Thursday, Oct 22- On this episode of Coffee with Jim and James, Mark Fiorita joins the show to talk about his work with Trimble Inc. and his passion for the natural gas industry.
Jim Schauer: [0:11] Good morning, LinkedIn community. Welcome to another exciting and riveting episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.”
[0:19] You know me. You know I’m a little animated. I like to show emotions and such. I do. Ready for this one, James? Ready? I’ve been trimbling with anticipation for this episode [inaudible] .
James Cross: [0:34] You couldn’t even keep it together.
Jim: [0:37] Trimbling with anticipation.
James: [0:38] Oh gosh.
Jim: [0:40] Let me bring my brother in arms in, Mr. James Cross. James, how are you this fine and beautiful day?
James: [0:46] Man, I’m trimbling with excitement. That might be the worst one ever. Jim, I’m happy that the intro’s over. I’m happy to have Mark with us from Trimble.
[0:59] Mark, can you say your last name? Every time, I feel like I add four more vowels to it.
Mark Fiorita: [1:07] That’s interesting because it’s happened my entire life. I hope I can say it. Fiorita, think of Fio Rita, Fiorita.
James: [1:17] Perfect, like Margarita. I got it. I’ll never forget that.
Mark: [1:19] [laughs]
James: [1:21] Mark is joining us from Trimble. I don’t even know the first time I met Mark, but somewhere out on the road somewhere. We talked him into being a part of our conference one year. I saw him there. I don’t think you were at our last one, were you, Mark?
Mark: [1:39] I was not.
James: [1:40] You missed that one. It was the best one ever. You totally missed it. Mark’s a good friend of ours. We’re pumped to have him on board. I don’t know about you, Jimmy. Are you as pumped as I am? Are you still trimbling?
Jim: [1:54] Absolutely. It’s great having our friends on that share so much industry knowledge and expertise. I was absolutely looking forward to this episode.
[2:07] Let’s dive into it. Trimble, give us an overview. Let our viewers understand what Trimble’s about and some of the great things that you are doing in the industry.
Mark: [2:19] Absolutely. First of all, I’m sure you guys get this all the time. My disclaimer is I’ve got three kids and two dogs. It sounds like two or three of them are down here right now, and I don’t know which one’s which.
[2:32] We’ll keep rolling with it. I’m sure you guys are used to these types of interruptions and odd background noises. This will not be any different. It could get loud and, as you, Jim, animated.
Jim: [2:44] It’s virtual world. This is the world that we’re all in right now. It’s perfectly great, sir.
Mark: [2:51] That’s right. Working from home, I feel like a news anchor, only not.
James: [2:54] Mark, I usually have to go around my house before we record these and turn all the streaming off. My son’s playing Fortnite. My daughter’s on YouTube or something, and I just go around. Everyone hates me when it’s Coffee with Jim & James time.
Mark: [3:09] Yeah, “We can’t stream.” Perfect. Trimble, it’s a pretty cool story. If you think about a comparison to Apple or even Microsoft, we were founded about the same time all those things were happening, in the same area.
[3:26] This guy Charlie Trimble bought the rights to GPS through this company you may have heard of, Hewlett‑Packard. They decided they didn’t think that anybody was ever going to use GPS in the civilian world.
[3:38] Charlie said, “Hey, I’ll do it.” Bought it, started building GPS devices in his garage, sounds eerily familiar. Fast‑forward 42 years later, we’re not just a GPS company. We’re a geospatial company. What we care about is spatial components. It’s a spatial world, spatial intelligence, spatial knowledge, spatial awareness.
[4:03] As it relates to the gas industry, it’s where are my assets? What is my asset? How do I get to my asset? How do I gather information about that asset? That could be existing, already in the ground. It could be we’re putting it in the ground. It could be the above‑ground assets.
[4:20] In any of those scenarios, it’s about the gathering of information in the field, which we’ll refer to as field data collection, through a technology or a solution set that we have called GasOps.
[4:33] Then utilizing our GNSS or GPS devices, either on your phone or through one of our mobile devices, and being able to take that data and get it back into the office and do something with that data.
[4:48] Collecting data’s one thing. Doing something with it is a whole different animal.
Jim: [4:53] Good point.
James: [4:54] No doubt. Mark, I’ve got a funny story about Trimble that I’ll tell first, because that’s what we do, I think. I didn’t know how big Trimble was and where all the fingers were.
[5:10] When you say everywhere in everything, I was in Colorado, went on a family trip. We were just north of Denver. I forget exactly where, but we were in a big five‑star hotel. We were just staying there for a couple nights before we head back. We walk into this hotel, and out front there was the Trimble logo, just as big as it can be. I thought, “What in the world?”
[5:37] Mark, you and I were actually working on something at the time. I was blown away. I walked in, and I realized that it was a Trimble conference for the farming side of the Trimble organization, and aside, that I had no clue even existed at the time.
Mark: [5:56] [laughs]
James: [5:57] I went through, and I rode the elevator up with some guys, asked them why they were here, so I got the 30,000‑foot view, but I was blown away when I saw the reach of what Trimble does.
[6:11] Obviously, our show is focused on the natural gas side, that’s why we’re here, but can you talk a little bit about the GasOps portion of what you guys do?
Mark: [6:22] Absolutely. Several years ago…All the years run together anymore, right? Ultimately, what happened was we were exploring the natural gas market to understand why decisions were made, what drove the gas market.
[6:37] I got a background in electric distribution, and didn’t really have that much knowledge in the gas distribution space, so we wanted to research and understand where we’re best suited to play with the tools that we have now, and what are the gaps so we can think about what tomorrow looks like.
[6:55] Long story short, this is probably circa 2012‑13, found out about tracking traceability, and we’d already done something similar with another solution set for the water side of the business. From that, it started to build, we started to understand where our current technology fit.
[7:16] It fits pretty well, the problem is we don’t address some of these specific gas utility scenarios. In particular, it’s more from the compliant side, because when they get tracking traceability, that’s compliance.
[7:28] We got involved with you guys from an OQ perspective, again, from a compliance scenario. Then we started investigating other vendors of leak detection devices, locate manufacturers. What we did was we took all that intelligence, and we released turbo gas ops in 2016 to be compliant with tracking traceability.
[7:54] OQ certifications, as far as gathering that information, we don’t manage any of that, and then integrations with organizations like Heath, and some of their leak detection devices ‑‑ Vivax‑Metrotech ‑‑ while we have some integrations with their locate devices.
[8:14] Then looking at how do we continue to build this out? Because routine inspections, having that scheduling scenario, so it’s not just digital, adds builds for new construction, or pipeline replacement or repair, it’s managing all of that fieldwork that could be done, because data collection can also be redlining, right?
[8:33] We packaged all this up into a mobile platform, and this mobile platform allows you to do whatever it is you want to do from a field data collection side, and then spin that data back into…we’ll call it system of record, but it could be GIS, is it could be asset management, it could be both, depending on how you want to disseminate that information.
Jim: [8:54] That’s fascinating, Mark, and you hit on a few things. I’ve seen multiple presentations that you’ve given over the years, and again, you do a fantastic job with laying this out. We’re littered with acronyms in our industry, which is wonderful. GIS, GNSS, other items, can you break that down for me?
[9:14] I know James gets it, but I’m going to need to get a little bit clearer on that if you could. Then I do have a follow‑up too, when you mentioned that whole safety measure. I think we’ve had some folks on from 811 in the past, and I believe that you guys all connect the dots with that. So, a two‑part question for you, sir.
Mark: [9:35] I’ll start with the last question, addressing the 811 aspect. Think of GPS, Global Positioning Systems, and then I use the word GNSS. Basically, what we do is we change the acronym, so GPS and GNSS, they’re the exact same thing, only GNSS means Global Navigation Network System. Same thing. Just think of those as the same thing.
[10:02] Ultimately if we think about the asset, the location ‑‑ where it actually is ‑‑ is the foundation. We think about this as building a house, the most important thing when you bought the house is what? Foundation.
[10:15] You can have a solid foundation, and then you don’t have to have all brick, or all stone, as a facade. It could be wood, it could be paneling, whatever you want. Bottom line is it’s that foundation. Well, the GPS location of the asset is the same scenario.
[10:31] When you do that out of the gate in today’s world, think about the ability to use your cell phone with a software that gave you sub‑meter, even sub‑foot GPS accuracy. Think about that concept. That’s pretty cool.
[10:47] If you could go out in your phone and say, “All right, show me where I am, where’s my asset,” and then if you could actually take that component when you got to your location, and you could turn that into an augmented reality solution, think of the way that that impacts damage prevention, because seeing is believing.
[11:05] When you know that it’s within four to six inches of its actual location, or greater. Your locate one becomes a simpler tool to use, because you can see it there, boom, there it is, you know what your locating. That’s really how we tie these things together.
[11:21] I answered the last part first. The first part is, we’re talking about maths and all this stuff. Think about Google Maps. We use GIS, which is Geographic Information Systems, and I was talking to a fellow the other day who’s just into college, doesn’t really know what he wants to do, so we start from GIS.
[11:40] He didn’t know either, but I said, “You use GIS today. If you want to know where the closest gas station is in this city that you don’t know, what are you going to do? You open up your map, right? Where is Chevron? Or if you…” This actually happened to me, I was in Europe, and I packed everything I needed, except a belt. I don’t know where to go, so what do I do?
[12:06] I open up my map, and I say, “Men’s belt” because that’s what I need. It showed me three or four stores that were within a certain distance, and I was like, “All right, I can walk to that store and get back, wait, two of them are closed and one of them is open, boom, that’s where I’m going.” It was a five‑minute walk.
[12:23] That’s utilizing GIS, because think of, like I said, Google Maps, with instead of having gas station stores and all of these other things we search for, the buried infrastructure, and in this case, what we would be looking for is a buried valve. Or maybe a specific foreign farm tap with a unique identifier. Or I need to get to this gas station, or this rectifier.
[12:44] That’s really what GIS is. Layered data that has spatial intelligence, and then it’s relative to where you are, because at the end of the day, I want to know how to get to it when I get there. I need to know how close I am to it. Does that help?
Jim: [12:59] That absolutely helped me. I know James already knows this stuff, but…
Mark: [13:06] I refined this concept and a presentation that I did in SGA a couple of years ago, because it hit me. I’d used another map solution, where I would do a search and it would take me to the wrong place. How frustrating is that?
[13:24] The way that I correlated that was if you’re on Google Maps, and you’re constantly searching for things that when you get there, they’re not there, or they’re a mile down the road, or they’re across the street, another thousand feet, how frustrated do you get with using it?
[13:37] You get pretty frustrated to the point of like, “This is useless, I don’t even use it.” What we see in the utility industry is those are the maps that people use today. When you incorporate GPS, where I am, with those inaccurate assets, that’s the same effect.
[13:52] You get there, it’s, “McDonald’s isn’t here. I don’t even see a McDonald’s. This isn’t what I needed.” That’s where the challenge comes in, but that’s an easy way to correlate and bridge these two gaps, because had that McDonald’s been GPS located, you would have been able to get right to it.
[14:08] No problem, front door, you’d have seen it, you’d have known where you were going, but because you continued to have these challenges, it removes the ability or even the possibility of utilizing GPS.
James: [14:22] Mark’s a nerd, man.
Mark: [14:24] I tell people I’m smarter than I look but I’m not as smart as you think.
James: [14:28] That was an impressive tangent. That’s one of my favorite things about this show, is that right there, getting to see into somebody’s head like that. Mark, you talked about the compliance ecosystem and where Trimble fits into it, where tracking and traceability fits into it. Would you talk a little bit about that what that means to our industry?
Mark: [14:51] There is a compliance ecosystem. At Trimble, we’re thinking about this ecosystem from a solution perspective. You’ve got the field things you have to do, but that data has to come back in, and you have to do things with that as well.
[15:06] You want to do analysis in our business, or DA, risk‑based analysis. Where’s my highest risk? Why is it my highest risk? Then what am I going to do to mitigate those risks?
[15:16] Through our solution sets, we even have devices that monitor pressure and flow for gas utilities that can report that information back in. Over‑pressurized mains is a big topic and a big focus for us. Well, that data can feed back in from the same platform, and then you can do all your data collection.
[15:41] I still think of that as a data collection, you’re gathering data from the field. Then the day they can come back in and we can utilize other toolsets that we have, that feed this ecosystem. If we think about the routine inspections, even maintenance activities, to me that’s part of compliance.
[16:00] What I’ve seen is there are all these different pieces and parts to this ecosystem. What we’re working towards is this ecosystem that still has those pieces and parts, but it’s covered under one platform that allows you to do a lot of different things, instead of…This is my favorite example.
[16:19] Most of the utilities, in the gas set that we talked to, will have in the neighborhood of five to six mobile solutions, and generally, one of those is specifically survey. All you do is survey with this what we might do a little bit of corrosion with it. Now you have resources that are supporting these multiple mobile solutions. What if you could do it all at once.
[16:42] You don’t have to, and everybody’s got their eggs in different baskets, and that’s cool, but having this ability to have this communication and bridge all of these other solution sets together…I talked a little bit about asset management, work management. In the utility world, we work through work orders.
[17:00] You can call them work orders, service orders, work ticket, work project, whatever, but it’s the same concept. There’s a system that creates that work order, and being able to consume, digest, and disseminate that information to the field, is huge.
[17:15] That’s really where we come into this ecosystem, is being able to offer up a solution that can be modular. Maybe you only want it for leak survey, that’s cool, but it can do all of these other things. It can handle all of your field activities, and then also take that data, and you can start to be active with it.
[17:35] We talk about it as a system of action, because ultimately that’s what we want, and the gas space we want to be…We don’t want to be reacting, we want to be proactive, and the way we can do that is by gathering better data in the field, so that we make better decisions based off of better analysis, based on that better data, so it becomes a system of action.
[17:57] I’ve got that together or is there still loose ends?
Jim: [18:00] No. James, I know where your mind is going, I know you, brother, and I’m telling you, the passion that is bleeding out from Mark and all this, is invigorating.
James: [18:13] I love the finishing that with the proactive stance. We talk about that all the time. Unfortunately, our industry, years and years back, we weren’t as proactive.
[18:28] Big operators, big contractors, a lot of us that are on the service side of it are looking at ways to really provide solutions that put us in a proactive state across the industry. Hearing that from you, Mark, and you guys, being a leader, obviously, in what you’re doing, that’s what we like to hear.
[18:49] But, Mark, I’m going to ask you a question. I want you to think about our industry, your role, Trimble’s role, all of us. You love what you do, Mark?
Mark: [19:06] I do, immensely.
James: [19:08] Why? Why? [laughs]
Mark: [19:16] I’m going to be a bit long‑winded here.
James: [19:19] We would expect no different after today.
Mark: [19:22] [laughs] I came from the field. I did GPS. I’ve been doing this line of work, GPS…We’ll start at the top, utilities, GPS, GIS, in that order, but I started as a field data technician, whatever that meant then.
[19:38] I did GPS data collection for utilities that are all over the country, South Florida…My brains are all over the swamps of Florida, and even in Texas. My brains are all over the whole country. I spent a good bit of time, about a year and a half, in parts of Austin and San Antonio, Texas, doing data collection. I’ve done it in Alaska.
[20:02] There’s not many states I haven’t touched in that realm. One of the things that I started doing was I became responsible for GPS product sales and training for our customers, so what I would do is I would go through a series of questions. I was diagnosing what it is they wanted to accomplish, but I wasn’t feeling it, man. I’m not a sales guy, right?
[20:27] Fast forward, I got into the sales aspect of it, and I had a mentor who used to tell me lies. “No, no, you’re not in sales, you’re not in sales,” but in fact, I was. We were Trimble business partners, and I sold the Trimble product, I had to train on it, and then any implementations I had to do, where I had to partner with other organizations.
[20:48] Luckily one of my best skill sets is networking, so I had those contacts to do those other things. What I learned was I really enjoyed diagnosing. I’m really good at asking questions, and I love doing it, but I think the bigger thing is I love helping people. That’s really the thing for me.
[21:08] If I don’t believe in a product or a tool, it’s really hard for me to try to sell you on it, because why am I going to sell you on something I don’t even like myself? Now, if I believe in the product, I use the product, I buy the product myself, or in Trimble’s case, I would, [laughs] then it becomes an easier scenario.
[21:27] I also knew the ins and outs, I knew the field side of the work, because even today, if I’m doing a training, which, I am in sales, but I also do trainings. Giving somebody a GPS, even if it’s on a phone, and the solution set, that’s not the same as giving them a shovel.
[21:48] You give somebody a shovel, and will know how deep, how wide. You give somebody a GPS tool, with the software on it, now you need to get some troubleshooting, because GPS is man‑made, we tend to forget that.
[21:58] It’s like the Internet, as an example. You go without the Internet for two days, four days, you’re questioning whether water is more important, or the Internet, because we stream now, we don’t have cable. That means we don’t have TV.
[22:16] The point there is, I like working with people, and when I got involved in the gas industry seven, eight years ago, I quite literally fell in love.
[22:27] I’m what they call an opportunist. I’m really good at identifying opportunities, and Trimble’s in business to make money, let’s make no mistake about that, but at the end of the day, it was about learning, and I learn something every day, I love it.
[22:42] If I had to go back to the electric side, no offense any electric people out there, it would be like pulling teeth. I have really fallen in love with the natural gas side of the business. I’ve taken that same passion for educating myself, learning, and then trying to get Trimble in a position, from my division, to help bridge these technological gaps that we know that exist.
[23:08] So many times it’s “Well, that costs something, that costs something.” Not really. Cost says I get nothing back. [inaudible] , when you have an investment, now you’re getting something back, and I would argue with anybody, and I believe I’d be successful in this, if you buy GPS technology, it’s not costing you something.
[23:27] You’re going to get a return on it based on one incident at two o’clock in the morning, on Christmas Eve. That scenario right there pays for itself tenfold.
Mark: [23:36] [inaudible] an answer.
Jim: [23:41] You know what? I might need another coffee after that. I knew, though, I’ve known Mark for years, and that’s my favorite question we ask at every episode, “Do you love what you do?” As I was trembling ‑‑ or trimbling ‑‑ with anticipation…
James: [23:58] Ruined it.
Jim: [23:59] I had it set in my mind, what that was going to be about. Mark, you hit on some things that absolutely resonate with James and I, and the industry. Relationships, networking…
[24:10] A lot of times we don’t sell in the industry, we educate, and when we can educate people on a good process, a safe process, to help our industry be safer, the return is…Like you said, one incident, or if we can change one person to be safer one day, and that goes to another person and another person, we’re doing the right things.
James: [24:31] I do want to add one last thing, and that is that even though Mark hates the electric side of the business now…
James: [24:44] the show Coffee with Jim & James totally does not feel that way, and Mark does not represent us. No, I’m just kidding.
James: [24:53] Hopefully, things continue down this path. Knowing Trimble, they’ll probably buy all the electric in the entire world or something, and you guys will be on that side of the business too. Mark, you’ve been an awesome guest. Jim, I’ll let you do a corny outro if you want to.
Jim: [25:11] Why not? The highlight of my day is doing something corny.
Jim: [25:15] Mark, again, we’re all friends. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. We appreciate it. I think we absolutely shared some critical information for our audience to understand your world a little bit better, understand Trimble, understand all the values that you bring to our industries.
[25:33] When I hear your name, when I see your presentations, I think of safety as the cornerstone to everything that you folks do, you want our people, our industry to be safer. We can’t thank you enough for that, truly.
[25:47] I’ll encourage all of our audience to please connect with Mark. He’s a great guy. As you can see he loves to talk, so if you have any questions about his and his world, do connect with him. Follow Trimble, they’re a great company. Do all those things, and if you’re not following James and I, come on, hit that connect button, and we’ll connect.
[26:08] Until next week, on behalf of these two nerds and a guy that just likes to be goofy, we thank you so much. God bless you. God bless our industry. Stay safe, and we’ll see you on the next episode of Coffee with Jim & James powered by Energy Worldnet. Take care.
James: [26:25] Thanks, Mark.
Mark: [26:27] Thanks, guys. Be good, be safe.
Jim: [26:29] You could say anything else or we’re done, I think, right, James? We’re good?
James: [26:34] Yeah, we’re good.