INterview with DigitalGlobe founder Dr. Walter Scott

By: Katrina Pfannkuch Friday March 29, 2013 0 comments Tags: DigitalGlobe, Dr. Walter Scott

By Katrina Pfannkuch

Part inspiration, part hard work and part hiring the best, most talented people to help build your dream -- those are just some of the ways DigitalGlobe has been soaring into success.

Digital Globe is a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution Earth imagery products and services. Sourced from their own advanced satellite constellation, the imagery solutions provided support a wide variety of uses within defense and intelligence, civil agencies, mapping and analysis, environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure management, Internet portals and navigation technology. The company offers a range of on- and off-line products and services designed to enable customers to easily access and integrate its imagery into its business operations and applications.

I connected with company founder Dr. Walter Scott to ask him how DigitalGlobe got its start and where it is headed. Scott was previously head of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories that worked on "Brilliant Pebbles" and "Brilliant Eyes," part of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Walter Scott
Q: How and when did DigitalGlobe get started? What inspired you to create it?

A: DigitalGlobe started out as WorldView Imaging Corporation, a company I founded in 1992. Having grown up during the Cold War timeframe,1992 marked the end of decades of this fear and it got me thinking about what kept the Cold War "cold" instead of "hot." It was the ability for the United States to use satellite imaging technology. This information brought with it the confidence that each side could act out of fact instead of fear. It's what inspired me to start down this path. I wondered, 'If it was so valuable to the two superpowers during the Cold War, how much more valuable could it be if it were available to everyone?'

WorldView Imaging Corporation went on to become the first company to receive a high-resolution commercial remote sensing license from the U.S. Government under the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act. I was joined by co-founder Doug Gerull that same year,who was an executive in charge of the Mapping Sciences division at Integraph Corporation. Eventually WorldView became EarthWatch Incorporated in 1995, where I managed the development of all of the company's commercial remote-sensing satellites. In 2001, the company became DigitalGlobe, offering the world's highest-resolution commercial satellite imagery.

Now, 21 years after the Cold War ended, we are seeing this value. More than a billion people around the world use it with mobile devices or web portals to get from point A to point B. It's used to help prevent atrocities, war crimes and humanitarian crises. It's being used by governments around the world to act on facts, not fears.

Q: Now that you have merged with GeoEye, are you considered one collective company under the same brand name?

A: Moving forward, the company will be called DigitalGlobe. The combined company will trade on the NYSE stock exchange as DigitalGlobe under the symbol DGI. DigitalGlobe remains committed to offering the same outstanding products and services and is positioned to offer an expanded portfolio in the future with our new combined resources.

Q: What are DigitalGlobe's core segments?

A: DigitalGlobe's core segments are comprised of the U.S. Government and a combination of international and civil governments, location-based service providers, and other segments like environmental, oil and gas and mining. We are seeing strong momentum as we diversify our customer base, and diversification continues to be a big focus for us.

Q: What are some of DigitalGlobe's products and services?

A: DigitalGlobe has two off-the-shelf products that customers can leverage for daily updates and information:

DigitalGlobe's FirstLook monitors crisis events worldwide and leverages our leading constellation and ground infrastructure, collecting and delivering fresh, up-to-date imagery of an event area to customers in as little as four hours. The online subscription service provides web-based access to pre- and post-event imagery of world disasters delivered to almost any desktop or web-based mapping platform.

DigitalGlobe's Global Basemap service delivers baseline context that enables users to better understand and analyze specific geographies of interest, whether they be state-wide, country-wide, regional or global. Based on DigitalGlobe's ImageLibrary and powered by its Cloud Services platform, Global Basemap gives customers online access to existing and newly collected imagery so that they have the visual information needed to make critical decisions. Global Basemap includes imagery sourced from DigitalGlobe's high-resolution satellites and aerial network as well as additional third party low-resolution sources.

Additionally, DigitalGlobe's newly combined constellation of five satellites is capable of multiple daily revisits and can collect more than 1 billion square kilometers of imagery per year.

Q: What are some things DigitalGlobe is keeping its "eye" on? 

A: DigitalGlobe has an Advanced Elevation Series product that produces digital surface models and digital terrain models that serve as key building blocks for successful exploration, engineering, land management and simulation. Many industries require the use of high-resolution elevation models to complete land and water projects and tasks from city planning to oil production to flood mapping.

Additionally, DigitalGlobe's WorldView-2 satellite is the first high-resolution, multi-spectral satellite to provide eight spectral sensors, enabling it to see further into the water and support bathymetric studies around the globe. This feature can be used to monitor coastal areas, document changes to protected habitats, map large underwater areas and predict the effects of storm surges and tsunamis.

Q: Tell us about some of your clients.

A: DigitalGlobe has a mix of private and commercial clients -- many of them governments, including the U.S. government. DigitalGlobe continues to expand its footprint in the government space with growing contracts in the defense and intelligence and international civil government segments. DigitalGlobe also has several customers in the commercial segment that use our technology for location-based services, humanitarian relief, oil and gas services and more. Some of our current clients include MapBox, United States Air Force, Saab and Esri.

Q: What was the revenue for DigitalGlobe in the 4th quarter and all of 2012?

A: Fourth quarter 2012 revenue was $125.4 million, a 28 percent increase compared with the same period last year. Net income for the fourth quarter was $17.1 million. Full year 2012 revenue was $421.4 million, a 24 percent increase compared with 2011. The company reported net income of $39.0 million, or $0.84 per share, compared with a net loss of $28.1 million, or $(0.61) per share in 2011.

Q: What's the next big project coming up?

A: We expect DigitalGlobe's newest satellite, WorldView-3, to be launched in 2014, which is capable of collecting 0.31 meter resolution panchromatic and eight-band multi-spectral imagery. WorldView-3 is expected to be the first high-resolution satellite carrying multi-spectral, short-wave infrared (SWIR), greatly expanding the range of customer applications enabled by the DigitalGlobe constellation and the overall value DigitalGlobe can provide to customers.

Q: What makes you excited about the innovative work at DigitalGlobe?

A: Our vision provides a tremendous amount of room for growth. We are expanding the quality of the source data we collect with our new generation of satellite sensors, such as WorldView-3. We are moving up the value chain from data to information to insight. With our combined constellation and daily revisit, we're increasingly able to monitor change. With our constellation's capability to collect more than 3 million square kilometers of high-resolution imagery per day or more than 1 billion square kilometers per year, we are operating over the scale of our planet.

Q: What is the future vision for DigitalGlobe?

A: Our vision is to be the indispensable source of information about our changing planet by 2020.

Katrina Pfannkuch

About the Author: Katrina Pfannkuch

<b>Katrina Pfannkuch</b>  is a writer, creative consultant, content strategist and teacher. She has more than 14 years of experience with writing, editing and content strategy for a variety of companies and industries, and specializes in green business, health and wellness and metaphysical topics. Her blog, <a href="">CreativeKatrina</a>, explores ideas, tools and perspectives that tap into the creative seed present in every moment. She is also a contributor for BellaSpark Magazine and Yoga Connection Magazine, and teaches writing and blogging classes at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins. Katrina has an M.A. in Journalism from Northeastern University and a B. S. in Business Administration from Bryant University.