Trimble Dimensions 2012

The Trimble Dimensions 2012 conference, held November 5-7 in Las Vegas, provided firsthand interaction with a company that has successfully transitioned itself from “sensors to solutions” in the space of a few decades. Founded in 1978 by GPS industry pioneer Charles Trimble, Trimble has grown to a $1.6B company with 5300+ employees as of December 2011. FY2012 revenues are on track to reach nearly $2B, and its 28% stock rise over the past year provided an impressive return for its investors.

Most surveyors would likely call Trimble a GPS manufacturer and seller. However, Trimble describes itself in its most recent annual report as providing “integrated positioning, wireless, and software technology solutions that enable field and mobile workers to be more productive.” Nothing about GPS per se. Gee—how does a business that caters to the moribund surveying industry find itself continuing to grow at a 20%+ rate even in this economy?

Part of Trimble’s success can certainly be attributed to its ever-expanding suite of positioning technology products. The Dimensions show featured innovations such as:

The new R10 GNSS receiver—lighter, smaller, with more processing power and the cool xFill infill capability that uses Trimble's RTX technology to maintain positioning when VRS becomes spotty. As well, the R10 has an eBubble—the digital equivalent of a spirit leveling bubble, just like many total stations and smartphones have had for years.

New versions of handheld data collectors (the Juno 5 and Geo 5) and field computers (the Trimble Site Tablet and Yuma2 ruggedized tablet).

A raft of software enhancements across the board, with a focus on what Trimble calls “process productivity”—a step up from its “task productivity” emphasis of just a few years ago. Process productivity is Trimble’s integrated work management technology to seamlessly link all phases of geospatial data collection, management, and use so that inefficiencies resulting from information silos are eliminated.

Another key to Trimble’s growth is its successful acquisition and integration strategy. Since 1989, Trimble has acquired more than 60 companies ranging from Ashtech to Gatewing and most recently SketchUp from Google in April of this year. It was SketchUp’s acquisition that drew most of my attention at Dimensions because I’ve used it for years and wanted to see how the program was faring out from under Google’s wing. In a refreshing change from most companies’ approach of “buy and plunder,” Trimble has retained most of the original SketchUp developer team and is focusing on making Trimble SketchUp an integral component of every geospatial technologist’s toolkit. The base version, which is no slouch, is still a free download at http://sketchup.google.com/download/.

Beyond technology and a combination of organic and acquisition growth, Trimble’s real secret to success in these times is its strategy of continual self-reinvention. In fact, Trimble CEO Steve Berglund’s 2011 shareholders’ message (http://investor.trimble.com/annuals.cfm) provides a ready-made business blueprint for geospatial service providers such as surveyors. His comment about targeting four key areas—geospatial context, mobility solutions, work management, and technology tools—should be required reading for any business owner, not just surveying companies. Trimble’s nimble adaption to change has made it more than just another GPS black box (err, yellow box) seller.

~Rudy Stricklan, RLS, GISP

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