What is the key requirement for location intelligence software?

2 Jul 2019

Feargal O’Neill. Image: Gamma

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Gamma CEO Feargal O’Neill maps out what life is like in the location intelligence industry.

Feargal O’Neill is CEO of spatial solutions provider Gamma, where he has worked since 1993.

A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, with a background in planning and the spatial sciences, he has driven company growth in both the public and private sector.

O’Neill has extensive experience in geographic information systems (GIS), offering detailed consultancy to companies and enabling them to use location-based information in their operations.

‘I’m never far from devising new ways of doing things’

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m CEO, so I’m there to support my team to achieve our common goals. I most often get involved in product development, sales and marketing, and finance. Currently I am driving the international growth of the company through significant research and development, as well as partner recruitment.

Occasionally I dip back into consulting, which is where I cut my teeth and which keeps me in touch with client requirements and challenges. 

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

We use an Agile planning approach and organise all our tasks over two-week periods. I laugh at this as I have always planned my time using a two-week to-do list, even when the rest of my team were using the latest project management methodologies. Now, my two-week approach is back in vogue – I just had to wait a while!

I try to structure my calendar based on priority and then I take each day as it comes. As a qualified town planner, my training leans towards strategic planning, so I’m never far from devising new ways of doing things.  

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

There are lots. GDPR was one that caused a lot of concern, but we tackled it by getting ISO 27001 approval in December and ensuring that all our processes and safeguards were world-class.

Every technology faces a battle against the ‘So what?’ question. In an industry like location intelligence, it’s a challenge to prove or measure the return on investment. We always seek to measure the actual return from quicker and better decisions, and cost savings from better targeting. It’s important that our clients see that their return on investment is significant. Prove value, and your prospects will become long-term customers and research partners.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Our two largest sectors are insurance and retail. We have focused our research and development efforts on these areas for the past five years and it has been worth it. As a result, we are the Irish market leader for location intelligence in the insurance sector and we are now starting to target overseas markets.

‘I’ve always admired Steve Jobs for his insistence on producing beautiful, easy-to-use products. It’s my key requirement in our product development’

In retail, I’m really excited about our new Storecast platform, which offers something exceptional to retailers to manage their store networks and omnichannel optimisation. We are piloting this at present in the UK and have several existing retail clients in Ireland.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I studied economics and geography, before concentrating on town planning. Through that, I discovered GIS and got a job in one of Ireland’s first GIS consultancies. I had planned on going back and getting a proper planning job in a local authority but I’m still here, 23 years later, as the co-owner. Perhaps it’s a little late now!

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Probably not growing the company sooner. I think when you’re young and vibrant with no family, you should take risks and go for broke. I found out too late that the location intelligence solutions we provide to our Irish clients are world-class and we could have found clients in larger markets for much the same development effort. I wish we had moved sooner but it’s never too late, so we learn and move on.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By having an agreed common set of objectives and measuring all the important stuff. I also try to tie rewards into these objectives and KPIs. Trust is vital, and allowing smart people to do their job and make mistakes also goes a long way. I used to find delegating difficult, but I’ve gotten better at it. 

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

IT tends to be more male-focused and we would get far more male applicants for developer roles. As a result, we hire more males in those roles. In other roles, there is a good gender balance and greater diversity. It is an important area, which is why we have a company diversity and inclusion policy that we apply in our recruitment and management processes.

Who is your role model and why?

I’ve always admired Steve Jobs for his insistence on producing beautiful, easy-to-use products. It’s my key requirement in our product development. What we produce has to be intuitive, highly graphic and fast – with lots of maps. Then I’m happy.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I recently enjoyed Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock. And anything by the great J P Donleavy.  

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My iPhone X, my Skype for Business and my paper pad. There’s something about putting ink on paper when I’m making strategic plans that can’t be satisfied digitally for me. Yet.

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