Seeing The Forest Through the Trees
PlanIT Geo’s Ian Hanou is taking urban forestry to new technological heights.
There were a lot of splashy tech innovations in the early 2000s: camera phones, iPods, and high-accuracy consumer GPS, to name a few. At the same time, the field of urban forestry was having its own tech evolution.
Urban forestry refers to the planting, maintenance, and protection of trees growing in urban settings. These trees provide communities with essential infrastructural services and human health benefits but require strategic planning and a skilled workforce to maintain. The industry had specialized technology to complete tree inventories and track work orders, but the ability to analyze tree canopies via imagery was a new development.
For the first time, the distribution of tree canopy within a city could be mapped via satellite imagery with a high degree of accuracy.
The Tree Data Boom
High-resolution satellite imagery was becoming broadly available and the analysis software to make sense of those pixels was also rapidly improving. For the first time, the distribution of tree canopy within a city could be mapped via satellite imagery with a high degree of accuracy. Once mapped, other information could be layered on top, such as census data and planning boundaries, which helps urban foresters better plan and manage their tree resources.
This process is called an Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Assessment. Rising visionary, Ian Hanou, experienced the imagery analysis evolution firsthand, completing hundreds of UTC assessments for clients all over the country while working for a large environmental engineering firm. Hanou explains, “Cities were wowed they could hire a company and in just a couple of months get a wealth of urban forest data they previously didn’t know was possible.”
Clients were thrilled to have access to all this new information but it was difficult to interact with. “Technology is difficult,” says Hanou “and in our field, working with arborists and urban foresters, the majority are not specialized in technology. There was a need to make mapping easy, to do Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis without knowing how to do GIS.”
Seeing the Forest Through the Trees
This knowledge gap between foresters and the visual data that could vastly improve their work motivated Hanou to create a solution. He founded PlanIT Geo In 2012 in Arvada, where he and the company got to work developing the proprietary software suite, TreePlotter, to make urban forestry data collection and management faster — with less technical hurdles, and more accessibility and interactivity for professionals and the general public.
READ MORE ABOUT TREEPLOTTER, AND HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS CHANGING URBAN FORESTRY
The powerful, yet easy-to-use software was quickly embraced by the industry and in three months the company grew from one to seven employees. That growth has continued, and PlanIT Geo now has 35 employees, software clients on five continents across 20 countries, and offers tree inventory, urban forestry consulting, and geospatial mapping services in addition to its subscription software products.
PlanIT Geo has begun offering canopy assessments that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze high resolution aerial imagery.
In 2021, PlanIT Geo was also one of 36 Colorado companies to be awarded an Early Stage Capital Grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT)’s Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant Program. The funds will be used to accelerate product development, marketing, customer success, and international growth.
The company is continuing to evolve as technology advancements open up new possibilities. Most recently, PlanIT Geo has begun offering canopy assessments that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze high resolution aerial imagery. This shrinks the turnaround time from a couple months to a couple days at lower cost, again, making technology and access to data easier for more urban forestry programs.
With four SaaS products, deep subject matter expertise, and an upcoming outside strategic investment, PlanIT Geo is poised for exciting growth. The scale may be changing, but the mission remains the same: mapping the world’s urban forests for a greener future.
Alec Sabatini is a writer and editor at PlanIT Geo, a global urban forestry consulting and software development firm, where he creates educational content at the intersection of trees and technology. To learn more about the latest in innovative urban forestry, visit: PlanIT Geo.