Industry Insider: Featured Companies: TDS & Pentax

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An Era Ends, A New One Begins
The recent retirement of Dave Scribner, President of Tripod Data Systems, marked the end of an era. Begun in 1987 by Steve Chou and Dr. Bernie Musch–both former employees of Hewlett Packard–the company has become the dominant field data recorder company in the surveying industry. After the death of Musch, Scribner–who also came from HP– took over as president in 1991. In 2001–after the purchase of TDS by Trimble in 2000–Bill Martin, came from Ashtech to be groomed as Scribner’s replacement. Martin has a four-year survey degree from the University of Maine. According to Martin, "While Dave Scribner was not a surveyor, he did have a thorough understanding, from a business sense, of what surveyors needed from TDS: affordable, reliable products surveyors can depend on for their livelihood. I am fortunate to have had Dave as a tutor for the last two-plus years."

When asked about where TDS is headed, Martin said, "The TDS management staff and I have set a long-term course for the company. I will work to maintain the business relationships we currently have with our OEM partners and dealers, and to build new relationships that will allow TDS to continue providing our customers with products that can help them do their jobs more efficiently and more effectively."

When asked about his philosophy of where surveying is and where it’s headed, Martin said, "The way I see it, the surveying profession is being challenged from a number of different angles. Institutions that were once leading providers of surveying education are now struggling to keep their programs open. Technology is allowing surveying organizations to knock out more work, faster, with fewer people. And related professions are using new technology to perform tasks that were once the sole domain of surveyors. I’m of the opinion that the surveying profession is losing its identity and is in need of leadership at the national level– leadership that can drive an agenda of protecting the interests of the surveying profession and assisting the profession to evolve with the times. Without strong leadership, I believe the job description of a surveyor in the future will be a skeleton of what it is today."

Martin went on to say, "The manner in which the surveying community accepts new technology will dictate whether it will benefit from or be threatened by technological evolution. Robotic total stations and GPS have allowed surveyors to get jobs done faster and with fewer people. Are these technologies a detriment to the profession? Some would say they are a benefit, since they allow surveying organizations to make more money. Others say they are a threat, since they facilitate the ability to get work done with fewer surveyors. GPS, in the form of GIS data acquisition tools, is being used by other professionals to perform tasks once done by surveyors. Does this make GPS-based GIS data acquisition tools a detriment to the surveying profession? It depends on how you look at it. It’s my opinion that surveyors need to constantly re-examine and, if needed, redefine their role with the emergence of any new technology. For every door that technology has closed for the profession, I would argue that many more have opened. The trick is to determine which opportunities have presented themselves, and to capitalize on these opportunities. Embracing technology in order to redefine and expand your role as a surveyor will ensure that technology will never be a threat." Reg arding all the mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in the past five years, Martin said, "I b elieve the wave of consolidation that has occurred in the past five years is not yet complete. I believe there are still some major players in the industry that may still consider consolidation. Also, as technology evolves– allowing small, fast-moving companies to produce new, innovative ways of land measurement–the larger companies will continue to target these technology companies for acquisition. An example of this is the absorption of a number of the laser scanning developers by the larger players in the industry."

If you examine the diversification that TDS has embarked upon over the past several years, for example its recent sale of 51 Recon Pocket PC handhelds to Morrow County in Eastern Oregon for its Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, it’s obvious that TDS is not putting all its eggs in one basket. Thankfully for surveyors, however, the core business that gave TDS its start, and made it number one in the number of units sold and software in place, will remain. Thanks are in order to Scribner for his philosophy of using the latest technology and driving the cost as low as possible. Martin, as a surveyor, will add another dimension to TDS products. Our hat is off to Scribner, and we wish Martin the best of luck.

A Visit to the New Pentax
Let’s face it–surveyors are a pretty observant bunch. Even though most American consumers know the Pentax brand from its cameras and killer optics, there may still be some surveyors out there who are unaware that this same quality also applies to Pentax total stations. Now, this is about the change, thanks to Pentax’s recent alliance with Western Latitudes. Pentax has recommitted to the surveying market, and is busy working on new products.

We recently visited David Atkinson at his new Western Latitudes headquarters in Centennial, a suburb of Denver, Colorado to learn about his new approach to the market. In a wide-ranging discussion with Atkinson, we learned that Western Latitudes, a wholly owned subsidiary of Atkinson’s Meridian 104, Inc., is set to market the Pentax line, along with other surveying and GPS solutions. Strategic partners include established industry names like Navcom Technology, Eaglepoint, and XYZWorks.

Atkinson, a veteran of CH2M Hill, and channel development specialist, has been close to the surveying industry for more than 25 years. He won the contract to become Pentax’ exclusive surveying sales development agent in March of 2002. As part of the new approach, Atkinson has instituted online parts diagrams that will allow dealers to look up and order parts. Another initiative will be online training. The system Atkinson is setting up will not be just informational, but will be interactive, providing 24/7 support. Atkinson’s son, Derek, developed these web technologies.

According to Atkinson, "Sales are gangbusters–in spite of the challenges of restructuring and refocusing we are seeing significant improvement and gains in our market share. With the planned improvements in service, we expect to see exponential growth in 2004. "Our goal is to focus our support and resources on those dealers who are committed to selling Pentax products. You should see significant changes in our dealer network over the next few months."

After meeting with Atkinson, we visited Pentax’s new headquarters in Golden, Colorado. The company recently moved into the top floor and half of the second floor in a beautiful new building in Golden. The building is a stone’s throw from the beginning of a three-mile stretch of Coors breweries that run down the valley from Golden. While at the new headquarters, we visited with Jan Williamson, VP of Finance & Administration, as well as longtime Pentax employee, licensed surveyor Kerry Kemper. Williamson and Kemper assured us that Pentax is in the market to stay, and has new products on the horizon.

Atkinson feels that Pentax instruments are the best in their class, offering the highest accuracy and some of the longest-range reflectorless
capabilities in the market. Atkinson’s aim is to become a one-stop shop for the integration and distribution of precise measuring solutions. Also offered will be customized software solutions to manage data needs. Pentax has already worked with XYZ Works for many years in this area. He is in the process of moving all the equipment repair to his facility in Centennial, and doubling the capacity to service instruments. He said, "When a person calls Pentax, they are really calling us."

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 3.737Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE