Tech start-up of the week: GeoPal Solutions

8 Dec 2013

Pictured: (from left) Gerard O'Keeffe, CEO; Paul Coyle, commercial director; Sean O'Reilly, CTO, GeoPal

Our start-up of the week is GeoPal Solutions, a cloud service and mobile app for companies that need to manage a field-based workforce. The company has raised seed capital from private investors and plans to create 20 new jobs.

In recent weeks we reported that Dublin-based software company GeoPal Solutions is to create 20 new jobs by the end of 2014 after raising €1.5m in seed funding. The investment came from the Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start Up (HPSU) fund, and private investors, to support the international expansion of the business to the US, UK, South Africa, and Asia.

The company has developed a cloud service and mobile application for mobile workforce management that improves productivity and reduces administration costs for businesses that need to manage a field-based mobile workforce.

Gerard O’Keeffe and Paul Coyle founded GeoPal Solutions in 2011 with Sean O’Reilly as CTO.

As O’Keeffe explains it GeoPal is used across industries including field service, facilities management, home healthcare, civil engineering and surveying, and the public sector.

“While these industries are diverse, they have a common set of needs: the need to see the real-time location of field workers and the jobs they are working on, the need to increase field worker productivity, the need to eliminate paperwork from the field and the need to provide Proof of Delivery ( POD ) for work done or services provided.

O’Keeffe points out better visibility of worker locations, scheduling of jobs is more efficient, and because information captured in the field is sent instantly and securely to the office without the need for data re-entry later, workers can complete more jobs per day.  This means that small businesses no longer suffer from lost or delayed paperwork, and the improved efficiency of data transfer means invoices can be issued faster, increasing cash flow.

“Any business that has a team of off-site workers, who are using paper forms to collect information or proof of delivery, and provide printed work orders or job sheets to their employees can benefit from GeoPal’s service. GeoPal’s customisable mobile forms can capture customer signatures, photos, barcodes or RFID scans, and a variety of data formats and transmit the information instantly to the office. The office administrator can view worker locations on the map, schedule and dispatch job information to worker’s mobile phones, and manage assets and reporting.”

The global and mobile cloud opportunity

O’Keeffe says the global market for enterprise mobility solutions in field service is worth about €10bn annually. GeoPal is focusing on specific niches that include medium-sized businesses in the field service, facilities management and public sectors, in Ireland, USA and UK, these initial niches are estimated to be worth €150m annually.

“Our solution takes advantage of the growing availability of low-cost, feature-rich smartphones and cloud services, which enables us to offer more functionality at a low cost to SMEs, with no need for up-front capital expenditure. This kind of functionality was only previously available as an expensive on-premise solution to larger enterprises. Now, with GeoPal, SMEs can eliminate paperwork, using mobile forms for field data capture, integrated with job dispatch, mapping and reporting through the cloud service.”

This gives them better visibility of their business operations, improves productivity and accuracy of work completed in the field, and enables them to increase cash flow by issuing invoices and customer reports faster.

“There is also growing opportunity for GeoPal’s newest service, lone worker protection. Health and Safety Regulations for employees working in hazardous situations or alone when off-site is very topical of late. GeoPal has developed a low-cost solution that uses only the mobile app on the smartphone to raise a panic alarm, status check, or to detect non-movement which could indicate an employee has been immobilised by a fall or illness.

“The alert notifies emergency contacts of the location of the employee with GPS tracking, so that appropriate help can be sent to them immediately. Before this, lone worker protection required the purchase of a separate device which can be costly for SMEs.”

The founders

Prior to GeoPal, O’Keeffe held senior roles in Nortel Networks, Aer Lingus and as CEO of Stentor plc. He joined Stentor plc as CTO in 1996, became CEO in 1998 and delivered the trade sale of Stentor  to Energis/Cable & Wireless in 2000. Gerard and Paul co-founded Eirborne Text Promotions in 2002 and developed the company to become a leader in mobile content distribution in Ireland, UK, USA and Australia, before selling to Zamano in 2008.

Paul Coyle, commercial director and co-founder, held senior roles in AT&T Ireland, Eircom, and as commercial director at Stentor plc, in addition to being vice-chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association, before founding Eirborne Text Promotions and then GeoPal with Gerard.

Sean O’Reilly –CTO and co-founder –prior to founding GeoPal with O’Keeffe and Coyle, founded Storacall, a software development company focused on voice response solutions.

O’Keeffe said: “We founded GeoPal in 2011 and were identified as a High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) business by Enterprise Ireland which attracted investment to help grow the business internationally.  Initially our reference customers in Ireland and the UK acted as beta testers to help us refine and develop our solution, and this customer-led development has been a strong focus as we have grown. Throughout 2012 we were delighted to sign a number of key reference customers including: Dublin City BID, Morrison Mainline, Traffic Solutions, Fingal County Council, Ericsson, PostPoint, Resource Group and many more.

“Now in 2013, we have a growing international partner network, with direct and partner sales in Ireland, UK, US and South Africa. We work closely with our partner O2 Ireland to promote GeoPal to their business customers and similarly with our partner Verizon Wireless in the USA. The business has expanded from the original three founding team members in the last year to add roles in research and development, operations, customer support, sales and marketing. We recently announced that we have raised €1.5m in funding from Enterprise Ireland and private investors and we expect our team to grow to 23 people by the end of 2014.”

The technology

GeoPal is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud service and mobile app. The cloud service is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and is used to create mobile forms and workflows, manage assets, track the location of field workers, schedule and dispatch jobs, and to view job reports coming from the field in real-time.

Off-site or field workers use the GeoPal mobile app to receive job details including customer history and driving directions, to capture field information such as photos, signatures, barcode scans, and to clock in and out of shifts. Data captured in the mobile app is actively synced in real time to the web app. We developed the GeoPal mobile app initially as a native app for Android phones, and recently released a version for iPhone.

GeoPal enables businesses to create mobile forms by converting paper forms to fully customizable mobile forms for accurate data capture in the field and provides a simple-to-use web interface to schedule & dispatch jobs to mobile workers & plan for recurring jobs.

The software also enables firms to and manage jobs and business assets – whether they be people, parts, facilities, or equipment – show value to stakeholders with enhanced proof of service delivery & custom reporting options.

It also can be used to configure protection for lone workers and comply with risk assessment audits and legislation.

Firms can also use it to tag and manage asset inventory, select and add parts to jobs, or automate service notifications.

The software’s API suite is designed to easily integrate with a variety of IT systems, for customer portals, reporting, invoicing, CRM or ERP requirements.

“Our vision is to become the dominant provider of enterprise mobility solutions in our chosen target markets, while continuing to be a fun and challenging place to work,” O’Keeffe explained. “We want to exceed the highest expectations of our customers and be known for our great service, technology and experience.

“By 2015 we expect 80pc of our revenues to be generated outside Ireland, while continuing to be a significant employer in Ireland. Being a cloud based service, there are no geographical limitations to our expansion.

‘Our main competitor is paper’

Every start-up focused on a technological solution wants to put a dent in the universe in its own way and O’Keeffe explains that the company’s real competitor is the traditional way of doing things with paper and pen.

“In 2011 we developed a Minimally Viable Product and brought it to market to test customer demand. We were delighted by the fantastic level of take-up of the GeoPal solution and we had to work very hard to turn our MVP to a production grade solution with all of the features that customers demanded. We have a very robust solution now, catering for companies with between 10 and 1,000 field workers and we are regularly developing and refining features based on customer suggestions and feedback.

“There is plenty of competition in the Enterprise Mobility Solutions sector, but our main competitor is paper! We need to convince our target customers to leave their old paper processes behind and move to more reliable and efficient cloud and mobile app solutions.

“As smartphones become more prevalent and people see how much time they can save by using the GeoPal app, they begin to realize how the app can help them to make improvements in other areas of their business also. Some of our customers were initially reluctant to move away from paper, but since switching they have been able to expand their services with the time they have saved using GeoPal.”

‘Be proactive’

O’Keeffe believes the  Irish start-up scene is quite active and there is a lot of support available to start-ups, if they are willing to put in the effort to find it.

“We have been involved this year in the Web Summit and Dublin Beta events, which were really useful to meet and network with other start-ups, Irish and international, and find out what other people are doing. We’ve found you have to be proactive, but using social media like Twitter and LinkedIn helps you to find and connect with groups and people who can offer advice or help you to promote your business.”

His advice to other start-ups is to be proactive. “Don’t expect to get publicity or customers for your business without putting the work in to promote yourself.

“Reach out to the start-up community, it’s very open and supportive. Enterprise Ireland has been a huge support to GeoPal also. We would recommend contacting them, as they have a variety of programs and supports for startups of all stages,” O’Keeffe recommends.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years