AI, Autonomy and Small Contractor Solutions at Trimble Dimensions 2023


Artificial intelligence (AI) in construction management, the centrality of partnerships and a gradual evolution towards autonomous construction equipment were all evident at Trimble Dimensions 2023, the positioning, modeling, connectivity and data analytics leader’s annual user group conference for the construction industry.

About 4,000 Trimble customers and partners from 50 countries converged on the Venetian Resort Nov. 6-8, 2023. In the opening session, Trimble announced its Viewpoint Spectrum® and Viewpoint Vista™ construction enterprise resource planning (ERP) software now leverages Automatic Invoicing thanks to an integration with Microsoft Azure AI Document Intelligence. Using this new capability, back-office staff can import paper and PDF invoices into an application that streamlines validation and approval in Trimble’s construction ERP (enterprise resource planning) products, Spectrum and Vista.

"Before using Automatic Invoicing, we were spending twice as much time inputting invoices, getting them approved and paid out," Concrete Express Accounts Payable Manager Tammy Cox said in a release. "There were far too many steps, most of which were high-touch and manually-driven. With Automatic Invoicing, the steps are much easier because they're largely automated, plus we can see the invoices easier as PDFs."

“Our customers are facing such a labor shortage for the office and the field,” Trimble Viewpoint Director of Data and Analytics Anne Hunt said. “Even if they expand their workforce, they have even more data to process for accounts payable. They are saying they can’t keep up with demand. At a minimum, our customers are getting about 500 invoices to process a month, and that is a smaller contractor. Typically, it’s more in the thousands.”

According to Tilson CIO Jason Burns, the move extends existing Trimble Viewpoint functionality to ingest invoice data.

“By combining that with the new features from Azure, you can go really deep, really fast and automate the whole process all the way through, which is impactful,” Burns said. “So that's just one example of what Azure is bringing. And because Viewpoint is based on the Microsoft stack, it makes it so easy to bring in new solutions.”

Microsoft and Trimble

Trimble is not the only construction technology vendor harnessing enterprise AI from Microsoft. Construction project management software leader Procore announced integration with Microsoft Copilot AI at their Groundbreak event earlier in the year. Trimble announced the previous year at Dimensions that Azure would underpin its Trimble Construction Cloud offering, a connected data environment for the asset lifecycle including the live collaboration capabilities in a given model.

According to Trimble Vice President of Product Management Patrick Stevenson, this development announced last year is already finding purchase among early adopter customers.

“A lot of these solutions are early access, invite-only solutions,” Stevenson said. “Liveshare is all invite only, and general availability will depend on how the validation and testing go.”

Stevenson said he and his team meet regularly with Microsoft product teams to continue to identify ways to drive AI further into the Trimble construction offering, including ongoing explorations of the Microsoft Copilot AI application. This includes AI as a tool to help Trimble customers make sense of the integration options open to them given the large number of application programming interfaces (APIs) across the software portfolio.

“We are working to determine how we support our customers better with Copilot,” Stevenson said. “We use it internally—our developers use it for writing unit tests and testing code. One thing we will highlight for our customers is the use of a ChatGPT-like service —natural language—to articulate what you want to build with our APIs and identify what APIs to use, but this is not available outside of early adoption users. All Trimble Construction One applications have APIs, and we expose that through our Trimble Developer program. Copilot will help identify which ones to use.”

Autonomous Soil Compaction

While Trimble launched the first self-steering soil compaction technology back in 2022, it was designed for an operator in the cab who could manage by exception. At Trimble Dimensions 2023, the company announced the first autonomous compactor deployment in the field.

“We’ve just completed our first time running as a fully autonomous machine on a real construction site doing real work,” Trimble Earthmoving Industry Director Cam Clark said. “And it was on the Site C Clean Energy project in British Columbia. It’s an earthen dam project—a hydroelectric dam.”

Autonomous construction equipment, when it is used, is more often in a mining site or perhaps a repetitive construction environment like solar farm trenching. “We had the fully autonomous machine running for 37 hours doing real work, actually helping build the dam,” Clark said. “And that was running alongside a mixed fleet of other compactors The data from both manually-operated machines and the autonomous machine all fit in to work on a real job with real constraints. We're continuing to test this, and are really encouraged by the results of this test."

Other major themes in programming at Dimensions were not focused on net new announcements, but rather developments unfolding within Trimble’s construction portfolio over time.

Subscriptions for Small and Large Contractors

While software is increasingly sold on subscription rather than through a perpetual license, Trimble’s emerging approach to selling hardware like GNSS receivers, , survey equipment and even machine control systems on subscription may be less common.

“We call it Works Plus,” Trimble Sector Vice President for Civil Solutions Elwyn McLachlan said. “It's a way that you can get involved with machine control and construction surveying, and access our portfolio at an easy monthly subscription rate. We're seeing smaller contractors, in particular, really taking advantage of that.”

While the Trimble Works Plus Subscription may make technology more financially accessible for smaller contractors while reducing complexity, larger contractors are also attracted to subscriptions, according to McLachlan.

“What's interesting to me is we've really seen uptake from both ends of the spectrum,” McLachlan said. “We see larger contractors just recently who have got into subscriptions, particularly around big projects that they have been awarded. They may ask themselves, ‘how do I how to align my spending to the project budget, and using subscription as a way to do that?’”

Integration Within Trimble Construction One

As a technology company that has grown in construction by acquisition, Trimble is investing in uniting the combined solutions within the Trimble Construction One product line with integrations. This process was sped up through the acquisition in January of 2023 of integration platform as a service (iPaaS) vendor Ryvit. Less than a year in and Trimble was already showing results with automated workflows and packaged solutions.

“It’s going great,” Trimble Senior Product Manager Gregory Mattes said. “Some of the key software systems in Trimble Construction One include things like Vista and Spectrum and ProjectSight. We’ve collaborated together to build integrations between those pieces of software so that a construction company can buy a Trimble Construction One bundle, and included within that bundle are key integrations to make their business work better.”

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