Google lets us filter through millions of web pages to find what we want; and now a Wellington software company is helping planners and homeowners extract the relevant detail from dense planning regulations.
Navigating council planning regulations is not for the fainthearted. Just ask anyone who’s ever done building work. As a homeowner looking to build a fence, for example, you might be wondering if you need to obtain resource consent. Regulations vary by location, so the rules can be different depending on where you live. To get your answer, you have three choices: make enquiries with your local council; pay a professional to advise you; or wade through up to 2,500 pages of the District Plan yourself and see if you can figure it out. Who’s got time for that?
So Mark Burston and Jon Richards used their combined expertise in planning and IT to devise a better way. Four years ago, they founded Wellington company Isovist and now sell licensing agreements for their software.
IsoPlan, one of their core products is a web-based planning search tool designed to make council district and regional plans much more accessible. It digitizes word-based documents and overlays them with GIS mapping technology to drill down to the nitty-gritty you need. Essentially, a homeowner can search the plan for their property, filter a 1000-page plan down to find the fence rules that apply to their site, and produce the paragraph that matters to them, says Burston.
'We have extensive local government and private sector experience,' he says. 'From our time working on local councils we could see that processes, particularly around the RMA [Resource Management Act] could be made more accessible, understandable and faster using online tools. The market wasn’t providing much in this area and councils didn’t have the resources to tackle the issue in-house.'
Isovist’s clients include local councils around New Zealand. Wellington City Council uses its software to provide a free online, fully searchable, map-based version of its district plan. Isovist is also working with New Plymouth District Council on a significant project, and has plans to eventually take its products offshore to the US and Australia.
'We currently have 10 New Zealand regional and district councils as clients, and we have keen interest from around 15 more,' says Burston. 'We’ve shown our products in the US and Ireland, and had a lot of interest from councils there too.'
This means protecting the company’s intellectual property is essential. Through the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA), Isovist was put in touch with intellectual property specialists AJ Park. Partner Mark Hargreaves heads AJ Park’s commercial team and first began working with Isovist through the firm’s new IP Game Plan™ service.
He says the programme helps companies understand how IP fits into their business and how to use it strategically to make better decisions about capturing and managing their IP to grow their business.
IP is very important in our industry," says Burston. "Other firms are now offering products that seek to compete with us, but IsoPlan still leads the field in New Zealand and is unchallenged abroad. Our products are becoming increasingly visible in other countries and we don’t want to miss opportunities to tap into potential markets. We need to make sure our ideas aren’t replicated by our competitors without our approval.- Mark Burston, Isovist
AJ Park has subsequently worked with Isovist on several key areas: modifying Isovist’s contracts with third parties to suit its SaaS model; refining its customer terms and conditions so the company could retain ownership of the code and software it licenses; and clarifying its brand strategy to protect its unique brands.
'With IP Game Plan™, we’re trying to connect with companies before they’ve made any mistakes and intellectual property has become an issue for them,' explains Hargreaves. 'It gives them the information to make good decisions and understand the steps they need to take before going offshore.
'We helped Isovist clarify their focus. They’re smart guys with a great product, but they hadn’t really grappled with where they needed to go with their IP. Every business should have this kind of conversation so they know where they stand and what the right approach is.'
Burston says the programme has brought definite benefits and, fittingly, it’s done for Isovist what the software company does for its own customers – condensed masses of complex information into an easily digestible offering.
'It’s great to sit down with someone who’s an expert and to get information that’s relevant to our requirements, rather than making assumptions,' he says. 'The IP Game Plan™ simplified the information and gave us the kick start to do something about our IP. I’ve been really impressed with Mark – he has a friendly, professional approach and he listens.'
Hargreaves advises Kiwi companies not to leave IP in the too-hard basket. Instead, start a conversation and understand what IP is important to your business and what’s not.
'Many businesses think they only need to protect their intellectual property if they’re in deep science or heavy technology, but all businesses could benefit no matter what they do; especially those considering exporting. Don’t make assumptions or keep ignoring it, because one day IP might become an issue for you; develop a strategy and a plan.'