In late 2006, Trimble acquired Meridian Systems, a US-based provider of project management and document collaboration solutions (post), as part of a strategy of connecting construction sites through tighter integration of construction process information. For Trimble, that deal meant its growing portfolio of construction solutions had been expanded to include Meridian’s infrastructure lifecycle management platform Proliance, the Prolog construction project management solution and the Prolog-powered on-demand online version, ProjectTalk. These products were popular in the US AEC market and in markets (eg: the Middle East) where US contractors were active, but were less well-known in other markets such as Europe or Australasia.
SaaS and DBO
At the time, I said Trimble – hitherto best known for its GPS and mobile IT systems – might use the Meridian platforms to provide a business platform allows its mobile tools to interconnect and share data between users in real-time. Since then, Trimble has continued its expansion strategy, building a stronger design-build-operate proposition and incorporating design solutions into its portfolio – notably with the acquisition earlier this year of Sketchup from Google (April 2012 post).
Last year, Meridian announced Prolog Sky, a new cloud-based service allowing access to Prolog’s robust construction project management software in a hosted environment. Similar to McLaren Software’s recently launched Enterprise OnAir solution (post), the Sky service lets customers deploy Prolog in a proven software hosting environment, building on the company’s expertise in Software-as-a-Service provision.
This expansion of SaaS expertise and of a more rounded design-build-operate offering entered a new phase this month with the announcement last week that Trimble had acquired BIM software developer Vico, and this week’s news of the establishment of Trimble Buildings:
“The new group will leverage the Trimble Design-Build-Operate (DBO) platform of organic and acquired technologies to develop and bring to market a new portfolio of synergistic technologies for capital construction owners and Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) service providers. Trimble Buildings will provide the organizational infrastructure to fuel innovation and allow current and future customers to take advantage of the rapidly evolving technology landscape to maximize overall business value.”
The group combines technologies from Trimble’s former Building Construction Division with Accubid, Meridian Systems, Plancal, QuickPen, SketchUp, Tekla, Vico and WinEst.
I talked about these developments earlier this week with Jon Fingland (business unit director – contractor segment) and Geene Alhady (general manager) of Meridian Systems, and they were adamant about the convergence of mobile and previously office-based applications, saying Meridian, as part of the total offering, will help project teams to share rich documentation via field devices and to manage processes from requests for information (RFIs) to materials tracking while out on site.
As former contractors, they both recalled the frustrations of not having quick access to key information, and were keen to stress Trimble’s unique “openness”. In a market where the major design software applications still tend to be proprietary, “we feel we’re different,” Geene said. He also emphasised that “Vico helps us up our game, internationalising our offering compared to Autodesk, Bentley and others.”
Trimble backs the OpenBIM initiative launched in March 2012 (post) and – as I wrote last month – it seems it could become a powerful driver for greater interoperability between different vendors’ solutions. Some other bloggers such as BIMopedia’s Ben Malone also appear optimistic about Trimble’s ambitions to create an all-round OpenBIM solution (read his Trimble en route to global domination post):
“Trimble will come into this field with the knowledge that a truly open platform is needed – and fast. With all the tools that they have acquired, you can almost see the coming together and integration of these into an all round ‘suite package’ which could not only compete with the current major players… but also create a totally new solution, including tools which are not currently native in our ‘BIM authoring software’.”
Open BIM UK
By coincidence, while writing parts of this blog post, I attended Constructing Excellence‘s latest members’ forum on BIM and sustainability in Manchester. David Jellings, coordinator of the Open BIM Network, was one of the speakers and we had a brief chat about interoperability (David is a former shareholder in Vico; Trimble subsidiary Tekla were also represented at the conference). David said the UK movement was growing (I understand collaboration vendor 4Projects will join rival Conject as another vendor member in the New Year), buoyed by the recent UK government moves regarding open standards (see Computer Weekly) which may eventually support the use of the open industry foundation class (IFC) format for COBie data.