His Coordinates

We provide solutions that transform work processes

Nov 2014 | No Comment

Christopher W. Gibson

Vice President, Trimble in an interview with Coordinates

Trimble has recently made several acquisitions. Could you tell us how the Geospatial Solutions have benefited from these acquisitions?

Over the past several years, acquisitions have played a role in our strategy, principally as mechanisms to establish beachheads in new market spaces, fill in product line gaps, or add new technologies to our solutions portfolio. More importantly, continued innovation and industry domain experience are the primary drivers, which allow Trimble to focus on organic growth as our principal strategy in our core market segments and multiple industries— such as Engineering and Construction, Surveying, Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Heavy Civil, Mining and many more.

Trimble’s growth strategy is centered on developing and marketing innovative, complete solutions to its existing customers, while also marketing them to new customers and geographic regions. In some cases, this has led to partnering with or acquiring companies that bring technologies, products or distribution capabilities that will allow Trimble to establish a presence in a market, penetrate a market more effectively, or develop solutions more quickly than if they had done so solely through internal development. For example, Trimble has formed four joint ventures, with Caterpillar, Nikon and Hilti, and acquired over 100 companies to date. Fundamentally, emerging technologies, unique products, ability to meet regional needs and distribution capabilities are a few examples of characteristics that we look for that benefit our geospatial solutions, in general. Geospatial technology plays an everincreasing role in the development and operation of our physical infrastructure and environment. From mapping and planning for new railroads and transportation systems down to optimizing the performance of individual delivery vehicles, the work to gather, manage and utilize geospatial information has demonstrated that it can play an important—if not visible—role in the world economy.

In analyzing the success of geospatial systems, it’s clear that a key advantage comes from the ability of the technologies to serve different applications. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning sensors can range from small, handheld devices similar to smartphones or calculators up to ultra-rugged receivers installed on trucks and earthmoving equipment. Optical systems including LiDAR and 3D scanning can collect data in areas that range from quarries and streetscapes down to the interior spaces of aircraft and industrial plants. High-speed digital imaging provides images for aerial and ground-based photogrammetry as well as enhancing the data from GNSS and scanning. The various positioning technologies can be combined into high-performance systems for mobile mapping and machine guidance, or utilized individually to support specialized applications.

Trimble has taken a variety of approaches—acquisitions being one of them—to assist our customers and increase the benefits and uses of spatial data, in an ever-changing world. Our technology philosophy is designed to embrace complexity inside the technology space, the solution space and also the deployment. Our teams are also applying deep mathematical, science and physics expertise to generate advantage for our customers and their projects. Developing for global multi-local markets is an approach chosen, combined with open and flexible data structure.

How has the use of UAS been integrated into Trimble’s surveying solutions?

In April of 2012, Trimble acquired Gatewing of Gent, Belgium, a provider of lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for photogrammetry and rapid terrain mapping applications. The acquisition broadened Trimble’s industryleading platforms for surveying and geospatial applications, and the aerial solution currently integrates with several of Trimble’s software solutions such as Trimble Business Center Aerial Photogrammetry Module, Trimble Access Field Software, and Inpho UASMaster.

How do you see the growth of UAS-based surveying business?

The UAS market is an emerging market with significant growth opportunities in a variety of industries—surveying, agriculture, oil and gas, mining, construction, environmental and natural resource management as well as many others. UAS in combination with photogrammetry are a rapidly emerging technology providing an innovative platform for flexible aerial imagery acquisition. As a result, Trimble has invested in research and development, and training efforts to create a safest and reliable UAV/UAS platform for our geospatial customers. For use in surveying there are many opportunities since UAS are easy to use, flexible and cost efficient. They can enable geospatial professionals to create orthophotos and Digital Surface Models (DSM) from aerial imagery for mid-sized areas previously only accessible at higher costs and with longer planning cycles. UAS are used in a variety of applications including preliminary surveys for corridors and rights-of-way, volumetric surveys, high-level topographic surveys, land fill inspection, and much more. The use of UAS for aerial mapping is yet another tool in Trimble’s portfolio of solutions for geospatial professionals.

“Trimble’s mix of businesses has progressively moved away from a “box product” mentality towards a portfolio of products and solutions that enhance productivity.” Would you please give us an example?

Trimble’s focus is to provide solutions that transform work processes through the application of innovative technology. By integrating GNSS, optical measurement, imaging and inertial technologies with industry-specific application software, wireless communications and services, Trimble solutions allow users to collect, process, analyze and deliver intelligent geospatial information to improve productivity, enhance quality, lower costs and reduce rework. Today, we are providing solutions that streamline our geospatial customer’s workflow—to help them efficiently manage data, equipment, and personnel involved in a project.As an example, a surveyor may require readily access to many types of data in order to plan a survey project. Previous surveys, government data, Web maps, and other data sources are vital to project planning, and having that data readily discoverable and accessible is a valuable time saver.

We have built a robust tool, the InSphere™ platform for geospatial information management to meet the needs of survey, engineering, and GIS professionals. It’s a cloud-based platform of software, data, and services for geospatial enterprises. Today InSphere provides access to multiple applications, including three productivityenhancing apps: Trimble InSphere Data Manager, Trimble InSphere Equipment Manager and Trimble TerraFlex™ to simplify field data collection. In addition, Trimble Access™ Services provide a seamless data connection between surveyors in the field and managers in the office. InSphere allows organizations to manage everything in one place, accessible anytime and virtually anywhere. In addition we have recently launched the Data Marketplace, where users can find and use additional free and premium spatial data layers, including aerial and satellite imagery, terrain, elevation and topographic maps, building footprints and other third-party data. The goal is to enable more robust workflow deliverables.

In the long term, we see InSphere as a platform for more applications and services that are interoperable to meet the unique challenges of geospatial professionals.

What are the key driving factors for growth of your business in the emerging economies?

I believe the key driving factors for growth in emerging economies is breaking the paradigm of slow technology adoption, education and evangelism, and the ability to adapt to local culture and market requirements for customers. Developing, emerging economies/ countries have the opportunity to skip generations and adopt state-of-the-art technology. Since there is no legacy that has to be considered in most of the cases, there is a potential of being revolutionary and radical in terms of conceptually embracing technology. The opportunity lies in reversing the typical paradigm of being slower to accepting more advance technology. However, creating change is not easy. From Trimble’s standpoint, the key is to adapt to local conditions and respect them. At the same time, we need to take on a bit of missionary role and try to evangelize our vision to the local circumstances based on our experiences from around the world. We need to present our views as alternatives to engage in these leapfrog activities.

For example, strengthening our development capabilities and reach into emerging markets is important to us, as it enables our solutions to meet the critical needs and local requirements of our customers. The foundation of successful emerging economies begins with land management and ownership as well as the strategic use of available natural resources. Geospatial technologies can play an important role.

I am relatively optimistic that if we play an active role, we may be able to contribute in creating some leapfrogs in technology for emerging economies in the markets we serve.

Today, on one hand there is integration of technology and on the other there is customization for particular applications, how does Trimble address this dichotomy?

The increasing role of geospatial information has been driven by a wide spectrum of technology change. The relevant changes have included improvements in sensors, in mobile computing power, in software and in wireless communications. The net result of these technological changes requires geospatial information to not only be specialized, but also be available and cost effective for a wide variety of applications that have not typically been intensive users of geospatial data.

Beyond the geospatial information that is useful for one application it can also provide a vector of exchange among different industries, which share a need for a consistent context. At Trimble we have focused on how to improve productivity in a wide range of industries by applying geospatial intelligence such as: cadastre and survey, transportation and logistics, heavy construction, building construction, and agriculture.

Trimble understands that there will always be a need for both—integration of technology to streamline the workflow—and specialization for particular applications pertaining to specific industries. Geospatial technology is continuing to serve horizontal applications while being more integrated in verticals due to the understanding and support of governing organizations and other associations.

What are the technological challenges that Trimble comes across as far as customer demands are concerned?

The role that geospatial information plays in everyday life continues to expand. As the availability of geospatial information increases, traditional consumers of geospatial data (architects and engineers, utilities, governments and transportation agencies) are presented with new demands for geospatial information. In addition to precise, accurate data, customers are looking at new and better ways to utilize it, which is currently the biggest technological challenge.

For surveyors, GIS, mobile mapping and other geospatial professionals, this trend is shifting the value of their work away from simply gathering information. The focus now lies in understanding how customers use information to provide deliverables that best fit those needs. At Trimble, we believe that the information can go even farther. Because we know that data being collected is also being sent to the office—many times directly from the field—we have placed a great deal of emphasis on developing technology and products to seamlessly connect workflow processes with software applications.

Do you think that the present generation of surveyors is ready to reap the benefits of advancement in surveying technology?

We see that the traditional survey industry boundaries are blurring. The field and office are overlapping as data processing and engineering expertise move closer to projects.

Surveyors are adding data management abilities to their skills portfolio. Engineering and spatial data are being tracked with project timelines and accounting data. Survey instruments are combining GPS, optical and imaging capabilities. Construction projects are utilizing GPS and lasers to enable allowing automatic, accurate real-time 3D positioning for construction operations. Surveyors are recognizing the changes and are responding in ways that can enhance and grow their businesses. Changes in the use of technology in both sensors and digital data transfer offer new opportunities—and new challenges.

Many surveyors see themselves as project information or data managers. Rather than just providing the brickand- mortar tasks of property line surveying, mapping and stakeout, forward-thinking surveyors are managers of the critical data required by the entire team throughout the construction cycle. Surveyors are usually on site from start to finish, from construction staking to as-built. These progressive surveyors are some of the most valued team players in the management of design documentation and the creation, revision and archiving of data throughout the project.

But while surveyors have performed the data management role for some time, the format in which the data is managed—and even the data itself—has changed. Until more recently, surveyors have worked primarily in the 2D space. GNSS, RTK, robotic field equipment, imaging and desktop computers’ enable surveyors to manipulate, store and transfer vast amounts of data. Wireless communications and cloud-based servicea and solutions have opened significant new ways to manage, plan, transfer and use data.

Surveying organizations can embrace their role as data managers by enhancing their skills set through ongoing education, making the necessary technology investments and looking at how they can take advantage of growth opportunities provided by emerging industry trends. To prepare for the new generations of surveying professionals, educational institutions ranging from apprenticeships and vocational training up through university programs need to be aligned with the rapid changes in instrumentation, software and stakeholder interaction.

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