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Origin Story

Now, this is going to be good.


Once you know someone’s story, you can’t help but love them!

At least we hope so.

To get oriented, you may want to google ‘Estonia’ a little bit :) There’s a map and some swagger here but, really that is a good background. Also, this story is one that involves some time travel, geopolitical intrigue, and editorial liberty… so get another glass/mug of a tasty beverage.

This tale really begins in Estonia with another company, called Datel. These guys, literally four or five of them, were some industrious types hankering to rebuild their country once they could get the Soviets to peace-out of their beloved Estonia!

After a lot of twists of fate, including a chain of people holding hands from Tallinn to Vilnius, that wish came true and Datel was born. The first IT company in Estonia had a very important task, one that led them to invent their own GIS (geospatial information system - à la maps). You see the Soviets thought it was fashionable to take everyone’s homes, land, and property when they either evicted you to Siberia or worse. When suddenly they were gone there had to be a legal way to restore that stuff to the survivors. Boom! There’s Datel, with a process called land reform. It played a role in keeping Estonia from ending up in a position of corruption the way other former occupied places did.

Go forward a few years and Estonia realises a few sobering facts:

They have few people (1.3mil), no money (literally less than the budget of 7Eleven convenience stores… in Virginia), and few natural resources (no oil, burn the forests?)…

So, famously, they decide not to buy expensive cumbersome technology off-the-shelf from the West. They decide to build it themselves with some key principles: data cannot be duplicated, you can only ask citizens the same question once, the State cannot issue bonds (so no debt), and … citizens own their data.

This led to the creation of some cool stuff, like Skype, Hotmail, Blockchain for government, and GIS tools built by Datel that, in part, gave raise and support to the Open Layers - Open Street Maps communities. Estonia runs its national mapping programs on less than $500k USD a year. Which is literally what less than some American counties pay in licenses.

Hyper speed now to 2012!

A founder of Datel, Villem Alango, meets an enterprising American, Carl Pucci in the desert. They became quick friends and began flying small aircraft around Estonia together. Before long they co-founded Ovela LLC, in Richmond Virginia as that is where Carl was from before he came to Estonia.

A few road trips, and 3am runs across highways, later Ovela had its first clients for Datel produced GIS systems in Virginia in the Western part of the State. This grew into a full e-Government suite, as Datel was at this point running a third of Estonian IT infrastructure (woo!).

When Estonia joined the European Space Agency Ovela was working with the Obama White House on a clever way to help address rural poverty. In one meeting one ultra clever teammate mentioned that there was all this satellite data and maybe it could be helpful to people who can’t afford to inspect their infrastructure or monitor their bridges?

A little while later, here we are! Datel has an in-house team of Star Trek’esque engineers who fused our know-how with GIS and e-Government to radar data to create, arguably of course, the worlds first satellite

We still have a lot of love for our users of our products such as iGIS, eTourism, and APIX. Tools that have racked up hundreds of thousands of users over the years and saved the counties that use them countless hours and dollars. Now, to coin a phrase, we must boldly go onto the next chapter for Ovela and Datel. One that takes us to orbit and back again every day.

We so hope you join us in using this data as part of your work, your life, and joining this story!


Helpful Hints

  • Estonia

  • e-Government

  • GIS is way more than ESRI

  • First IT company after the Soviets left

  • Home base Virginia

  • Space ships are cool

Where, oh where, is Estonia?

Where, oh where, is Estonia?

Villem and Carl

Villem and Carl


"In the rest of the developed world, people rely on digitized services in the private sector. In Estonia, this is also true for the government." A new VICE Special Report: The Future of Work on HBO. #HBO #VICEonHBO