V1: I was really pleased to see the theme of “Building a Smarter World” for your upcoming Hexagon 2011 event. Is that theme a driving vision for the integration of all the companies at Hexagon as well?
Rollen: I think it is a very good theme, and it’s not a one-off as that’s what it’s all about. We need to become more clever about how we do things, and we think we can be a good contributor for creating a smarter world.
V1: Has the combined Hexagon 2011 event, that combines what was the Intergraph user conference and other separate Hexagon company events, aided the integration of the different business units?
Rollen: It helps people focusing on what’s important for the future, but you can’t respond to organizational issues with an event. They have to be resolved well before you present anything to an external audience, and that’s what we’re working hard on every day right now. I think we’ve come a long way since December. We’re quite excited about this.
V1: You’ve indicated that one of the reasons for the purchase of Intergraph was to provide that systems component. Intergraph had highly focused on solutions rather than the GeoMedia platform. Can you discuss the difference between solutions and platform development, and the plans for the future of the GeoMedia platform?
Rollen: The Intergraph SG&I (Security, Government & Infrastructure) division for example provides a solution to our customer base with several of the sensors that we’ve developed at Hexagon. When you talk about the platform of GeoMedia, then the GeoMedia software in combination with systems that we’ve put together at Hexagon could create new business for us.
Then I think about things like monitoring. We’ve installed GPS sensors along bridges and fault lines and so on. If we could combine that with GeoMedia’s ability to georeference that data, and maybe also build a dispatch solution on top of that where we could connect these systems to rescue operations, that would be fantastic.
V1: You’ve indicated that you’d like to see more platform development work at Intergraph. Is there a concerted effort to develop more capabilities with GeoMedia?
Rollen: That is happening as we speak, but I also think that the very traditional GIS as we know it is becoming more and more obsolete. It’s not just about presenting geospatial information. You need to present it accurately for sure, even in the future, but it’s more about providing a platform to monitor action and events. I think that’s the niche where we all have to move.
V1: In the competitive market, both Google and Microsoft have appealed to developers, providing tools for the creation of custom applications. Is the developer market an idea within the GeoMedia strategy?
Rollen: I think you can’t have a closed system anymore. You definitely need to move to an open platform. We have all these buzzwords like the cloud and so on, and that will certainly enable us to open up software source code even further. I think that it’s important to have an open source code for people to do their own applications on top of a platform.
V1: In the area of remote sensing, you have Zeiss/Intergraph (ZI) and Leica Geosystems making aerial sensors. Is there much overlap there, and opportunity for new hardware?
Rollen: I don’t think there’s that much overlap between the two organizations. I think we have an awful lot to develop. That’s regardless of whether you look at Z/I or Leica. We’re moving into a new future where you will probably use UAVs and other vehicles to capture aerial information rather than planes, because it’s much cheaper to have a UAV flying the same route. If you have a cheaper solution, then you can update it more frequently. That’s definitely an important ingredient to our future mission as you can capture aerial data on a much more frequent basis.
V1: We’ve talked before about this movement to a more robotic world, and I guess the UAV is one example. Are there other areas of greater automation that interest you?
Rollen: I definitely think that UAVs will be an integral part of our technical solution for the future. We are conducting tests using UAVs to capture various data. We are also looking at various machine control solutions where you use our technology to drive machinery. This could be in agriculture, mining or construction. There are all sorts of efficiencies to be gained by using robotic automation solutions to gain efficiencies.
V1: As a global company, there are a variety of market drivers that are unique to each region. Within the European Union and Asia there seems to be a very strong focus on efficiency gains, with a underlying goal of greater sustainability. What is the outlook on a global scale for more policy that mandates increased efficiency?
Rollen: You really need to divide the world into different segments if you have that broad discussion. My view is that automation is important as a tool to gain efficiency and productivity in the West, and that has to do with our labor cost.
If you take a surveyor for example, they will want an automatic Total Station because then they can do the job themselves by programming it and then walking around with a prism to measure the various points they want measured on a construction site. If you go to India, an Indian surveyor might want exactly the same accuracy that a European or American surveyor wants, but they are not interested in automation because in this world they can look through the Total Station and hire 10 or 15 people to hold up the prisms, and that is actually cheaper than buying a motorized Total Station.
Certain technologies like automation and machine control in the agricultural market are similar. If you try to sell that in China, a tractor will cost half of what the modern machine control system costs. They will definitely question why they would spend that money to buy software and a few electronic components.
You have to be very careful trying to sell global technologies to all the end markets using the same formula of success to various societies because they are simply different.
V1: You’ve spoken about an intelligent infrastructure approach where you’ve combined sensors on bridges with systems that monitor those. Are you also focused on other areas of intelligent infrastructure such as the SmartGrid and Intelligent Transportation, and is there a strong focus on the combination of systems and sensors across Hexagon?
Rollen: Absolutely it’s a focus, but maybe not so much now as in the next five years. I think we’ll see great strides towards making infrastructure more efficient, because obviously we need to generate more power and save more power. Creating smart grids and smart traffic solutions are another way of saving on scarce resources. I think we need to do everything to make our society more efficient.
V1: On the measurement side specifically, a place where you have micro to macro scale capacity, are there some commonalities across all the companies for a more accurate world?
Rollen: Our PP&M (Process, Power & Marine) division of Intergraph for example has great synergies with Hexagon’s metrology division. We also see SG&I collaborating very closely with Leica Geosystems. We do see commonalities and ways to integrate these various technologies across all the industries where we are active today. You can’t say it’s all one single geospatial industry, it is several applications where we feel we can contribute to better productivity.
V1: With the commonalities between the organizations are there combined efforts on research and development? I would guess that most research happens on the individual company scale, but are there any overall directives to combine the smart minds of your various holdings?
Rollen: Ultimately, that’s the job our CTO to manage our product development. We do it as efficiently as possible, and prioritize the low-hanging fruit to go after big wins first.
V1: As your job to set the vision for the whole of the company, you seem to be a very strong techno-optimist with a far reaching vision.
Rollen: You can’t really focus on the past with your outlook right? You know there is a saying that an optimist and pessimist might reach the same goal, but the optimist has much more fun on the way. I might be an optimist, but if you’re pessimistic how are you going to create solutions for the future. If you’re sitting and thinking that everything is going to derail, I don’t think so, it’s never happened in the history of mankind, and I don’t think it will happen now. As a technology company, I feel that we have a responsibility to come up with parts of the solutions for how we can create sustainable solutions for a growing population on this planet.
It’s like the music industry, you’re never greater than your latest hit, and people are waiting for the next hit. You can’t just live on the past achievements, you always have to look into the future to see what’s next. That’s tough on an organization to never be able to sit down and relax after you’ve done something well, but unfortunately that is life. You need to constantly come up with new ideas.
V1: The pace of technological change seems so fast these days, particularly from a software developer’s perspective where there is a mix of desktop, mobile and cloud-based implementation to consider. Do you have to focus on all devices?
Rollen: Part of the future will always be a desktop, because people like workplaces. At one time they advocated that all people would work from home, but really how fun would that be, to never meet your colleagues, and always sit at home. I think that you do need social interaction between colleagues, and a lot of good ideas are created when you do that, and that would talk in favor of a desktop.
I think the division between devices is becoming increasingly blurred. Your device is mobile at times, and a desktop at times, and you bring it with you. Ten years ago, what did you do with your mobile phone? Maybe you had an address book and your phone. Now with a smartphone you have your calendar, you have Internet, you have a camera, you can do so many things today. I think that is where we need to move. Whether it is stationary or mobile doesn’t matter, it’s the functionality that you’re after.
V1: This move to mobile also has implications in terms of geospatial data collection. So much of the benefit of the device revolves around location, and we’re able to collect an increasing level of accuracy with these devices, even at the consumer-grade level. How does this ubiquity impact your measurement business?
Rollen: With a cheap handheld mobile, you’re never going to obtain centimeter-level accuracy without using the next-generation of GPS satellites, and they’re not going to be available until 2020. The thing is that for professional positioning, you’re always wanting to have a secure channel. Let me take an extreme example. If you’re guiding an intercontinental missile, you can’t rely on Internet or the mobile network, you need a secure means of communication to position that device. There is always going to be a professional market alongside the commercial market.
One of our subsidiaries, Novatel in Canada, are GPS receiver specialists. They can see that in six or seven years you might be able to reach decimeter-level accuracy from a mobile phone because the next-generation satellites will become more clever. So what’s next for their customer base is the fact that you can now buy jamming equipment off the Internet that could knock out the entire mobile and satellite network in a city like London for around $100. In this era of global terrorists, what do you think people like Al Qaeda would consider doing when a major event is held?
The next-generation GPS receivers need to have security features built in where we look at a way to create anti-jamming and anti-disturbance tools, and then guarantee an absolute accuracy no matter what’s happening around the area that you’re measuring. That’s going to be more and more important. Today, with a simple device like a mobile phone you should be happy if you can get a reliable accuracy of 50 meters, so there is a long way to go.
V1: A potent disruptive force are the open efforts of such things as OpenStreetMap and Open Source Software that offer free data and software. Is this a threat for a software company like Hexagon?
Rollen: If open equals free of charge, then it is a threat to all commercial activity. A good example is in the music industry, where everyone embraced the ability to download music freely until they realized that it hit their royalty steams, and was unfortunately naive.
All companies and enterprises are built on the fact that they have costs in connection to the development. If you can’t cover your costs, you aren’t going to have much development. Open cannot always equal free of charge, because then it is not going to work no matter what industry.
If you mean open compatibility with different technologies, then I would say that is a good thing. Eventually everyone will benefit with greater software interaction and integration.
V1: Another area of increased development is the move toward 3D data and systems. I know you have your own lidar sensors to collect 3D, and there is some capacity within GeoMedia to display in 3D. Is 3D a big driver in terms of your development efforts?
Rollen: It’s almost understood that all future solutions need to have a 3D display, because that is where the world is moving. You need to have 3D to be competitive in the future.
The customer interest varies from industry to industry. If you look at the automotive and aerospace industries, they have been using 3D for at least ten years, however construction and infrastructure lags those trends.
V1: The move toward intelligent models takes the 3D model to the next level. A lot of CAD companies are incorporating real-time analysis for issues such as energy efficiency, in order to inform the design in real-time and to get the best outcomes. Is Hexagon focused on real-time analytics to inform design?
Rollen: That’s absolutely important, and a good example of our technology there is the 3D smart plant technology that Intergraph’s Process, Power & Marine division is the leader in. You basically have rules-based software so that the software becomes smarter and smarter in designing things. Intelligent models are a big focal point for us.
V1: You shared a vision at last year’s Intergraph conference where we’ll eventually drive down 3D data collection into every handyman’s toolbox, where we’ll paint the room with a laser to collect a detailed model. How far are we away from that vision?
Rollen: It will take some time to reach the consumer level, because it will take the lowering of the cost of the technology quite a bit. That will take time. A professional scanner today is between $30,000 and $100,000, so it’s obviously not a consumer product.
We are working on lowering the cost and the simplification of technology so that it is more intuitive for the consumer to use. Then I could see it being pushed into the consumer space.
If you’re buying a house and want to refurbish it, and look at different furniture and how it fits. You want a 3D model, and bring your furniture into and it move it around, that could be one application. We need to be creative about the future to create exciting applications.
V1: In closing, is there any one highlight or thing that you’re excited about for the upcoming Hexagon 2011 event?
Rollen: I think we’re going to excite many various and different users of our technology, and I can’t focus on one single thing that we want to highlight. I think you’ll see all sorts of different technologies coming together, and you’ll see what it could mean for many industries and many users.