Field-to-office heats up, Trimble acquires PocketMobile

Oct 14, 2015 | Hot Topics

We need to get past the idea that design and engineering begin and end in an office, drawing room or lab; it’s time we joined much of the rest of  the business world by taking work to where it needs to be, even if that is outside the office. That’s enabled by a class of technology called field-to-office, which just got a big boost from Trimble, which just announced that it is snapping up PocketMobile, whose PreCom mobility platform is used by delivery services, logistics companies, security services and many others to tie mobility into ERP and other in-office systems. It’s geared for companies with a large mobile workforce like mail delivery services and utility crews. PreCom is used to plan and optimize field workers’ time and offers real-time reporting and access to current part/site/scenario information boost field efficiency.

John Cameron, general manager of Trimble’s Field Service Management Division, said in a prepared statement that “[f]ield-to-office mobility has become one of the most strategically important components of an organization’s operational structure with a mobile workforce. Trimble’s focus is to transform the workplace of the future by providing mobility tools to businesses to drive agility, efficiency and insight across the organizations’ operations. PocketMobile’s strong position and proven expertise in mobile enterprise solutions can further expand our reach into new verticals and accelerate our development in the field-to-office mobility market.” PocketMobile will be reported as part of Trimble’s Mobile Solutions segment.

I first became aware of PocketMobile in a completely tangential way; I forget what I was researching but it had to do with oil and gas, which led me to the North Sea. PocketMobile came up when a platform operator was pondering the future of drilling platform support. Imagine a scenario where the operator has up-to-date 3D data about the asset –a CAD model or a laser scan or a lightweight subset– and can call that up at will. A problem is identified in a specific system and a maintenance order is opened to have someone go check it out. Platforms are dangerous places; the maintenance person trains on a virtual reality simulator to know exactly where he’s going, what to avoid and what to look for. An iPhone or other digital device has all of the steps he needs to complete, helps him fill out the report (perhaps with pictures or audio, since typing isn’t the best thing to do when hanging hundreds of meters above the sea) and the PocketMobile app guides him through his work order. In a perfect world, PocketMobile syncs with ERP and other systems to move the process from “investigate” to “fix” and we begin again. It’s clearly the way field work will be done in the future; companies need to implement processes that don’t impede worker efficiency and step up with accurate, as-is data to take advantage of technology that’s already in place.

PocketMobile is a very cool solution, but not the only one trying to connect the office and field worker. It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out, as companies like PTC, which is building a design/engineering to virtual reality to services offering that’s (for the moment) targeted at discrete manufacturers, recognize the huge potential in AEC and other industries outside it manufacturing base.

Financial terms of the Trimble/PocketMobile deal were not disclosed, but it’s reasonable to assume that its revenue and financial performance are not material to Trimble’s forecasts for the year.

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