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Trimble set to go global with ‘digital twin’ strategy for water networks

Thousands of water and wastewater utilities in North America already use its mapping and IoT devices. Now, the US firm is targeting an international audience for its new real-time asset management solution.

Nasdaq-listed geospatial technology firm Trimble launched a subscription-based real-time asset management solution for water and wastewater utilities this month, which it intends to expand beyond its existing stronghold in North America.

By combining its mapping, analytics and IoT technologies with the GIS-based asset management software it brought in with the acquisition of Cityworks late last year, Trimble can now provide utilities with a complete real-time digital representation of their water and wastewater network infrastructure, in the form of a ‘digital twin’.

Chris Stern, VP of strategy for Trimble’s utility and public administration business, explained to GWI that the expanded platform allows utilities to better manage workflows, quickly address network failures such as leaks, and prioritise capital investments.

“Cityworks has pretty much become the enterprise asset management platform of choice for the majority of cities and utilities in North America,” Stern explained. “They’re also the only GIS-centric asset management platform, which is consistent with our strategy to help utilities transition to a highly accurate digital model of their networks.”

Stern also pointed to Cityworks’ scaleable business model, whereby the company’s solutions are primarily implemented by a partner network of major consulting firms, including Jacobs and Black & Veatch. This has allowed Cityworks to build up a reference base of over 700 utility customers.

“It doesn’t require Cityworks’ or Trimble’s professional services, and in that respect [Cityworks] has been able to scale up its customer base much faster than most of their competitors,” Stern claims.

He argues that Trimble’s established partner network means that it is well positioned to increase the uptake of its digital water platform globally. The company already has non-water interests in Europe and Asia, while Cityworks serves clients in Australia and the Middle East.

“I think with COVID and changes that are occurring in the global economy, it’s going to be even harder for a lot of the start-ups and new smart water technology companies to survive an adoption cycle in which utilities take years to get comfortable with a new company,” Stern suggested.

“The last thing utilities want is to make a purchase and create a vendor relationship, and then be left with no support and no maintenance. Right now, one of our largest advantages is that we’ve been committed to this space for many years.”

As a large well-capitalised company generating annual revenues in excess of $3.2 billion, Trimble is well positioned to offer its software and hardware under a subscription-based model. The firm announced last month that it would now provide its Telog instruments through a subscription service, with a minimum term of three years, allowing utilities to adopt its systems with only a limited upfront capital investment. Stern suggests that this will be a particular advantage as COVID-19 strains municipal budgets.

Beyond mapping

As a global market leader for mapping and positioning technologies, Trimble has had a long-standing presence at thousands of water and wastewater utilities in North America as the provider of choice for GPS devices. Over the past fifteen years, the company has sought to expand this offering through a string of acquisitions.

“We looked at the leadership position we have in helping utilities map their assets, and asked how we can turn that project-based business into more of a recurring day-to-day use case,” Stern observed.

In 2006 Trimble purchased mobile workforce management software firm Spacient Technologies, which Stern founded in 2000. The acquisition of Telog Instruments in 2015 then brought market-leading IoT capabilities in North America, particularly on the wastewater side, where cellular battery-powered sensors can monitor assets such as combined sewer overflows.

“Telog had created a platform for wireless data collection from water and wastewater networks, which moved us from mapping and applications for managing assets and workflows into proactive realtime operations,” Stern explained.

Like Cityworks, Trimble has complemented its direct-to-utility sales with an extensive partner network of engineering and consulting firms and equipment manufacturers that market the company’s products and software. The company has a partnership with American Flow Control – one of the largest valve and hydrant manufacturers in the US – for which it provides pressure sensors and mapping services. Likewise, Trimble has a long relationship with GIS software company Esri.

“We are now the only provider that can offer a complete IoT real-time asset intelligence platform as a subscription service,” Stern highlighted.