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The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Reporting and Relaxing

Welcome to Embrace Space! Thanks for stopping by! With this press release launched, I can say that my latest work on the Earth Observation market is done and I can finally relax! Today, I'd like to take you on a quick tour of my work, and catch you up on the last few months.

My latest report with Northern Sky Research was all about the satellite-based Earth Observation market, basically the business of selling satellite imagery, and using that imagery in different applications. It is an interesting and competitive market, and I was glad to be working on it again.

The last few weeks were especially busy, and I almost felt like I was reverting back to the dark days of university, but I made it through, I survived, and I can finally tell you more about it.

So, the Earth Observation (via satellite) market is divided into 4 segments, essentially 4 different products involved in the industry, including imagery, value-added services (things like image correction and processing), information products (maps, reports, surveys), and big data analytics. These segments are further divided into 7 verticals, basically what industry is looking to use the imagery or application, and all of these are also divided among regions (North America, Asia, etc.) as well as by the resolution of the imagery.

Over the past few months, I've been following the typical NSR report process, starting with updating our database, following through on interviews, then forecasting the market out for the next 10 years, and finally creating the final report product. 

I ran into some issues as I worked, some of which you may relate to. First, I found it tough to secure interviews. These dialogues are important for our research, as they allow us to go beyond the headlines and get a better understanding of the trends and market developments. This year, there were a few mergers, a few companies changing hands, and that made it difficult to speak with them. It was understandable, but when some of the biggest companies who really drive much of the market are not communicating, it can make it challenging to make assertions as to how the market is doing.

After that, there was the challenge of adding something new. This year, I added forecasts which split the market by resolution of the imagery sold/used, for every aspect of the market (region, vertical, segment), which had never been done to this detail. It wasn't the biggest change, but it came with a lot of work, and a lot of research to make the right assumptions.

When I say assumption, I of course mean well-informed assumption. The word has such a negative connotation and, sadly, that connotation is earned. When I first started with NSR, I felt that I knew little about the satellite industry. Sure, I understood how they were made, but I knew little about the market decisions that drove their design, or their service.

I felt that my early assumptions were flimsy, so loosely held together that I didn't want to hold to them at all. But, thankfully, I learned a long time ago how to admit what I don't know, and how to ask the right questions.

A lot of the base data, in many industries, and maybe even just for life in general, comes from refining assumptions. You initially assume the market size is X, you find out you were wrong, and you adjust from there. If you're doing it right, your assumptions grow more nuanced. Sure, it may be just a number, or an idea of an upcoming trend, but it's informed by so much fact that it's tough to ignore. Of course, sometimes this can work against you, but you must always remember that these are assumptions, they're not exactly opinions and they're definitely not fact, so adjust them and be willing to do so, when new data is presented.

The next thing I can say I've learned is that a lot of information does not exist, not entirely, at least not in an easy, readily-available to find/access format. For example, one of my first tasks at NSR was to estimate the addressable maritime satellite communications market, basically, how many ships, worldwide, would be suitable to adopt satellite communications? How do you determine a number like that?

Your first instinct, nowadays, is to Google it. Hey, Siri? But, a lot of the information you want, including simply written/stated factual information, just doesn't exist. Even if every boat were perfectly registered and that data existed somewhere, it's unlikely that a) it has been updated, b) it's complete and c) it's accessible. In many cases, you find some of what you want, but not a complete picture, such as resources which discuss North America, but leave out other regions.

But, you do what you can, and as you gather more intelligence, you make some assumptions. You limit the scale of answers based on your knowledge, knowing that the Earth Observation market cannot have doubled since last year, things like that. This was my second time doing the report, so I already had a head start on understanding the market dynamics.

Once I had my base knowledge together, it was time for interviews. As I mentioned earlier, they're important for truly understanding the market. One issue I had this year was speaking to the people selling the imagery. Some of that was due to those companies merging and not being talkative, but others either were not answering, or answering vaguely.

One trend in the market right now is the surge of big data analytics. While the Earth Observation market has traditionally been about big companies with big satellites selling individual images to customers, now many customers want a lot of imagery so they can run statistical analysis of it. They want pictures of the same place, at different times, so they can determine changes, understand the area better. Maybe you've heard of counting cars? A few companies are using satellite imagery to count the number of cars in parking lots, and using that (combined with other data) to determine how well a retail store is doing. That information is then sold to investors who can make informed decisions. 

So, with these analysts wanting all this imagery, they're wanting to buy lots of it at a time. This contrasts with the traditional market and so I wanted to ask these companies how they're adopting to the change, if at all. 

But, many of the companies weren't answering. So, I decided to be a little more direct with my questions. Here's a tip for you, if you want someone to answer, sometimes it helps to feed them an incorrect assumption. 

I used to do this during my debate club/Model UN days, but basically, if I would make an assertion that parts of the value chain are not changing and that this resistance is challenging market growth. Sometimes, in order to defend their company, or make sure I properly understood the market, people would rise to the occasion and answer me. Sometimes not. 

Out of context, it may sound like a bad thing to do, but I assure you, it was not malicious, it's just that sometimes you get more answers by making statements rather than by asking questions.

Anyway, on to forecasting. I can't get into too much detail as to how this works, but essentially I'm a psychic, or at least that's what my girlfriend says to tease me.

Once your base data is secure, as best as you can make it, you then look ahead and try to determine what will drive the market, what will hold it back. Obviously, you cannot really predict the future. Big events could happen to change everything. But, assuming that doesn't happen, and learning more about the trends of the business, how will it look in 10 years? Will more companies merge? Will all those satellites announced actually launch? You try to understand when those factors will come into play, and then ask yourself how much and what part of the market will they affect? Once you have an idea, you apply weight to those points, mathematical weight. Then you take your base data and move it forward. It's kind of like an extensive flow chart. If this, then that, if this and this but not that, then the result is X.

Once I was done with all of that, and trust me, that took most of my time, I had to make the presentation. Our reports come with a presentation, an Excel file with all the data, and now a CSV (Comma Separated Variables) file. The latter is just a spreadsheet with no charts inside, basically.

I'm getting better at making report slides. They're not exactly difficult, but they can be time-consuming, and they're almost always challenging at first. This goes back to my troubles with art and perfectionism, see my previous post, but filling a blank slide can be tough. Then, there's the issue of just wanting to put the information down as text. Sometimes that's appropriate, sometimes not.

The last days were especially challenging. My girlfriend was out of town, in Paris to help her brother move, and I was here, working all day, every day. It felt like my days back at York, when I was just locked behind my desk, almost forgetting to eat, feeling like a troll or goblin just losing humanity as I got work done. It wasn't so bad, really. I did remember to eat, although a few of my meals were rather lazy, and while it was stressful, it was good to get it all done. I missed my girlfriend while she was away, but it was also good not to have to ignore her while I worked late into the night.

So, 100 slides and over hundreds of thousands of data points later, I am finally done! The report just came out and I hope it's a commercial success. I was going to say it was the first one I did entirely on my own, but I had some help in the final days for editing and presentation-making. Still, it's my first report where I did all of the forecasting myself, and it was a good bout of hard work.

Hopefully, you enjoyed reading, and I thank you making it this far. I'm hoping to have a few more posts out before the end of the year, so in the meantime, Happy Halloween, Happy Watching Stranger Things, Happy American Thanksgiving, and hopefully we'll catch up again before Christmas!

More frequent updates can be found on my links to the left, or my Twitter feed to the right.

Thanks for reading!

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