First Base Solutions

Leading Edge in a Global Market

J.D. Barnes Limited is a leading geomatics firm specializing in Surveying, Planning, Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for the public and private sectors. The company is employee-owned and based in Toronto. The company was established in 1960 and since that time has become one of Canada’s largest firms of its kind having over 230 professional and technical staff. First Base Solutions is a subsidiary to J.D. Barnes, and was created as an extension with a much more aggressive business model.

Frank Mauro, O.L.S., O.L.I.P., B. Tech., is President and CEO of J.D. Barnes and First Base Solutions. His involvement goes back to the 1970s after he graduated from Ryerson, when he was working to become a licensed land surveyor. Mauro started work with J.D. Barnes in 1981, and has been with the company ever since.

The J.D. Barnes mapping group have had mapping capabilities in the late 60s, and management realized in the late 90s that a separate entity could be created, where mapping would be the sole focus of the entity. Mauro elaborates on the process that led to the creation of First Base: “We’ve been doing mapping for a long time – aerial mapping, and producing mapping products developed from aerial mapping photography. First Base was part of the business plan to grow as a separate function in 2000. We were changing the way we did business, and instead of just responding to tenders, and fight out contracts with all the other mapping firms, we wanted to proactively engage the business. Through First Base Solutions, we started doing mapping up front and then putting it online. We began selling the product to our current clients and then also offering the product online for $70 a tile (about 500 meters square) to other businesses.” Mauro says that the timing was right for an extension of the business, because development was booming in Canada – especially in the Greater Toronto area of Ontario.

“First Base Solutions is radically different from our regular business. It’s more of a proactive approach to mapping. We sell it to existing clients at a discount, but retain ownership of the product, therefore can sell it to new clients who can download it online. Most of our clients are municipalities and governments.”

Mapping is essentially the base for all geographic information services. On top of the mapping products First Base provides, clients can identify items such as bus routes, schools, and municipal buildings. Provincial governments use mapping for forestry, flood planning, and conservation purposes. Aerial Imagery can be provided at resolutions of up to 3cm, meaning surface features such as bricks, street signs and overhead wires can be identified. Not all clients require the same resolution mapping, and First Base tailors to those needs.

The Google partnership

“Our relationship with Google has just evolved in the last year. Google has satellite imagery of the whole world. And that imagery is good enough for reference purposes, but not good enough for development use. Every day users go on Google Earth to see vacation spots, golf courses, and their neighbourhoods. Today, we’re the only reseller of Google products in Canada.” In addition to the Google partnership, First Base also has a long-standing relationship with Microsoft – the company has mapped every Canadian city for Microsoft that is on their site.

Mauro says that the products available from First Base will change the way architects and corporations do business. First Base now offers 3D modelling which can be used for a variety of business purposes. This modelling allows users to actually see 3D models of cities, so clients can do fly-throughs and see textures, details, and exact distances. Of course, the First Base market is primarily the geospatial market – including governments, utilities, and clients needing geospatial information systems.

Mauro says that along with a software partner, the company is “fairly close to finalizing development of technology that will allow us to scope the internal layouts of buildings, to see staircases, elevator shafts, and floor plans. Architects and planners can view buildings graphically using this technique instead of just working from artists’ renderings. Emergency services will be very interested in this software, as they can pinpoint exits and internal environments, allowing them to improve their services.”

What’s the biggest challenge for First Base currently? The very products they offer involve cutting-edge, and expensive, technology, which is a substantial economic burden.

“One of our biggest challenges is technology. In order to stay on top we have to acquire new technologies every year. As business grows and we expand and offer more products, it’s becoming a much higher burden on our resources. In order to stay progressive, we’ve been looking at different economic partnerships. We’re employee-owned, but are investigating potential investors outside our employees. The camera we use is $1 million. So you can imagine how expensive our other equipment is. But the key is – we absolutely must be leading edge.”

Despite the expensive nature of the business, Mauro is not as concerned about the possibility of recession as some in other industries.

“We feel comfortable knowing that we have repeat clients, so despite the cooled investment climate, we’ll be able to weather whatever shortfalls the economy suffers. We’re not recession proof, but the work we do gives us a longer window than a typical tendered contract. We are able to secure lengthy contracts and our clients subscribe to our services over long periods of time.”

First Base Solutions is currently working to secure large-scale international projects, and Mauro is confident the business will continue to thrive on an expanded client base.

“From the time you wake up in the morning, to the time you go to sleep, the majority of the decisions you make are geo-spatially related – that in itself shows what kind of a market we have. We hope to continue helping businesses around the world get where they’re going.”

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