MRF Geosystems

2013 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement In Alberta Science And Technology

Mr. Gary Zhang used Bill Gates as inspiration in building his company, MRF Geosystems, which he founded in 1992.

“He could have retired long ago, but he keeps working hard. It’s very impressive,” Mr. Zhang says. “I know the daily challenges in building a business. It’s like keeping a family going. You need to take risks. There are many headaches every day and you have to work hard to address them, to achieve technical advances, customer satisfaction and commercial success.”

When he founded MRF Mr. Zhang’s dream was to develop a set of advanced, generic Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications that offer significant productivity gains, financial savings, and are easy to use. He’s realizing that dream.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Mr. Zhang says. “I was at the right place in the right time with the training and skills to develop new applications which led to the growth of MRF, happy customers and commercial success.”

GIS grew rapidly in the early 1990s as organizations began to use the technology to achieve better productivity and support decision-making. MRF has grown with it – from a one-man company in 1992 to a team of 17 GIS developers and analysts.

During that time MRF developed a suite of industry-leading GIS products, acquired a customer base with more than 6,000 licenses in over 40 countries and a strong team with an excellent track record of GIS innovation.In 2012 the company recorded revenues of $2.9 million, about 30 per cent of which came from outside of Canada.

MRF’s customers include all levels of government, utilities and engineering firms. The company’s work includes developing custom solutions for clients like Orange County, California; and developing technologies that MRF sells to partners, including Intergraph Corporation (1995) and Safe Software Inc. (2006). Those agreements were a major milestone for MRF, convincing customers of the company’s leadership in GIS innovation.

MRF’s advanced GIS technologies offer innovative solutions to its customers at competitive costs. For example, when the company bid on the Orange County web-based GIS project, its price tag was US$600,000. The second best price was US$1.5 million.

Among the industry-changing innovations from MRF was to digitize paper maps – data conversion – typically eating up about 70 per cent of the project budget. Mr. Zhang recognized the commercial potential of an automated tool to process the information and developed technology that allows customers to complete a task in one day where the same task would take one week without using the MRF tool.

In emergencies MRF’s advanced GIS technology can identify areas needing assistance and can send out 5,000 messages in one minute to the affected recipients.

In addition to developing industry-leading technology, MRF has played a significant role in training more than 80 people in GIS for the industry.

Mr. Zhang likens his work to hiking. “You set a goal, work hard to climb to the top of the mountain, and when you get there it’s rewarding and exciting,” he says. Once you accomplish one objective, you move to next one.”