From The Editor | March 28, 2007

2007 Mobile Forecast: Executives Speak Out

Integrated Solutions, April 2007

As 2007 continues to roll on, what can we expect from field service hardware and software? Continuing the executive interview series, I’m featuring interviews with two industry executives, which present the executives’ predictions for 2007 in their respective markets. This month, I spoke with Peter Gibbs, CEO of TouchStar, and Bob Skinner, Group VP of Trimble Mobile Solutions. Here’s what they had to say:

ISM: Was 2006 everything you expected in terms of sales and lucrative vertical markets?
TS: 2006 was good for us in our traditional verticals – petrochemical distribution, propane (we have 7 of the top 10 propane compabies in North America), fueling, and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods). We’ve also had some new markets emerge: field service and utilities, fire protection, and pest control. These markets are showing signs of good growth.

ISM: Are there any emerging demands from end users in terms of mobile computing capabilities?
TS: The majority of our development is around middleware and back end integration. Customers no longer want a stand-alone ERP system that deals with processes and transactions, but want to seamlessly integrate that back end functionality with external systems – delivery forecasting, load planning, route optimization. Those are third party systems, but they all need to be brought together as part of an ERP system. We’ve continued to build tools that allow that data to be shared and those systems to be seamlessly integrated. We’ve also built a number of tools useful to enterprises that are directly relevant and connected to mobility, yet are still focused on the overall enterprise getting benefit. One product is called TS Messenger, which connects text and e-mail and dispatch calling to an integrated messaging system to and from vehicles.

ISM: What changes to mobile computing apps do you foresee companies making in 2007?
TS: Mobile apps will obviously become more seamless, intuitive, and reliable. But some key things we’ll see is onboard payment gateways with the ability to take credit cards. It’s here and now and is beginning to show real world benefits. There will also be more integrated route optimization packages with the ability to dynamically replan routes to accommodate unscheduled orders and stops. It’s an incremental step, but if you’re a business that will be exposed to disruptive deliveries throughout the day, it’s absolutely essential.

Trimble Mobile Solutions
ISM: Was 2006 everything you expected in terms of sales and lucrative vertical markets?
TMS: We recognized, and saw this with @Road, too [which Trimble recently acquired], that we’re reaching the tipping point for the fleet side of business. Originally @Road projected 63,000 units, and came in at 70,000. TMS saw a surge in fleet productivity as well, with 50% growth year after year. Companies are much more eager to make fleet decisions, which is different than preceding years.

ISM: Are there any emerging demands from end users in terms of mobile computing capabilities?
TMS: Our strategic thrust is unification of the handheld marketplace with vehicle systems. Whether DSD or service, companies have had one solution or the other, to the exclusion of getting everything they could possibly get out of a mobile solution. We’ve prototyped one device with hardware on the vehicle; drivers have a handheld and the vehicle hardware communicates with the handheld, transmitting GPS, diagnostics, fuel tax, and mileage data. We’re working with two household-name accounts that both want both solutions. We have an existing vehicle customer who is coming back for the handheld capabilities. Companies are seeing that having all of the info about the fleet, integrated into service and route management systems, is an important attribute. This is especially true with service  companies, where you want to find the closest vehicle and then be able to push down a work order to the handheld.

ISM: What are some predictions you have for the marketplace in 2007?
TMS: I think we will see two things happen. First, there will be a great deal of consolidation on the fleet side of things. Second, we’ll see globalization of solution providers.