Alison Atkins, acQuire’s CEO, takes a look back at 2022 and a look forward to new opportunities and challenges for 2023. Here’s what she had to say when we caught up with her earlier this month.
It’s been a remarkable year on many levels. We bounced back to pre-COVID levels of activity in every area of the business. We’re busy, people are travelling again, and we’re seeing more buoyancy in the industry. Inside acQuire we’re experiencing more energy and focus in our teams. We’re seeing more confidence in our customers and are receiving a lot more enquiries for both of our current products, GIM Suite and EnviroSys.
We’ve discovered more people are familiar with our products, and our brand as a whole. Our brand reputation is growing across our customer industries as a recognised specialist in information management software.
Across both of our value streams, one that sells GIM Suite and the other that sells EnviroSys, we’ve acquired more new customers this year than we have for the past five years or so.
The increase in enquiries has given us confidence to look at where we need to go into the future with our products and future development.
We have a mature customer base with most of the large miners, particularly in iron ore, copper, and gold. But looking further afield, many mid-tier miners are becoming majors through their own merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. Africa, Europe and the Middle East hold a lot of opportunities for us that we’ve begun addressing to targeted media in these regions.
From an environmental perspective, we have a huge untapped market that extends beyond mining. EnviroSys has customers in oil and gas, water utilities, local government, and port authorities, predominantly in Australia. The release of EnviroSys 9 and 9.1 this year is driving interest in North America and other regions where we have offices. Until now, our focus has been primarily on our Australian customer base. We’ve recruited additional people in North America this year to help with our expansion into the USA and Canada markets.
Our acQuire Connect Tech Summit we ran in November was one of my favourite things. We wanted to do it in 2020 but COVID hit. We made the decision to run an in-person event this year. We had a fantastic turnout with more than 120 geoscientists descending on Perth. We had over 30 presentations across two days, focusing on our two core products, the GIM Suite and EnviroSys, with quite a few industry and customer presentations.
We introduced the acquisition of MTS and its product, Insite.
We’ve worked extremely hard to retain good relationships with our customers and with our partners – both our Nova Network Partners and our technology partners. We’ve had relationships with a lot of our customers for 20+ years, so seeing familiar faces again was fantastic. We brought in new customers during COVID, so meeting them for the first time was great. We were also able to bring staff from every region to Perth to help with the event.
We haven’t decided where, but we will run an acQuire Connect next year in one of the other regions we have an office.
Watch CEO Alison Atkins speak at the acQuire Connect Tech Summit.
We moved our headquarters this year from a suburban office to the Perth CBD. From an employee connection experience, it’s been great. There’s more energy in the office and a lot more cross-team collaboration due to having everyone on the same floor and working in proximity to their peers. We love being in the city, we’re close to everything, including our customers. Our commercial teams are engaging more with our customers face-to-face than they ever have.
It’s an interesting story: we are looking for organisations in the mining space, but also looking at quality information management solutions. That is where Insite hits that mark. We met with the founders early on, and from an organisational perspective they’re a values-driven organisation like we are. They were a perfect fit.
From a product perspective, Insite has similar ethos to both EnviroSys and GIM Suite in governance and compliance. Smarter data leads to smarter decisions. Insite extends our footprint into the ESG (environmental, social performance, governance) space to manage social performance data, an area where we’re seeing more interest.
Insite empowers organisations to capture, track, and report social performance data. This includes working with the communities around where their businesses are, engaging with providers and stakeholders that are locally sourced, considering how employees are empowered, looking at diversity and inclusion, et cetera. For acQuire, it was a natural progression and complements both GIM Suite and EnviroSys.
Insite is South African-focused at this stage, but we’ll look at internationalising it in the future.
COVID is here to stay. We still have people absent from work with COVID at the moment. One of the things we did in the last six months is focus more on our employee experience – onboarding, mentoring and personal engagement. That was lost to some extent during COVID. We were able to transact, and we were able to perform as a business exceptionally well during COVID.
For our new employees, they haven’t had the same onboarding experience and didn’t have the same connection while everyone was working from home. We’re a values-driven organisation and it’s difficult to instil the ethos of who we are and how we operate without those personal connections.
One thing we did is make the decision that all full-time employees need to work from the office three days a week. We have always worked flexibly but we’ve formally adopted a hybrid model of work. We want personal connections in our teams. We’ve noticed the energy is back and engagement has improved. Newer employees are benefitting from informal mentoring that happens just by sitting next to somebody.
If you’re investing in someone that you want to stay long-term, you need to create the right kind of environment. We have a cultural model, which has to change as we grow through acquisition and organic business growth. We’re reassessing the entire business and our cultural framework is evolving with this growth
It comes down to quality of data. All three of our solutions are information management solutions. All are built on frameworks to ensure accuracy of data, which leads to compliance. From a governance perspective, you have a chain of custody – a built-in auditing process. It tracks how you’re collecting data, how you’re storing it, and how you’re sharing it with third parties. The underlying architecture aligns with the legislative requirements of the type of data they’re managing – geological data for GIM Suite, environmental data for EnviroSys, and social performance data for Insite.
EnviroSys is designed to help answer the question, ‘Am I compliant?’ using environmental data. It has the rigorous reporting capabilities the natural resource industry needs and is addressing the water management concerns head on. In all our products, you can track whether the data has been changed, and you can lock down the data from a quality assurance perspective. This ensures data can be trusted and used more confidently for reporting and decision making.
Insite has been built specifically for social performance measuring and reporting. It lets you capture metrics on how you’re performing – from community engagement, stakeholder engagement, your employees, your diversity, your inclusions – and lets you build reports based on legislative requirements.
Watching acQuire continue to grow and the ongoing expansion of our products. We’re currently at 112 employees and are recruiting for 16 more positions. We’re continuing to expand our footprint globally for GIM Suite and expanding EnviroSys into the USA and Canada. The EnviroSys team are continuing to develop that product and are focused on global expansion for the product. I love their enthusiasm.
Insite is a very new acquisition so I’m excited about bringing the team into the acQuire fold and what we can do with the solution to make sure it’s a success. We’re looking at the organisational architecture, the product architecture, and the business model associated with it to make sure it scales effectively.
We are in negotiation with a small tuck-in acquisition in Australia, which I’m hoping to close by the end of this year.
We recruited a dedicated M&A business development manager 12 months ago. We’ll continue to grow that team to enable us to acquire businesses that are aligned with acQuire and with the industries where we operate.
From an organisational perspective, we are growing both organically and through acquisitions. That opens up exciting opportunities for employees to move around the company, work with different teams/products, to take on more responsibility, leadership roles, and management roles. There’s a big focus on employee road maps so we clearly understand everyone’s aspirations and have a bench of people ready to step into new roles.
We have clear technology road maps for EnviroSys and GIM Suite. We’ve transitioned our customers to the new licensing model with GIM Suite. We’re doing the same with the EnviroSys team. They’re moving to my.acQuire so there’s consistency and licensing across our solutions. We’re putting in commercial strategies and marketing strategies for both of our core products.
We’ll see a lot more focus on succession in 2023, particularly with the acquisitions we’re hoping to close. We’ve already demonstrated opportunity for staff. When EnviroSys came on board, we had someone from our Chilean team transition across from GIM Suite. There will be opportunities for people to move across product, across team, and across business.
For me, and for the entire leadership group, promoting from within is what we’d prefer to do before we start seeking external candidates.
Resourcing is probably the key challenge for us. We’ve had to become quite creative with what we’re doing from a recruiting perspective, and I can’t see that changing in the next 12 months.
Connecting is the key thing we’re focused on now and into 2023. That includes re-establishing old connections that were put into a holding pattern due to COVID. We’re architecting the business to continue to improve employee engagement and customer engagement within acQuire’s frameworks. We’re connecting more regularly with our customers to align our product road maps with their needs and piloting new features with them.
We’re doing a lot of work around how we’re engaging with employees and customers, which comes back to connecting. That’s helping us drive our business forward.