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Mike Richman

Metrology

Field Report: Hexagon 2011 International Conference

The company's ambitious vision takes the measure of our planet's demographic and physical realities

Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - 04:30

Any way you slice it, the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort is one big place. Total number of rooms? More than 2,000. Massive swimming pool? How about two of the biggest ones you’ve ever seen? Fine dining and refreshments? Take your choice of two terrific steakhouses (one American, one Japanese), classic Italian, a cafe, a sports bar, and a food court. The ballrooms are palatial. All in all, this was an appropriate backdrop for Hexagon’s 2011 International Conference held June 6–9.

It was an impressively large gathering. Thousands of users, from hundreds of companies representing dozens of nations, had the opportunity to meet and learn, not only from companies’ top executives and leading technicians, but also from each other. Benchmarking, networking, and knowledge-sharing were the orders of the day.

Hexagon CEO Ola Rollen formally kicked off the event on the morning of June 7 with a lavishly produced keynote address in which he shared the stage with division presidents Norbert Hanke (Hexagon Metrology), Juergen Dold (Hexagon Geosystems), Gerhard Sallinger (Intergraph Process, Power, and Marine), and John Graham (Intergraph Security, Government, and Infrastructure). Their ambitious vision for the future of Hexagon is one in which the planet’s many challenges can be mitigated by the company’s interlocking technologies, whether that means better industrial test and measurement, the preservation of historical and cultural sites, or more efficient building and disaster-relief processes.

Many of these technologies were on display during the event’s new platform featuring tracks and exhibits where the various Hexagon companies, their suppliers, and their partners presented cutting-edge solutions for pretty much any problem a customer could dream up. Editor in chief Dirk Dusharme and I wandered the exhibition hall for several hours, talking to several of the exhibitors and learning about some extremely interesting technologies.

First, some context: This event grew out of Intergraph’s user conference, which for many years was a circled date on the calendar for users of geospatial information systems (GIS). When Hexagon acquired Intergraph in 2010, the event became Hexagon’s key way to connect with customers, not only within the GIS sector, but in their other divisions as well.

GIS is an intriguing industry unto itself, and it’s one in which we at Quality Digest had previously only a passing knowledge. Our connection to Hexagon has always been primarily through industrial metrology, and to a lesser extent, the Geosystems division through the Leica brand, which crosses both. Thus, GIS in general, and Intergraph specifically, were new to us. But as Dirk and I spoke to exhibitors and attendees, and especially after listening to the keynote address, we began to put the puzzle together and see how the pieces all fit.

GIS essentially uses the power of global tracking and positioning to help understand where assets are, in real time and with great accuracy. Of course, in using the term, “great accuracy,” we’re not talking about industrial metrology accuracies that often need to be at micron or even submicron levels, but when you can locate an asset within a handful of centimeters across (as well as above and/or below) the surface of the earth, that’s pretty impressive. Those assets can be police cars, army troops, search and rescue teams, utility crews, steel supports, containers… you name it. Some of the technologies used in GIS include global positioning satellites (GPS), radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and global coordinate mapping overlays, among others. The goal of all GIS systems is to decrease waste by reducing the amount of time spent searching—for a city street during an emergency situation, for a particular section of building materials on a gargantuan building site, or for a suspicious piece of cargo within a massive loading dock.

What most interested me was Hexagon’s corporate vision of how all their own assets fit together into a unified whole. The keynote address repeatedly referred to the demographic and physical realities of the planet. Several clear and compelling shifts are driving the direction of the company. For example:
• The Third World is growing at an unprecedented rate. All those new consumers will want cars, clothes, and 4G phones, not to mention adequate food and clean water. How can we increase industrial productivity to give them all of these things?
• World heritage sites are disappearing. One of the ramifications of a worldwide communication and transportation system is that anyone can pretty much go anywhere. Many sites of great cultural importance are disappearing under the strain of increased visitations. How can we preserve these sites for future generations?
• Natural disasters are increasing. Whether these are due to macro climate changes or are normal fluctuations in distributed data, the world has suffered through a spate of horrendous natural disasters in recent months. How can GIS help communities more efficiently deal with crises when they inevitably occur?

 

On the plane home, I got to thinking. Now, you should understand that I can’t experience anything these days without seeing it through the prism of the evolving nature of the “quality” profession. I put that term in quotes because, although it’s currently rather handy shorthand for what we do, I’m not sure it truly aligns with the mission of companies like Hexagon. How does a “quality manager” fit into this vision? Maybe “opportunity manager” or “risk assessment strategist” or even “change agent” are closer to the true nature of what our roles will be in the ever more crowded, technologically savvy, and interconnected world to come.

I’ve come to believe that all of us should think in grandiose terms about what we do, and the affect that our work can have on the planet. I think that when we limit our vision, when we restrict our horizons, we lessen our ability to be a real force for change. We all should look beyond the here and now, connect the dots, and provide something more for our customers and ourselves. It’s not only better for the world, it’s better for us, too—more fun, more risky, and more challenging, but with great challenges come great rewards.

Our world is changing rapidly, and it will continue to do so whether we change with it or not. Hexagon’s event earlier this month was a reminder that a fresh perspective and a unique vision can help drive change instead of being driven by it. Which do you want to do?

Discuss

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Mike Richman