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Data mapper Gamma aiming to find energy waste under every roof


Game-changer: Feargal O’Neill’s firm Gamma Location Intelligence will soon launch an app to pinpoint energy inefficiency in the home

Game-changer: Feargal O’Neill’s firm Gamma Location Intelligence will soon launch an app to pinpoint energy inefficiency in the home

Game-changer: Feargal O’Neill’s firm Gamma Location Intelligence will soon launch an app to pinpoint energy inefficiency in the home

You may not have heard of Gamma Location Intelligence, but its CEO Feargal O'Neill wants to know all about you. He makes it his business to use open data to learn as much as he can about your home, neighbourhood and community - and map it all.

The firm he has led since 1999, Gamma Location Intelligence, uses a dozen software developers and data scientists to transform maps and addresses into treasure troves of information for insurers, retailers - and, soon, environmentally conscious home-owners.

Mr O'Neill says his firm plans to launch, by the third quarter, an app-based product for home-owners which will pinpoint energy inefficiencies in their home and identify the best retro-fitting options to get that property nearer the top BER (Building Energy Rating) of A1.

The Gamma chief says he can't yet reveal the product's name or the energy-related firms which will partner its launch, though he says there is at least one lined up already. But he promises it will be "a game-changer" for any home-owner wanting to test their property's energy performance and identify its suitability for potential improvements, from insulation to solar panels.

The project received seed funding from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. It will be spearheaded by a Gamma start-up called BerWow.

This will be the second spin-off from Gamma following Autoaddress, the research wing which helped develop Eircode.

Autoaddress uses machine-learning automation to assign Eircodes to non-standardised addresses that remain rife in Ireland. Mr O'Neill is a director of both BerWow and Autoaddress, which in January acquired an An Post-owned rival called Data Ireland.

Gamma has two headline products: Perilfinder and Storecast.

Perilfinder - used by seven of Ireland's top 10 insurers - allows underwriters to profile a property's risk to flood, fire, subsidence and crime. It uses data distilled from CSO and garda statistics using artificial intelligence and modelling. It takes flood data from specialist UK firms JBA Consulting and Ambiental Risk Analysis and maps their risk projections against Gamma's own layouts of every building in Ireland.

Gamma is currently expanding its property mapping database north of the Border thanks to a grant from InterTradeIreland that has secured support from Queen's University.

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Mr O'Neill says its flood mapping is so precise it can document how one side of a structure is at risk of flooding, but not the other side.

He expresses exasperation that so much construction continues in areas deemed current or future flood risks. He says planners need to make more and better use of data-based modelling, not solely rely on the Office of Public Works' flood hazard mapping.

"Why is it left to insurance companies to decide whether a building is prone to flooding - after it's been built -and not determined categorically at planning stage?" he asked.

Storecast allows retail firms to pinpoint locations for new outlets and more efficient ways to entice customers into existing stores. It's used by financial institutions and grocers, including Bank of Ireland and the Musgrave Group.

While many retailers are under pressure to turn to online sales models and shutter physical stores, Mr O'Neill says Gamma's analysis shows this would often be foolish.

"It might seem counter-intuitive, because you may presume that most online sales happen where a company doesn't have a store. But the reverse is true. Having a brand in the area improves your online sales. We can show clients - using data on how consumers shop within their catchment area - how the closure of an outlet will hurt their online sales in that area as well."

Covid-19 has disrupted Gamma's short-term ambitions and may shave 15pc to 20pc off its 2020 turnover, following a 2019 that produced €2m in sales and net profit of around €150,000.

Gamma had to postpone plans, announced in October, to open a new lower-cost UK base in Manchester by mid-2020. Mr O'Neill had hoped to hire five to eight staff there to promote Perilfinder to UK insurers and Storecast to UK retailers.

"We still plan to go into the UK, but the pandemic forced us to postpone those plans," he says. "We did recently manage to sign our first new UK client in the insurance sector, a household insurer. Our focus for growth is still the UK market."

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