acQuire’s CEO, Alison Atkins, sat down for her annual recap of the year behind us and what’s ahead in 2024. Here’s what she had to say when we caught up with her in December 2023.
If you had to pick one word to describe the past year, what would it be?
At the end of last year, we acquired two new businesses, MTS and their Insite solution, and Global Tenements. Tucking those into acQuire has opened more opportunities across the company. We’ve brought in new people, new audiences that we sell to, and new products.
There’s been a big focus around change and growth for us this year. This lends an opportunity for change for everyone within the company, but also the industries we focus on.
acQuire has operated in the governance and compliance space for a long time. What changes are you seeing in the market and with your customers due to the new focus on ESG?
The sentiment around information has changed for our customers. We’re starting to see our customers place more value on their information and being more stringent with how they use it.
They spend a lot of money on data collection and using it to make critical decisions. Historically, they haven’t looked at the governance and compliance around the information they’re using to make decisions, and we’re starting to see that shift and change.
This remains a key focus for us. If you look at the acquisitions we’ve made in the last year, and in 2020 with EnviroSys, they are information management solutions just like our core product, GIM Suite.
EY rates ESG as the top risk for miners for the third year running. Do you agree with this?
I do because sentiment with shareholders is changing. People aren’t investing based solely on profitability. Mining companies must focus on ESG a lot more due to investor sentiment. They’re looking to see what the organisations are doing from an ethical perspective – how they’re engaging with the communities and what they’re doing from an environmental perspective.
Compliance and governance obligations are becoming more prevalent. We’re starting to see a lot more expectations around reporting and compliance for mining companies trying to obtain a social licence to operate.
I’m also seeing a lot more decisions happening at the C-suite and board-level. They’re seeing the value in their information and the importance of this from an ESG perspective.
We’re starting to see more roles using our products for managing compliance, governance, and risk. Hugo Bonilla, Director of Corporate Social Performance at Lundin Mining Company was this year’s keynote speaker at the acQuire Connect Tech Summit in Toronto. His core role is around leveraging social performance data to derive business insights. We’re starting to see companies evolve and create organisational positions aligned with this change in sentiment from an ESG perspective.
Mining companies are getting more familiar with the adoption of digital technologies around artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT). How is acQuire supporting those companies?
Because we have structured information management solutions, it makes it easier for customers to build their own algorithms and QA from an ML/AI perspective. We haven’t capitalised in that space, but we provide the architecture for customers to do so.
We’re seeing a lot of emerging technologies that are using AI, particularly around analysing core imagery. We partner with different organisations and they’re consuming our data to learn from it.
acQuire has a very strong brand reputation globally. We have a lot of emerging tech companies, and our customers that are trialling and testing new tech, reach out to us to see where we can collaborate, especially around interoperability. With a few we’ve recently partnered with we’re trialling different ways of presenting and consuming data with third parties. We’re seeing more partnering opportunities, not just with AI, ML, and interpretive tech, but also the use of sensors and scanners on mine sites and their role in the IoT.
We’re also seeing a shift in the roles and personas we’re engaging with in this space. The geologist today is very different from when I was a geologist 20-plus years ago. It’s more aligned with data analytics. We’re seeing a shift from the traditional field geologist role taking on data analyst responsibilities as well.
Last year when we spoke, you had just acquired MTS and their product, Insite. What have you learned about moving into information management for social performance?
Insite is designed to meet the regulatory requirements of primarily mining companies in South Africa. From an audience perspective, it’s changed to who we normally engage with. We’re now engaging with social performance consultants that work as advisors in the industry. We’re exploring the opportunity to evolve this into a global solution in the future, as we see this as an emerging space where all companies will need to better engage, manage and report their social performance.
You mentioned that you’ve tucked two new companies into acQuire in the last year. Are you comfortable with an acquisition-led growth model?
Yes. We’ve architected the business to scale so we can acquire new products and sell those solutions. They become what we call a “value stream” within acQuire. We have an underlying foundational team to support all our value streams, and that structure then allows us to scale. Our foundational team provides functions like finance, marketing, infrastructure, leadership and our Nova Network Program. All of these work with the specific product/market value streams to develop, sell and support their products and services.
If another opportunity comes along for us to grow the acQuire brand and suite of products, we’ll be able to integrate them quite easily based on what we’ve learned from our three acquisitions in the last three years.
The team involved in acquisitions has been exposed to a lot of businesses that play in our space and this expertise has enabled us to look at larger scale acquisitions which sit alongside acQuire (not tucked-in). In September this year we acquired Spatial Dimensions, a global provider of land management solutions based on their Landfolio software suite. They’re a global company of 90 employees, with a majority based in Cape Town, South Africa. Spatial Dimension will operate as a standalone organisation, with oversight from Portfolio Leadership within acQuire.
What other product news do you have for 2024? Do you have anything new coming?
We have releases for EnviroSys and GIM Suite coming in 2024. This year, we’re also going to be focused on several strategic organic growth areas in acQuire. We’re running micro initiatives within the business to investigate where we can add the most value to our customers, whether it’s extra modules in our existing solutions, or building complementary products. We’re hoping we’ll be at a stage where we can make an announcement at PDAC this year, so I don’t want to say too much before then.
You were a finalist for Employer of the Year at the RISE Business Awards. What does it mean to you and to acQuire, to be recognised in a competitive award for that category?
It’s validation for all the things we’ve established in acQuire over the last 25+ years. We’re a strong values-driven organisation. We expend a lot of effort and focus on making sure we have the right people in the organisation, and we’re the right employer for people that work for us. We’ve built a lot of frameworks to create a safe environment for everybody, but also an environment for people to grow professionally.
It opens a lot of opportunity for individuals that want to work across different products and regions and engage in different markets themselves. Just recently, we had all our developers across the three key products here in Perth. Bringing them together enabled them to start leveraging off, and learning from, each other.
We wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t for the people that we have in acQuire. We actively create an environment for everyone to be part of our success. It’s a testament for us that we have established long-term relationships with ex-employees. Some of them have become customers; they’ve become Nova Network partners. They still come to our conferences, and in some instances, we’ve even forged strong lasting friendships.
A lot of companies have a great culture when they’re small but as they start to grow, the culture goes out the door. How are you addressing that?
In the last two years, we’ve created a new people and culture framework that allows us to scale. Hiring managers are a key custodian of the culture in their teams, aligned with the organisational culture. We mentor and spend a lot of time with our hiring managers to support this. Our cultural framework has lots of tools and metrics to assist them in understanding the health of their team and ensuring there’s transparency, clear communication, and clear direction.
We also have a cultural mentor framework. Cultural mentors are volunteers in the company who aren’t hiring managers but are there to assist with recruiting new employees. They act as buddies and mentors for new employees when we’re onboarding. The key thing we’re looking at is ensuring every new employee gets a consistent experience. They not only have a hiring manager to look after their wellbeing, but they also have a mentor buddy to check in on them, particularly in that first six months.
The acQuire purpose and vision changed last year. Why?
Historically, we were focused only on geoscientific information. With the acquisitions of new products, and selling to new audiences, our identity has evolved internally, and we needed to ensure that we were representing this outwardly. Our customers have expanded beyond the field geologists, to now include environmental managers, and social performance consultants. We are still heavily involved in the mining industry, but our software also helps government organisations, utility businesses, port authorities, and anyone who has an obligation to monitor and report on their ESG and compliance.
We’re a company that focuses on providing information management solutions. We’re a data-driven company from an internal perspective, but also the solutions we offer are data-driven. Our purpose is to provide the right information to the right people so they can make confident decisions. We’re committed to delivering excellence as our software solutions evolve beyond geoscience.
What are you looking forward to in 2024?
One of the key things I’m looking forward to is having clarity around employee career road maps and who’s on our bench. We’re working on succession across the business. One of our annual organisational objectives for 2024 is defining our bench – not just the leadership bench, but there’s a bench for every person at acQuire. We’re looking at each person and seeing who has an opportunity to change positions or move teams, and who’s backfilling that position.
I’m also looking forward to our newer solutions that we’re ideating, coming into play.