ASM: Your recent announcement of a Market Solutions Team at Trimble interested me. What triggered this and can you explain what you hope to achieve with it?
PL: We’re very excited about the launch of the Market Solutions Team (MST), as it will meet an important market demand and will enable us to better serve our customers both in the short and longer term. It’s actually a natural extension of GIS professional services capabilities we already had in place, with the MGIS Trimble Professional Services group based in the UK serving the mobile GIS market in the Europe, Middle East & Africa region and the Trimble Utilities Field Solutions group based in the U.S. serving the Electric, Water and Gas utility industries with enterprise GIS field and office solutions coupled with GIS professional services.
The new MST addition will focus on the North American market and will provide custom integrated field GIS solutions to key customers in the Utilities, Government, Transportation and Environmental & Natural Resource Management industries. Geospatial technologies and GIS data will be much more widely deployed in the field over the next few years and these Trimble professional services groups serve a critical role in helping the early adopters in the industry deploy custom solutions into their organizations that improve their efficiency, productivity and return on their investment in geospatial assets.
We see an increasing number of customers wanting application-specific field GIS solutions, especially as they equip their broader workforce with mobile GIS technology for the first time, often replacing less productive paper maps and forms. To meet that need, The Trimble MST has an extensive range of hardware and software technologies available to them, drawing both from the wider Trimble organization and from the MGIS business partner network, including key strategic partners such as ESRI. The mission of the MST is to understand customer requirements in depth and then to draw on that wide range of resources to provide a unique and compelling solution to that customer. We view the customers we are engaging with today as the early adopters of field geospatial technologies; in the long run we believe that the work we do with these pioneers will benefit the broader industries we serve through the evolution of off-the-shelf products that will equip field workers with productivity-enhancing mobile GIS solutions.
ASM: Whenever I see Trimble at events I am struck by the range of products available. Can you explain how and where the Trimble Mapping & GIS division fits into the wider picture?
PL: Attendees at our user conference, Trimble Dimensions, frequently make the same remark about the range of products Trimble offers, often commenting that they “had no idea Trimble did all this…” Although we’re a diverse company, we are focused primarily on providing solutions that integrate positioning, communications and information technology into turnkey or complete systems that truly enhance the productivity of our customers.
Those productivity solutions are used in industries such as Engineering & Construction, Agriculture, Transportation, Government, Utilities, Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental Management. The Trimble Mapping & GIS Division fits into the broad Trimble portfolio of solutions for these industries by providing field–centric tools for GIS data collection, data maintenance and data use. We’ve been continuously serving these industries with GPS/GIS tools for the last 21 years, initially with high quality GPS/GIS data collection solutions, but increasingly with solutions that enable owners of fixed assets, resources and infrastructure to use their GIS data in the field to improve their operational efficiency, asset management and customer service.
ASM: It appears that GLONASS is being more fully enabled now with a larger number of satellites available. This puts GNSS more directly on the agenda for many companies. How is your Division connecting GNSS into the wider picture?
PL: The Global Positioning System has been such an operational success that it seems that global superpowers don’t want to be without their own system in the 21st century! Along with GPS and GLONASS, we will see the EU Galileo program, the Chinese Beidou-2 or Compass program and new regional SBAS augmentations such as India’s GAGAN, which add to the existing WAAS, EGNOS, MSAS, and Beidou-1 space based augmentation systems.
We offer integrated GNSS solutions today and will continue to do so where it adds real value for our customers. GNSS is, however, only one piece of the positioning story, and with four global satellite systems on the horizon plus various regional augmentations, there does come a point of diminishing returns in terms of the number of satellites being used. Multiple GNSS systems provide some benefit in certain conditions for more robust positioning but they are only part of the solution. For example, if I want to get an accurate and reliable position under a bridge or inside a building – having more satellites doesn’t offer much improvement. For these situations, Trimble has a strong core competence and a rich IP portfolio in many different positioning technologies that use satellites, radios, inertial and gyro systems, optical and laser systems to provide position information in the absence of GNSS signals.
In the long run our goal is to improve what we refer to as position yield – meaning, of all the places I’d like to get a position, in what percentage of those do I actually get a position? Our view is that the best solution to that problem is ultimately the combination of multiple, complementary technologies that each work best in a different environment.
ASM: With advances in Cloud computing and delivery of services, the boundaries between surveying and GIS blur. Many people are talking about seamless models that stretch from engineering road construction data through to building utility connections and mapping. How do you see this convergence? What do you see as the challenge ahead for this kind of convergence and what role will Trimble play in it?
PL: Everyone’s talking about ‘The Cloud’ Jeff and it’s certainly the latest buzzword in the GIS industry! You’ll find different interpretations and business models out there, but at the core we’re talking about on-demand access to services and information over the Internet.
Cloud computing works very well when massive amounts of data have to be manipulated in real time by a large number of users. This is true for the major search engines, where hundreds of millions of users globally want to conduct searches of enormous databases which contain links and archives of the majority of the world’s Internet content. Imagine trying to store and manipulate that entire database on your personal laptop or PDA! Cloud computing certainly lends itself to the geospatial industry, as the same concept applies; many of our customers have large GIS databases of geospatial and associated attribute data that historically have been limited from being fully utilized in the field due to the practical limitations of storing and manipulating massive databases on field devices such as rugged laptops and GPS-enabled hand held devices.
While it is certainly true that huge advances have taken place in storage and processing capacity on those devices in recent years, for the larger databases containing terabytes of data, a cloud computing model makes more sense. The availability of GIS and map servers, coupled with wireless Internet access make it possible to serve up data and information services to field workers in real time, on-demand and without the need for a massive storage and computing overhead in the hand. We do offer field hardware and software products today that are being used by customers to connect into the cloud through integrated 3G high-speed wireless data modems to provide real time data and information to the field users of remote GIS and map servers.
ASM: Trimble VRS is prominent across Europe. While most people talk about the European INSPIRE program, there are substantial efforts in transportation and energy that are trans-boundary in scope. How do you see GIS and GPS involving VRS to meet transport and energy efforts there?
PL: If the INSPIRE program inspires others to define consistent data standards and foster collaboration and sharing of data, that is a great result. The availability of high-accuracy GPS data with reliable metadata and a consistent data model will enable many industries to do things they have never been able to do before. We’ve already been involved in several projects that leveraged Trimble VRS™ networks, including the location and protection of buried utility assets and the precise collection and maintenance of highway assets.
GIS, GPS and VRS technologies have a key role to play in the collection of high quality data and also in the subsequent use of that data in day-to-day operations. The key words in all this for the user are simplicity and availability. We want users of GIS data and GPS technology to be able to turn on a device and get a VRS-enabled precise position without having to think any more about it than you or I do when we turn on our mobile phone to send and receive calls or messages. A readily available high accuracy position combined with readily available real time map and GIS data from remote servers is an extremely powerful combination with the potential to revolutionize the field work practices of the industries we serve.
ASM: We often hear people say that the GPS market is saturated. Yet, one might reasonably point out that GPS technology connecting GIS and advanced mobility services is still in its infancy. How do you see it? What does Trimble put into the marketplace that is not common at all?
PL: You are absolutely right Jeff when you say that GPS connected with GIS for advanced mobility services is in its infancy. The GPS market is far from saturated. Think of this: there are literally millions of field workers globally in Utilities, Government, Environmental and Natural Resource Management, Energy and Transportation industries who will go to work today and use paper maps and paper forms to do their work, despite the fact that their organizations may have a very sophisticated GIS back at their headquarters full of digital map data which could help them do their job more efficiently.
Those organizations have made a huge investment in the GIS software and in the data contained within it, yet for many workers in the field nothing has changed since the days of paper map records. Are those organizations getting a proper return on their GIS investment and on their geospatial assets? Almost certainly not! At Trimble, we are fully committed to the provision of solutions to our customers that help them get a real return on their investment in geospatial data. Equipping field workers with GPS-enabled GIS tools in the field has been well proven to provide a massive productivity increase and return on investment to the client, however the percent of all workers equipped with such technology today is still very low. Perhaps we will see the day when the GPS/GIS market is saturated but we’re absolutely not there today. You’d have to have a very narrow view of the industry to suggest that the GPS market is saturated today.
ASM: Laser technologies are capturing interest. Can you explain how your laser based technologies are integrating with GIS and how that adds value to customers?
PL: Trimble has a rich set of laser technologies and applications that integrate with GIS, for example: Mobile and airborne laser scanning. Trimble provides very precise GNSS/Inertial solutions used in mobile and airborne LIDAR systems, as well as turnkey systems to create highly accurate, high-resolution color and color-infrared digital orthophotos, orthomosaics and full 3D models from air or land mobile vehicles. We also provide software which combines the use of laser scanning with high-resolution imagery to capture detailed information for a variety of applications, including DTM/TIN modeling, road construction/realignment planning, bridge inspection, and asset management. This is augmented with application software to process these data and extract information automatically, providing an efficient platform for both initial data capture and for change detection over time. (4D analysis).
Laser scanning for Surveying and Power, Plant and Process applications. The Trimble® GX 3D scanner is an example of our technology in this space, which records sub-centimeter, photo-realistic detail of every survey job to produce enhanced deliverables for applications such as:
— monitoring the evolution of a work site
— as built diagnostics
— historic restorations
— crime scene forensics
— 3D modeling in power, plant and process applications
— Indoor scanning of buildings.
Trimble recently introduced the Trimble Indoor Mobile Mapping System (TIMMS), which leverages our inertial positioning and scanning technology to create a platform for developing a complete, georeferenced 3D model of the interior of buildings. This capability has significant implications for “indoor” GIS applications such as asset management, facilities management, emergency response, and security operations.
We partner with several companies to allow field workers using Trimble handheld GPS computers to take offset measurements from where they currently are standing using an integrated laser. This is an important technology in applications for forestry, as an example, because the user cannot always get to the exact location of the asset. All of these technologies and applications generate rich datasets which are suitable for GIS, and open up opportunities to build very accurate 3D geospatial database over time.
ASM: Assuming I am a customer and come to you and say, “my business wants to use GPS, map technology and CAD technologies on projects that serve many areas such as urban planning, road design, 3D city models, water related work and utilities” what would you say to me? The point being I market my company as being capable of solving many measurement problems with many collaborators.
PL: We definitely are seeing our customers who are service providers working to expand their portfolio of capabilities. Instead of the traditional survey contractor or GIS mapping application provider, the market today includes, as you describe, hybrid companies who are trying to provide a wide array of geospatial services. The challenges for these companies includes having the right training for such a range of offerings, understanding the different goals of each type of project in order to deliver the right information in the right format, and of course, managing the data for a wide variety of projects.
For example, a traditional survey contractor might normally provide a CAD file or even a paper map to their client as the final project delivery. By expanding into GIS services, that same contractor may be required to populate a GIS repository. Data flow into diverse enterprise systems has always been a key part of our solution, which we recently further enhanced with the release of a new Trimble SSF and DDF data format extensions for FME, a leading spatial ETL (extract, transform, and load) solution from Safe Software.
These extensions enable mapping and GIS professionals to easily move GNSS field data collected on Trimble handhelds and processed through the Trimble GPS Pathfinder® Office software to more than 225 widely used formats supported by the FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) software platform, including raster data, spatial databases, and legacy Computer Aided Design (CAD). This new capability gives Trimble users access to the most up-to-date GIS formats and increases the interoperability of Trimble mapping and GIS solutions. In addition, we offer the Trimble GPSAnalyst™ extension for ESRI ArcGIS Desktop, which enables ESRI customers to process GNSS data directly from within their enterprise host environment.
We are also helping our customers manage these diverse environments through a technology called the Trimble Connected Community or “TCC,” a Web-based collaboration platform for spatial data that provides data management and a Web services platform. So our customers now have a simple and secure way to manage their projects, whether they are survey, construction or GIS oriented, as well as the tools to collaborate and share that data.
At the end of day, though, collaboration and sharing data requires both a willingness of the data owners to share or publish that data and it also requires high quality data coupled with consistent and reliable metadata about the quality of the position. We, as Trimble, may not be able to solve the first problem but we do believe that we solve the latter problem very well.
ASM: 3D is increasingly being used. From building information modeling to visualisation how does Trimble meet the 3D challenge? What benefits do you see in 3D that were not quite evident in 2D for many people using GPS?
PL: Trimble continues to invest in 3D data acquisition and visualization technologies, as it is surely a critical part of the future of the geospatial industry. Beyond the revolution in survey technology provided by 3D laser scanning mentioned earlier, Trimble has developed or acquired technology to create 3D street scenes, 3D models of the interior of buildings, as well as plan and execute construction projects using full 3D models.
We believe a 3D model of the world with a resolution of less than 1cm will gradually be created, with Trimble tools and technology playing a significant role in developing that model. Some of the markets that will benefit from this technology include:
— Transportation and civil planning
— Natural resources management
— Urban planning
— Facilities management
— Forensics and accident reconstruction
Of course there are some challenges, such as establishing an accurate model of elevation that can be used to reference 3D data, and the ongoing evolution of 3D data formats. Nevertheless, 3D geospatial information is already providing several distinct advantages over 2D. A full 3D picture provides context that you just cannot get with a 2D map, even if it’s very accurate.
ASM: How is your Division involved in sustainability initiatives?
PL: Being eco-conscious isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for business as more customers seek out companies dedicated to sustainability. Trimble’s goal is to play a meaningful role in the stewardship of the world in which we live. In addition, our solutions are being used by customers to help minimize their impact on the environment. For example, farmers are using our agriculture solutions to reduce the use of fertilizer while in the field. Our fleet and mobile resource management solutions are helping organizations to better manage mileage, idle time and fuel usage in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions.
Our mapping and GIS solutions are being used in a variety of ways—from sustainable forest management to environmental management to mining and oil exploration—to make it easier for natural resources professionals to collect, store, manipulate and share large amounts of spatially accurate field data. Areas where GPS and GIS technologies have made a significant impact include environmental management, forestry, agriculture and mining. GIS technology is helping solve fundamental problems such as assessing wildfire damage, agricultural yields, water and air quality, endangered species and disaster mitigation. We’re proud to serve the environmental management industry and we find that our employees have a high degree of passion for initiatives which enhance global sustainability and enable us to contribute in some small way to a better future both for ourselves and for future generations.