Aruna Technology has grown into a million-dollar business producing pinpoint-accurate maps
By Jeremy Mullins and Soeun Say
Initially I was worried about powerful wives monitoring their husbands.
Precisely mapping Cambodia in the digital age requires an array of satellites and hi-tech software, as well as a bit of old-fashioned field savvy.
Aruna Technology Limited, a medium-sized Phnom Penh business, combines traditional field surveys with cutting-edge digital mapping from satellite images to help its customers with all their location-based needs.
Aruna Sales Manager Loy Prim said telecoms companies were keen users of the company’s services, combining demographic information with satellite imaging to most profitably place their mobile-phone towers. NGOs seeking to improve the Kingdom’s irrigation system were also regular clients.
Aruna is developing a cutting-edge project that allows clients to track the movements of individual vehicles on Google Earth, an online interactive atlas.
“Initially, I was worried about powerful wives [using this system to] monitor their husbands,” said Loy Prim, “but it’s useful for big businesses.”
Instead of being sold to jealous spouses, the system is marketed towards large Cambodian companies. It updates the exact location of each vehicle in the company fleet every two minutes on a digital map, allowing more efficient operations.
Aruna uses the same technology as international leaders in the field, said Loy Prim. It relies on Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, which allows features to be overlaid on digital maps, creating more flexible and accurate representations than the archaic method of drawing by hand on physical maps.
Aruna is the sole licensed provider and trainer in Cambodia of California-based Environmental System Research Institute’s (ESRI) GIS software.
To acquire the imagery required for its GIS software to function, Aruna has contracts to access pictures from cameras stationed on satellites orbiting the earth, often using the same cameras as international giants such as Google.
Once Aruna has the required photograph in hand, it tailors the image to its customers’ specific areas of interest using its various GIS programs.
It also makes a profit selling the Global Positioning System (GPS) handheld devices its customers need to specifically plot their points of interest on the digital maps. Pocket Guides, for example, uses a GPS device to pinpoint the exact locations of hotels and restaurants for the maps in its publications.
The devices work by tapping into signals emitted by a series of satellites circling the earth, accurately fixing the user’s position by triangulating the signal from three or more satellites. The most common GPS devices are accurate to 5 or 10 metres, but Aruna’s high-end equipment can narrow down a location to within 0.05 centimetres, Loy Prim said.
Having begun in 1993 with three employees, Aruna has grown to employ around 35 people and reports annual revenues of about US$1.7 million.
“When the company was founded, people didn’t have many reliable resources as far as information. It wasn’t as accurate; half of the information came from government ministries, but we have closed the gap regarding reliability,” said Loy Prim.
He added that growth involves a good deal of give and take, especially with the government. “We work with the Cambodian government; we didn’t just start from scratch. We share information. They give us stuff, and we make changes and improve it,” he said.
“In my opinion, if we had done [what Aruna has accomplished in terms of mapping] back then, we wouldn’t have a border issue now. Everything would be properly marked.”
Most of Aruna’s business comes from sources unaffected by current economic conditions, notably the government and NGOs, he said, and there had only been a small dropoff from private sales. “We are lucky,” he said.
Loy Prim points to the company’s experience and modern equipment and technology as the reasons Aruna has become the market leader in digital mapping in Cambodia.
It has now expanded to Laos, intending to export its local successes to the Kingdom’s northern neighbour.