Conference Review: Trimble Dimensions 2012

A 538Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Steve Berglund’s Keynote
This was my first Trimble Dimensions and it was a real eye opener. After all these years of seeing Trimble from afar I had developed a number of impressions of what I thought they were. Throughout the conference, beginning with the opening keynote, one by one those myths were exploded.

As I sat in the big convention hall waiting for the show to begin on the opening morning a funny thing happened—nothing. After a brief introduction CEO Steve Berglund took the stage without any of the usual multi-media extravaganza that one has come to expect at a major user conference. After all this was Vegas baby, the center of the glitz universe.

Well, as it turns out that’s not Steve’s style, and since he’s been the leader at Trimble since 1999 I think it’s fair to say it’s not the company’s style either. Steve is a chemical engineer by training. Do I have to say any more? As I noted in a blog post from that day it reminded me of the old Dragnet TV show where Detective Friday became famous for saying, "Just the facts ma’am". We were also reminded by Steve that this was not a sales conference, it was about networking. Being an engineer I found it refreshing.

Since this was the day before the national election Steve opened his comments with an instruction that you would not expect a CEO to make in a welcoming speech. He encouraged anyone in the audience who was from a swing state that had not voted to get up, leave the hall, go home and vote. And if you think that was just an offhand remark he "doubled down" 45 minutes later by closing with the same statement. I guess that tells you something about a company that has a lot riding on the construction market.

Steve began by noting that Trimble has 6,400 employees with sales in 150 countries. They have had an average growth rate of 17% during Steve’s tenure and will have approximately $2 billion in revenues this year. This was the 6th and largest Trimble Dimensions with nearly 3,500 attending from 80 countries around the world.

Steve noted that Trimble was organized around four emerging vertical markets–Positioning and Sensors, Connectivity, Modeling (software) and Analytics. He sees integration, not technology as the key challenge. In fact he showed a very outdated looking image of a slide rule, a prop that I like to use, noting that we put a man on the moon with that analogue device ­clear evidence that it is definitely not all about digital technology.

Concerning the issue of acquisitions, Steve showed a very busy slide filled with corporate logos documenting that they had purchased 73 companies during the past 10 years. Many people believe that this strategy has not been all that well thought out. From what I could see, hear and learn that idea could not be further from the truth. And as was pointed out to me in a discussion last week with a Trimble employee not only does Trimble obtain the technology, but they also benefit from the human talent that comes with these deals.

Steve did admit that if you looked back at the strategic plans developed 5 or 10 years ago for where the company would be today that there might not be a good correlation, but he attributed this to listening to customers and trying to satisfy their needs in a rapidly changing world.

Steve noted that the basic driver of an acquisition is to "fill in the gaps". When Trimble determines that they don’t have a complete or total solution they look to acquire it. That fits with another one of Steve’s key points–go-to-market strategy is just as important as technology or product.

He sees 5 major technology trends that are converging–sensor integration, real time, BIG data, the cloud and 3D models. Steve believes that the speed of communications has essentially reached its limit, but capacity is exploding.

Lastly and in support of the conference theme–"Transform the Way the World Works" Steve noted that he really focuses on transforming, not enhancing workflows. By way of example he compared the kind of change he is referring to as being similar to the chronometer and the cotton gin–a step function change, like the Internet. Steve encouraged the audience to be transformational in our thinking.

The Conference
One of the more important strategic announcements to come out of Dimensions 2012 concerned the announcement of a strategic alliance with Bentley Systems to enable intelligent positioning for large infrastructure project sites. Having recently attended Bentley’s Be Inspired awards conference, where this agreement was also highlighted I can attest to the fact that there is tremendous potential for this alliance. The basic concept is to embed real coordinates into the MicroStation design files so that these can be tagged to individual building components. This will facilitate "building the model."

To be sure 3D laser scanning was front and center on the technical agenda. The use of Trimble’s MX8 mobile mapping system was discussed in a number of sessions including a large hurricane surge asset inventory project in North Carolina where ESP Associates collected 4300 miles of data over 65 days. The explanation of the automated data processing using macros running inside Terrascan was very detailed and impressive.

Equally as impressive was a session describing the software integration that is taking place between Trident Analyst, Trimble’s post processing software for the MX8 and eCognition, which was acquired by Trimble in 2010. This is perfect example of the integration that Steve noted in his keynote. The contextbased, image processing functionality from eCognition is being embedded in Trident Analyst to improve its automatic feature recognition capabilities. As we know this is the search for the Holy Grail, but of all the approaches out there I think this is one of the best.

One of my main missions at Dimensions 2012 was to get a sense for the fit between Trimble and FARO, considering their announcement of the OEM deal for the Focus 3D, now being labeled by Trimble as the TX5 with accompanying SCENE software. I struck gold when I found a session by Segment Manager Jim McCartney titled, "What’s New in Laser Scanning for Vertical Construction?" By the way in keeping with the idea that this was not a sales conference most of the sessions were application oriented, not product focused.

With it only being a couple of months since the deal was announced my expectations were low for the presentation–wrong again. I have to doubt whether a FARO rep could have been any more comfortable and knowledgeable about the technology. This was a common theme concerning all of the acquired and OEM’d technology at the conference. Bottom line–Trimble is hitting the ground running with the TX5 and it should open up a huge market for both parties. That would be a win-win.

For a change of pace I decided to attend a session entitled "The Economic Benefits of Geospatial Technology in the Developing World". Say what? Was this Trimble Dimensions or the UN? Well, actually both as John Whitehead, Capture Manger in the Institutional Business Development group explained. His job is to help promote the funding off projects through organizations like the World Bank and ministries within the emerging markets.

Based in Singapore he provided an inside look at a world that few of us get to see. He helps these agencies to better understand the economic rate of return on investing in spatial data infrastructure, for example. It’s a sophisticated, almost stealth business deve
lopment strategy that I assume positions Trimble on the ground floor of these multi-million dollar projects–eventually. He also provided a new definition for GIS that I really liked–Geospatial Information Systems.

To wrap things up a few impressions from the trade show floor. The first thing that caught your eye as you went in was the Gatewing UAV circling the floor. This may be the hot new data acquisition technology at least for the next year or so and Trimble is in on the ground floor of what some say will become a big business, especially once the FAA comes up with their regulations.

My next impression concerned the low key, highly professional demeanor of the Trimble sales reps: There is definitely a corporate culture that starts at the top. These guys sell the steak, not the sizzle, and when you see the breadth of solutions all in one hall you know they have a lot of steak to sell.

As is usually the case in Vegas the services were fast and efficient. I didn’t have any luck at the Mirage, but I broke even for the trip with some luck at Caesar’s on the last night. Kudos to all involved in making Trimble Dimensions 2012 a great event and you certainly should consider attending next year when you work on your 2013 travel schedule.

Gene Roe is the managing editor of LiDAR News. He has more than 40 years experience in the surveying and mapping industries.

A 538Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE