How London became the launch pad for T-kartor’s international expansion

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

“For us, the Smart City is about influencing people’s behaviour towards a sustainable future by gathering and visualising information” says Erik Körling, Managing Director at T-Kartor, a Swedish company specialising in geospatial technology and map creations. Erik lets us in on the journey that took T-kartor and its product, City Wayfinding, to London and how it opened the doors to New York, Toronto, and other major cities around the world.



T-Kartor was founded in 1985 and initially designed maps for Swedish phone books. Ever since then, the company has been working in the geospatial field. Today, T-Kartor has a global presence with offices in the UK, US and in France with its head office in Sweden. Clients include Transport for London, the New York Department of Transportation, Norwegian Defence and City of Toronto, to name but a few.

Smart Cities and mental mapping

City Wayfinding visualises data on a network of maps, influencing people’s behaviour by helping them make mobility choices based on the information displayed. Erik says: “I have seen very few initiatives on how to influence the user to make sustainable decisions. City Wayfinding is about building a mental map of your surroundings, starting with landmarks and places of interest, then public transport options, then pleasant walking environments. All of that can easily be shown on a map, giving people the confidence to explore and the ability to choose the best path to take.”


In 2000, after getting the contract with Transport for London, T-Kartor established its UK office to be close to the customer. “It is very important to have a base in the country that you are doing business in. You need to give your customers the confidence that you have local knowledge.”


When London was to host the Olympic Games in 2012, it was estimated that around 5 million people would be coming to the city for the games. Erik recalls how T-kartor was commissioned to come up with a solution to London’s logistical challenges. “As the underground was already crowded, we needed to get people out from the underground and have them walk to their destination instead. The maps were designed to show how the streets above ground look, to make the user understand that many short underground journeys would be easy to walk, a choice which is much more pleasant, healthier and free.”


When London buses became cash-free in 2014, T-Kartor automatically created 14,000 bus stop maps in four months. These maps showed the nearest ticket outlets for each bus stop. Erik says: “You can make the map legible by creating a visual hierarchy of information. If you compare Google with our maps, Google visualises most of their features in a very similar way, whether a museum, clothes shop or hamburger chain. This leads to a very confusing map. Our (yellow) buildings, 50,000 across London, are carefully chosen to be of value as landmarks for wayfinding. The density of buildings is made even by filtering out many in the centre and adding more basic building types, such as fuel stations, towards the outskirts.”


First London, then the world

Transport for London is the only organisation of T-kartor’s clients that covers public transport, cycling and walking. Initially the company produced maps for bus network hubs, with the expectation that 50 maps would suffice. “Then area maps were added at each station and eventually all modes of transport. Today, we have produced more than 26,000 unique maps for them, and we are constantly adding new types of maps and updates for different kinds of usage,” adds Erik.



"Slow growth, building trust and a mutual experience of learning from each other are key to success."


Apart from London, T-Kartor’s UK client base has grown to include South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and recently expanded to Birmingham and to Dublin in Ireland.


Erik believes that the reason behind the success for City Wayfinding in the UK was that it was well developed from the beginning. “In the UK, companies face tough competition, and many competitors go to the smaller cities which have fewer requirements for this kind of project. We have a system to manage thousands of different maps, whereas smaller companies have 100 or perhaps 200 maps which can be handled without a system.”


London was the foundation for the international roll-out of City Wayfinding. “Today, we are working with the largest cities in the world. We are now expanding the Wayfinding system to Madrid. If we had not won the contract with Transport for London, we would probably not have seen this kind of international expansion.”


Getting to grips with the UK market

Although the UK market is easy to understand and is similar to the Swedish market in many ways, Erik emphasises that it is important to employ locally to best understand the UK market.


"If you succeed in the UK, you have a very good chance of succeeding in other English-speaking countries such as the US or Australia."


His advice to companies that are looking to expand to the UK is to build personal relationships. “For business relationships to develop, it is important to spend time outside the office where you can discuss current affairs or talk about personal interests, which leads to building trust. You also need to understand where the competition is and find your place in the market. Slow growth, building trust and a mutual experience of learning from each other are key to success.”


He believes that people from the UK and Sweden get on very well together as they are open and have a similar way of looking at things. “We like to meet new people and engage with them. Swedish people and companies are highly regarded in the UK. We are seen as people who deliver, are professional and true to our word. If you succeed in the UK, you have a very good chance of succeeding in other English-speaking countries such as the US or Australia.”


He continues: “Mentally, culturally and most importantly logistically, London is very close to Sweden and it is easy to travel there, which is a big advantage. It’s easier for Swedes to do business in the UK since we understand the rules.”

About T-kartor


Year of establishment

Sweden: 1985 / UK: 2000

Headquarters

Kristianstad, Sweden

UK office

London

UK client base

London, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Birmingham


Key sectors and opportunities for Swedish business

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Clean growth & Smart City technology

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Life Sciences:
Healthtech & medtech

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Tech: Fintech & games development

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Advanced engineering:
Electric vehicles