Bridging the talent gap: big data for Brisbane infrastructure projects
June 13 2023

Big data, big talent. Diversity-powered data.

Brisbane's astonishing $19 billion infrastructure pipeline is like a sweet melody to the ears of Geoffrey Smith, the CEO of Australian Spatial Analytics (ASA). Through the power of big data, Geoffrey and his team are unlocking the untapped potential of young adults on the autism spectrum and with other neurodiverse abilities.

ASA takes pride in employing neurodiverse individuals who process and analyse vast amounts of infrastructure data for corporations and governments. Geoffrey explains,

"Brisbane is an ideal location for us because we primarily work with infrastructure data. But what sets us apart is that 80% of our incredible team of 130 staff members are living with autism or other neurodiverse disabilities. Our mission goes beyond typical data services providers; we're harnessing the power of data to champion diversity."

Geoffrey established ASA to address two pressing issues: a social problem and a market problem. He shares,

"The social problem was the shockingly high unemployment rate of over 50% among young neurodiverse Australians, despite their natural cognitive abilities and interest in technology."

Before joining ASA, many of Geoffrey's employees faced long-term unemployment, with nearly half having never been employed before.

To overcome this challenge, Geoffrey and his team actively recruit new members through autism advocacy and disability employment programs. They provide comprehensive training and equip these individuals with the tools of the trade. Rather than focusing solely on traditional university pathways, ASA views data analytics and processing as a way to learn Geospatial and Engineering professional skills, through on-the-job training. Many team members have tried university but found it unsuitable for their needs, making it difficult for them to secure employment.

ASA's unique approach involves pairing inexperienced team members with seasoned professionals, who comprise 25% of the workforce. These professionals hail from Brisbane's renowned universities and possess valuable experience from other data services providers. This pairing not only instils confidence in clients but also accelerates the growth and productivity of new team members, surpassing the results typically achieved through a traditional four-year university degree and an 18-month graduate program.

Geoffrey emphasises,

"We nurture their confidence and skills on the job, and the results are exceptional. Our team members deliver on par with, if not better than, any other analysts I've worked with."

Beyond the social aspect, ASA also addresses a market problem. While the majority of Australia's data extraction and analytics work is outsourced, local procurement policies and data controls are now driving the demand for on-shore data processing and storage. Geoffrey explains,

"Governments and corporations are actively seeking local solutions to avoid offshoring their data. By remaining on-shore, ASA capitalises on this market opportunity."

This approach has propelled ASA's rapid growth. Since its establishment in September 2020, the company has expanded its operations to Melbourne in July 2022 and Cairns in January 2023. Among its 130 staff members across the three offices, 95 are based in Brisbane. While ASA's major clients are Queensland-based, the company is steadily attracting clients from other states and even multinational organisations.

A significant breakthrough for ASA came when they received the prestigious Award for Outstanding Social Enterprise at the 2022 Lord Mayor's Business Awards (LMBAs). Since their triumph at the LMBAs, ASA has added 19 new members to their team within a span of five months. Geoffrey expresses his gratitude, stating,

"The LMBAs were a game-changer for us. They marked a distinct shift in our business—our life can be categorised into pre-LMBAs and post-LMBAs. As a young company, establishing trust is crucial when bidding for tenders and securing government contracts. The award helped us build that trust and instilled confidence in our clients, making our journey much smoother."

Geoffrey launched ASA during a pivotal period for Brisbane. With over $19 billion allocated to the city's infrastructure pipeline until 2032, including transformative projects like Brisbane Metro, Cross River Rail, Waterfront Brisbane, Queen's Wharf, Gabba rebuild, and Brisbane Arena, the opportunities are abundant. Geoffrey explains their choice to set up in Brisbane, saying,

"This city is experiencing remarkable growth, especially in the construction sector, where we can actively participate. The scale of infrastructure investment planned for the next few decades in Brisbane presents us with a unique advantage. It's the perfect ground floor for new projects and major capital works, which is harder to find in other Australian cities."

ASA benefits from Brisbane's extensive spatial data, thanks to the city's vast size and the broader Queensland region. Additionally, Geoffrey highlights Brisbane's collaborative nature as a key factor in their early success. He remarks,

"Compared to other capital cities I've worked in, Brisbane has a distinct focus on partnership and collaboration. Whether it's the pleasant weather or the city's rapid growth, there's a friendly atmosphere here. When we enter a room, people see us as partners rather than competitors."

For these reasons, Brisbane will forever remain ASA's headquarters and Geoffrey envisions hiring another 50 individuals in the city in 2023.

Expanding on their offerings, ASA aims to address a third problem faced by their clients. Geoffrey explains,

"The increasing demand for big data jobs to keep up with technological advancements has resulted in a digital skills shortage. Companies tend to rely on the same traditional pathways and cohorts of people to fill these roles. We want to bridge that gap by acting as a talent agency, enabling our trained engineering and geospatial employees to find work elsewhere."

ASA's established reputation and seamless integration into clients' supply chains instil confidence that their team members can transition seamlessly to becoming valuable assets within those organisations. Geoffrey eagerly anticipates rolling out this service, expanding the horizons for their team members throughout this year.

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