Ascending the vertical axis

Imagine you are in a room with a small group of people. The group includes an owner of a small farm in Chile, a railway operator from Germany, a seismic exploration specialist from Saudi Arabia, a heavy construction contractor from Australia, a forestry technician from Canada and the manager of a commercial soybean farm in the US.

The people are discussing their businesses and how they go about their work. There is not much in common between them. They come from different physical environments and use radically different tools and processes to do their jobs. However, they do share one interesting characteristic — at some point in their job, each person needs spatial information.

This common need presents an opportunity — and a challenge — to companies that provide measurement and positioning technologies. The group uses spatial data, but their individual workflows and information requirements are so different that a single approach stands little chance of meeting their needs. For a geospatial solutions provider to successfully serve each person in the group, the provider must apply deep knowledge of six different industries.

This solution, known as a vertical marketing approach, combines efforts in product development, manufacturing, distribution, communications and support to focus on a defined application or a set of end users. Vertical marketing is taking hold throughout the geospatial industry. Manufacturers and solutions providers are moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that addresses a defined market or application by blending specialised products, both hardware and software, with dedicated teams for distribution and support.

The experience of going vertical

Trimble began to approach specialised markets two decades ago. Traditional customers such as the US Park Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could use off-the-shelf solutions and get good results. But customer segments such as construction, mining and utilities often had more specific requirements associated with the assets they were managing. They operated in different environments (physical, financial and regulatory) and used distinct workflows and terminology. The existing solutions for GPS surveying and GIS simply did not meet their needs.

Solving this challenge called for a hands-on approach to gain domain knowledge in the segments. It usually began by simply talking to customers to understand what they do and how it is done. A big part of success can come from going out into the field to see where customers work and understand their workflows. It is an important first step; in order to go vertical, visit offices and job sites to understand the work being done.

The knowledge gained leads to a decision on whether to develop a vertical market using internal resources or to work with businesses that focus on the vertical. As market knowledge grows, it often becomes apparent that partnering or acquisition offers the most efficient way to expand into new segments. But it can be surprising how quickly a vertical approach can change and expand.

Bringing multiple solutions into play

A key part of the vertical approach is to own core technologies that provide the platforms for industry-specific solutions. What begins as a handheld mapping-grade solution could grow to include wireless communications, GNSS-based vehicle tracking, onboard sensors or sophisticated software for operations and analysis. From these and other examples, we know that there are several aspects to providing solutions for a vertical market. These include:

  • Possess, develop or acquire in-depth knowledge of customer practices and needs. There is simply no substitute for domain expertise.
  • Leverage core technologies and use software to adapt to specific applications. Positioning solutions and software can be remarkably flexible.
  • Establish infrastructure for positioning. Today it is possible to achieve GNSS real-time sub-meter accuracy nearly anywhere. It did not happen by accident. Large regional GNSS networks use Real-Time Networks technology to support precise measurement for a variety of real-time and post-processed applications. In other locations, positioning services serve as an enabling technology across vertical applications with varied needs for precision and access to correction services.
  • Create tools for flexible software. Modern development models and architecture allow software to serve as a platform for multiple applications. Software development kits and applications programming interfaces can speed and simplify the work to build new applications. The tools enable internal or third-party partners to meet vertical requirements and terminologies while taking advantage of existing capabilities.
  • Provide platforms for efficient exchange of information. Organisations need to share information throughout the enterprise. Web-based solutions support remote access, analysis and visualisation of key information.
  • Establish partners and distribution within a vertical. Vertically focused distributors and solutions providers deliver benefits to end users and manufacturers alike. Because of their frequent, direct interaction with customers, specialised distributors can anticipate needs and react quickly for support or repairs. They possess deep knowledge of market needs and ways of doing business, which aids the manufacturer in bringing better solutions.

Beyond all these aspects of vertical marketing, the most important facet is to utilise the relationships that emerge as a result of a vertical approach. It is not possible to learn about customers’ domains from within your office.

Only by standing alongside the customer and looking at their entire ecosystem — work processes, downstream users and the other stakeholders they work with — will you discover who your partners need to be.

From there, the decision process examines options to develop, partner or acquire the domain expertise.

Ron Bisio, vice president of the Surveying and Geospatial Division at Trimble