People before profits helps Pacific IT company fly (V5-S4-16)

A partnership between SkyEye Samoa and Women in Business Samoa has significantly changed Samoa’s digital landscape and brightened the future for all.

Sky Eye's Chris Saili at the Pacific Wave Conference 2016 in Auckland.
Sky Eye’s Chris Saili at the Pacific Wave Conference 2016 in Auckland.

Chris Saili of SkyEye Samoa was a presenter at the Pacific Wave Conference 2016 in Auckland recently on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Mapping and Remote Sensing technology.

SkyEye Samoa is a family business founded by Chris’ uncles, Sam and Nome Saili who started the business three years earlier based on the GPS tracking software they had developed. Chris was urged by his mother to leave New Zealand and work with his uncles. Quickly realising its potential, he cancelled the flight home and spent time learning the software and finding customers.

It started out with a GPS vehicle tracking system for vehicle fleets in Samoa. However, for the technology to work they needed accurate maps and locations. The maps however were outdated and even digital giant’s Google maps were years old. Landmarks were not marked, streets had no names, houses had no address numbers or letter boxes. Staff had to drive around in vehicles using a GPS unit and a laptop to map the locations. To attract business, they launched a successful advertising campaign to track fleet cars adding the Samoa Government to their list of satisfied customers. Doors opened and they have now geo coded business licences in Samoa; geo coded locations in American Samoa and Solomon Islands and looking at doing the same for PNG next year.

But the campaign also led them to the not-for-profit Women in Business Development Samoa, suppliers of coconut oil and coconut products to clients in Australia, New Zealand and The Body Shop UK for many years.

Aerial Screenshot
Aerial drone photograph of a community.

Initially they offered WIBDI Samoa a free GPS trial to track their fleet vehicles. But as WIBDI began to understand the vehicle tracking capabilities of geo coding, they asked SkyEye to map the coconut plantations on to the system, replacing the pins and strings map systems they were using to help them identify the various farm locations.

SkyEye uses drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly overhead and map areas below using higher resolution imagery than civilian satellites. Sharper visual images can be captured in a single flight and allows the flexibility to access farms that are not easily reachable. Depending on weather, the drones can fly for as long as needed. The images are downloaded from the drone, digitally corrected and overlaid onto a map.

WIBDI engaged them to undertake a Coconut Tree Inventory. By the end of the survey they had counted 600,000 coconut trees of 558 farms and provided a database for coconut inventory.  Importantly, with sharper images, WIBDI could estimate the ages of the trees and forecast the yield and production of coconut oil and make future business decisions. The technology also allows farmers to access the information and make their own changes and update the digital map. They can also map the boundaries of their own land.

The special relationship with WIBDI is hard to sum up in one sentence, Mr Saili said.

“WIBDI had a need that required services that we could provide and they gave us a shot to deliver. Although we were a very young company, we knew we had the talent and the experience to deliver, he said. They (WIBDI) vetted our documents and systems and allowed us to work with them to improve their information systems,” he said.

“One of the major benefits that we have gained from WIBDI is learning about sustainable development and fostering trusting and ethical relationships with the community,” he added.

They have helped WIBDI to digitize paper survey forms required for organic certification, that were once “a headache to manage” on to an open source software system that can be downloaded on to tablets and phones.

“There are benefits in public private partnerships when people are put first, not profits.  A common interest to develop people is what we believe is key to our relationship and we give many free hours of development in the interest,” he said.

“Because WIBDI are non-profit, the relationship allowed collaboration and time to work on specifically tailoring the technology to their requirements.”

Mr Saili is also the Managing Director of SkyEye Solomons Ltd established last year in November 2015. Mr Saili said the contract can be linked directly back to their successful relationship with WIBDI Samoa.

SkyEye Solomons is working with Government, local council and UN Habitat to complete a house census on the wards including informal settlements, accessibility to electricity and water, road access and infrastructure in Solomon Islands. They are also engaged with the Guadalcanal Province Palm Oil Limited (GPPOL) to identify trees and carbon stocks. However, the keys to their continued success is providing locally built and supported systems and training locals to operate them. They have hired a recent University of the South Pacific graduate, Solomon Island’s Gibson Satu – an initiative that has been well received. They are keen to expand throughout the Pacific including PNG, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga but also helping communities by providing work through local partners and mentoring systems through the universities and local chambers of commerce.  But they are also keen on climate change initiatives in the Pacific which is another area they could be well equipped to fly.

For more information please contact Eleanor Ikinofo at Eleanor.i@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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