us to grow our business and give our customers more choice. Having a pool of accredited GIM Suite practitioners has been crucial in assisting our customers with their GIM Suite needs, and assisting us with deployments based on their expertise, whether it’s domain, commodity, language, or geography. The Nova Network is a key differentiator for us as an organization.
The first release of Arena, a component of GIM Suite, is the stepping stone to the place where we want to be with the product. Now that we have mobile technology, it’s a fantastic transition. As much as the original software component, called acQuire 4, has been the foundation for us, it’s exciting to see where we’re taking GIM Suite into the future.
People want products that are more intuitive. They want them to be more flexible, and to some extent a lot more plug-and-play. It’s a balancing act between a plug-and-play off-the-shelf solution, and an enterprise solution, but I think we’re moving in the right direction, particularly with where we’re going with GIM Suite in web and mobile. Seeing the product evolve over 20 years has been phenomenal.
An important milestone is our fantastic retention rate of customers. Throughout Constellation, our parent company that owns over 550 companies, we have one of the best customer retentions across all of them. It’s something we’re proud of. That retention is down to the quality of our product, but also the quality of the organisation and the people in it. I’ve seen acQuire grow over 20 years and establish ourselves as the market leader, but also as a high-quality organisation with extremely professional people who care about what they’re doing.
Having been a geologist before joining acQuire, I know the role of geoscientist is evolving. There’s less reliance for a geologist to be in the field, manually collecting data. They’re becoming more like data analysts. How people are working has changed a lot in the industry, so there’s more remote connectivity and less need to physically be in remote locations.
And the nice thing is acQuire’s technology is evolving with that. There’s so many new types of data and it’s continually changing. You have sensors, different scanners down holes, photogrammetry, et cetera. There are a lot of new tools increasing the quality of information geoscientists can use, but it also increases the breadth and volume of data as well.
You’re always going to have the stereotypical geologist out in the field, but it’s becoming less the norm. The job is now about looking at large volumes of data and how you intuit that. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming more prevalent and that will continue into the future. Mining is a fundamental industry, globally. You’re still going to have mines, but I think we’ll get to the point where oganisations are mining more effectively and more efficiently – it’s already happening. There’s a lot more emphasis around the environmental impact of mining and what happens within the mines themselves. It’s very different from when I started as a geologist 30 years ago and why acQuire’s focus on managing all types of geological data and information is crucial.
If you’d like more information, why not subscribe to our newsletter for updates? Click on the Subscribe icon at the very bottom of the screen and leave your details.