The term closest competitors could have been coined for Xplore Technologies and Motion Computing. Whilst they both competed in the niche market place of rugged computing, physically they were even closer - both being based on the same stretch of...
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The term closest competitors could have been coined for Xplore Technologies and Motion Computing. Whilst they both competed in the niche market place of rugged computing, physically they were even closer - both being based on the same stretch of road in Texas. So it was almost inevitable that the two would eventually merge, which they did in April 2015 - making them the world’s 2nd largest manufacturer of rugged tablets overnight.
But when something is inevitable it doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Kris Oldland spoke exclusively to Mark Holleran COO, Xplore Technologies to find out more about the recent past, the present and the near future of the Texan Rugged Specialists.
It is testament to Holleran’s hands on approach to managing Xplore Technologies and his resulting busy diary that it has taken the best part of three months of diary juggling on both sides of the Atlantic before we are finally able to schedule a call that actually worked for this interview.
With this in mind, ahead of the call I was expecting it to perhaps be a somewhat hurried affair, with Holleran spouting off some pre-scripted soundbites that most CEOs seem to usually have to hand - particularly when being questioned about M&A activity. Generic quotes about mutual respect, optimistic futures and grandiose visions of world domination that to put it politely aren’t never quite in tune with reality.
Fortunately, it turns out my instincts were wrong.
Whether it was a result of the legendary friendly nature of Texans so often commented on, Holleran’s genuine passion for his company and the industry at large (he has been with Xplore for over 13 years and in the tech space for over 30) or as is more likely a combination of both factors, Holleran proved to be both engaging and insightful during the hour and a bit that we spoke.
Indeed, he was not only prepared to take the time to answer the questions put to him with thoughtful and reasoned responses, but also with a level of straight honesty that is all too often missing in trade journal interviews today.
Often, the real insight within an interviewee’s responses can get buried under wave after wave of hyperbole and over exaggeration that often needs to be translated back from marketingspeak.
At the same time it seems that many trade journalists are frightened to ask anything too probing these days in case it upsets any commercial relationships.
It does of course help when the story is as compelling as Xplore’s acquisition of Motion which suddenly catapulted them to being the world’s second largest manufacturer of rugged tablets, seemingly almost overnight.
Fortunately in Holleran, it seemed I had discovered a kindred spirit in someone that believes in the virtues of just saying it as it is and letting the story speak for itself.
That said, it does of course help when the story is as compelling as Xplore’s acquisition of Motion which suddenly catapulted them to being the world’s second largest manufacturer of rugged tablets, seemingly almost overnight.
As mentioned above the prospect of Xplore and Motion coming together at some point had a certain sense of inevitability about it.
However, most analysts would have predicted it would have been Motion who acquired Xplore rather than the other way around and the speed of Xplore’s acquisition of their rivals from up the road certainly took a few in the industry by surprise.
“I think Motion was foreclosed on Friday, on the Monday we bought the assets and the next Friday we had a BBQ where there was 53 people all together” Holleran explains when we discuss the speed at which everything was completed.
Indeed, the shared culture of the two companies that were literally based on the same road in Texas, was already firmly in place well before the acquisition happened.
Holleran recounts how at that inaugural group BBQ one very astute individual asked all those who had previously worked for both companies to stand up - about 40 people did so.
In fact, there had already been previous conversations about bringing the two companies together as Holleran explained.
“It was originally the Motion founders that approached Xplore, but my predecessor wasn’t receptive to that, we did talk and in the end we did try and help each other.”
“For me, did I think we would we eventually work out something – yes I’d like to think so. Then we took the opportunity when it came around and fortunately for us we were in the better financial health - so it was us who acquired them,” he adds.
We saw a unique opportunity to acquire an asset that was very complimentary, their products are 100% complimentary to ours.
As Holleran explains “If you look at Xplore’s history we were in the Ultra Rugged tablets space, we made the most rugged PC in the world. Then about five years ago we decided to enter to the fully rugged space but we didn’t really compete with Motion, who would have been in what we viewed as the semi-rugged space. So we saw a unique opportunity to acquire an asset that was very complimentary, their products are 100% complimentary to ours. Their channel was also very complimentary with around 80-90%, distribution which was also something they did which we didn’t do, They were working on a dual tier model and we were working on a single tier model,” he adds.
Basically, what Xplore did well, Motion was weaker at and vice versa and this also translated into vertical and geographical exposure.
“Some major companies and customers are now embracing our products more because Motion was number three in the market and we’ve got over 20 years experience,” Holleran asserts before making the bold, yet perfectly valid statement that with Motion and their product range brought into the Xplore fold they now “have the god given right now to expect to be on every major rugged tablet RFP.”
At this point we do need to address the elephant in the room. Namely the fact that the reason Xplore was able to acquire their bigger competitor was largely due to the fact that Motion had suffered from issues in the supply chain, that ultimately led to financial challenges.
Was this an issue that was now fully resolved?
“There are always issues in the supply chain but if you understand that and you work closely in the supply chain they can be overcome,” insists Holleran.
“Myself, I travel to Taipei once a quarter. And don’t forget we’ve been doing this longer than anyone else. We were there 14/15 years ago so we understand their culture and their history, we have long standing relationships over there and we have an excellent reputation there,” he adds.
Yet, supply chain challenges are not the only potential threats to the ongoing success of Xplore Technologies. Is the rugged tablet market itself in a healthy position?
I would say that basic physics says that you cannot build a notebook or a 2-in1 device as rugged as a tablet
I was keen to get Holleran’s opinion on products such as the Panasonic CF-20 - a fully rugged detachable that offers the dual benefit of being both a laptop and tablet at the same time. Will we ever see a similar device from the Xplore team?
“We never say never but our speciality and history is in tablets and we consider ourselves the world experts on rugged tablets – we’ve been doing it for twenty years which is longer than Panasonic has,“ he replies when I put the question to him.
“We’re investigating that area – but I would say that basic physics says that you cannot build a notebook or a 2-in1 device as rugged as a tablet”
“It all depends on your needs – if you're really keyboard centric and data intensive then a 2-in-1 is for you, but as soon as you put a keyboard onto a device it is not a truly mobile device to use. You can carry it, but you can’t just pull it up within one hand and then use it, that’s only the function of a tablet. So if you need mobility, if you need to have one hand free to keep other things working – then you really do need a tablet,” he added.
Of course, another threat to rugged manufacturers is that of the consumer OEMs.
In the past the argument from rugged manufacturers was a fairly straight forward one. If you worked in an environment where your tablet could get a bit wet or accidentally knocked about then you really needed to go with something rugged.
However, with consumer manufacturers releasing products that are themselves becoming more rugged such as recent Samsung products being IP68 certified - are the lines between business-rugged, semi-rugged and rugged all blurring somewhat? If so why should we invest in devices from specialist rugged manufacturers such as Xplore?
Our market is not inside an office or going out occasionally. Our market is in nasty plants, outside, with rain, sleet, snow, hot, cold, vibrations from vehicles
“If you are looking at an IP rating, which means it is protected against dust and water that’s one thing, but you can’t use these devices in extreme temperatures, you can’t see them in the bright sun, you still can’t drop these devices,” he adds.
“There is a need for different types of devices but those devices are not enterprise class PCs. They’re basically for reading your emails, watching a video or game – if you want them for doing a dispatch, accessing your ERP or picking system for example then no – they’re not going to run.”
“Our market is not inside an office or going out occasionally. Our market is in nasty plants, outside, with rain, sleet, snow, hot, cold, vibrations from vehicles. So if anything we see it [competition from consumer brands] as good for us as it lends more credibility to the need for fully rugged devices.”
“It gives some people a better understanding of the fact that in different environments you’ll need different types of ruggedization and there are considerable degrees of ruggedization. There are different needs for different people of course.”
“We’ve seen people trying some of these consumer products, putting rugged cases around them and trying them. We’ve seen them do that and now they’re not.”
“Basically it’s simple – when the product is a tool for your job, in other words if your computer is not working then you cannot do your job – then you really need a rugged device. If you’ve got your dispatch system, your inventory systems, your schedule, your maps, your components then if that computer is not working you can’t do your job – so people in that scenario want a rugged device that’s going to last.”
“Our marketing strategy is quality; our products exceed our customer’s specs.”
“If you want a product that can stay in the field for three or four years, then you need a rugged device, you can’t put an enterprise device in – it just won’t last,” he concludes.
What about the sometimes mooted concept of just having a rack of pre-loaded cheap tablets, so when one device fails an engineer can just pick up a new one from HQ?
“The problem with this idea problem is how do you get to all your data?” Holleran retorts.
“If your computer breaks, that data has then got to be put on a new computer and then you have to make sure that the new computer has all the security protocols etc, so your talking about days - maybe even a week if there is a backlog. A week where nothing happens and a guy can’t work? Do they just get an extra vacation whilst you lose money?” He asks.
From our conversation it seemed clear to me that Holleran not only has a strong depth of knowledge about his own market and the wider sectors he operates in, but also has similar depth of knowledge in understanding his customers needs and their workflows. I was keen to discuss this further so asked him how prevalent was such knowledge of their customer’s workflows across the company and was this ingrained into the success of Xplore to date.
“That is very important to us – Xplore is very much a customer centric company,” he begins.
“We will even put features into a product for the customer if required. For example, in our Rugged Android D10 we have HDMI-in port which allows it to work as a Telco testing device. So yes, that is one of our core competencies, it’s critical to the company and is a foundation which the business has been built upon.“
Indeed, it seems that the future for Xplore Technologies is well plotted and in Holleran they have a leader who has a clear understanding of where their strengths lie and how they can leverage those to best serve the markets they operate within.
“We still have new products under development the XSLATE will be the brand. We will continue to be a premium supplier with innovative technology; we have some new innovations under development,” he asserts.
“We intend to be the world’s expert authority on rugged tablets and peripherals attached to that. I tell people if you really want to buy a rugged notebook go buy Panasonic.”
“If you want to buy a rugged tablet come to Xplore – that’s what we do and we are the world's best at it.”
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Mar 06, 2017 • Features • Aston Centre for Servitization Research and Practi • copperberg • Cranfield University • FSN20 • Future of FIeld Service • Jonathan Massoud • Mark Brewer • Mark Holleran • WBR • Xplore Technologies • Bill Pollock • Dr John Erkoyuncu • field service • field service europe • Field Service Forum • Field Service Medical • Field Service Summit • Field Service USA • IFS • Strategies for GrowthSM • sumair dutta • The Service Council • Thosas Igou • tim baines
Who are the most influential people in the global field service sector that you need to pay attention to in 2017?
Who are the most influential people in the global field service sector that you need to pay attention to in 2017?
The Field Service News #FSN20 is our list of the individuals we believe will be key influencers in our industry across the next twelve months. Those included in the list have been selected by our own panel of industry insiders, who were given the simple criteria of identifying people who will have a significant impact on field service thinking.
However, more than just an annual list of 20 individuals the #FSN20 has grown since it’s launch to become a true celebration of excellence and innovation within our industry.
There are some familiar names and some new faces on this years list and as always we don’t expect everyone to agree with our selection - at it’s heart the #FSN20 was conceived as a tool to get everyone in our industry thinking about who it is that they have come across in the global field service sector that has made them think, who has made them question the accepted paradigms, who has inspired them to do just one little thing more in their own day to day role.
The #FSN20 is not just about the list our panel has put together. It is about fostering discussion that celebrates the unsung heroes of the field service sector. So look out for the online version of this list as well to take part in the debate.
But for now, ladies and gentleman and without further a do, in no particular order, we are pleased to introduce the #FSN20 of 2017...
Mark Brewer, Global Industry Director - Service Management
The message from the IFS hierarchy was loud and clear when they held their last World Conference in Gothenburg towards the end of last year. Field Service was a key priority moving forward and their new owners EQT had every intention of pushing the Swedish company to keep doing what has made them a well respected brand within manufacturing and field service management circles - but do it bigger, better and to get to there faster.
Having taken the reigns of the service management division globally Brewer is set to figure prominently in the industry across the next twelve months.
Professor Tim Baines, Group Director of the Aston Centre for Servitization Research and Practice
Baines retains his place on this years list and is perhaps he one person that has appeared multiple times on the list whose entry becomes even more deserved each year.
Baines has been at the centre of the servitization movement for as long as anyone and although many of his peers such as Neely and Lightfoot should share equal status for being the Godfathers of Servitization, it is fair to say that Baines’ work as a leading proponent of the servitization movement is as unparalleled as it is inexhaustible. The Aston Spring Servitization Conference which is the show-piece of the Aston Centre for Research and Practice continues to grow in terms of both audience and importance each year and it’s location in Lucerne, Switzerland this year is a testament to it’s growing status on the international industrial map. Whilst Baines’ would humbly point to the great team he has working with him at Aston, his role in the global shift towards servitization simply cannot be overlooked.
Bill Pollock, President and Principal Consultant, Strategies for GrowthSM
Another that has been ever present on the #FSN20 since it’s inception and someone who is likely to remain on the list until the day comes where he retires, which given Pollock’s passion for the industry and seemingly eternal youth may won’t be any time soon!
Pollock is not only still a key commentator and analyst within our sector whose papers and features are not only widely read but also hugely respected, but he has been a mentor for a number of key figures within the global field service industry, including a number of other #FSN20 members, and also Field Service News’ own highly respected Editor-in-Chief, Kris Oldland.
However, Pollock’s inclusion on the #FSN20 isn’t just based on his past merits, his organisation Strategies for GrowthSM continues to provide some of the most detailed research and insightful analysis for the field service sector that is essential reading for any field service executives that wish to stay in touch with what is driving our industry forward.
Thomas Igou, Editorial Director, Copperberg
Igou has been integral to Copperberg’s continued success and growth in the European field service conference circuit, In fact with five industry focussed events now running across the continent that should be of interest to senior field service and aftermarket executives, Copperberg are firmly established central pillar within the European field service community, and Igou sits proudly at the heart of that. In his role as Editorial Director, Igou is responsible for making sure the key topics in the industry are raised and the leading thinkers within our space are given a voice.
A key influencer within our industry.
Mark Holleran, COO, Xplore Technologies
Under Holleran’s leadership Xplore Technologies acquired Motion Computing and became the 2nd largest manufacturer of rugged tablets in the world.
Holleran is a man who not only truly understands the different sectors his clients operate in but also who truly appreciates the importance of understanding his customers’ work-flows and therefore their technological needs.
A perfect case in point being the inclusion of a HDMI in on their XSLATE D10 rugged tablet, which makes it a perfect device for Telco and Pay TV engineers needing to test signals - which is exactly why it is there.
We don’t expect anything other than rugged tablets to be coming out of Xplore, but we do expect them to keep delivering best-in-class products in this form factor. As Holleran says “that’s what we do and we are the worlds best at it.
Dr John Erkoyuncu, Through-life Engineering Services Institute, Cranfield University
Erkoyuncu takes over from Professor Howard Lightfoot as a representative of Cranfield University in the #FSN20 this year, however it isn’t just a straight like for like swap. Whilst the two worked together at the Through Life Services Institute, Erkoyuncu’s place on this year list is based primarily around the work he is doing in both industrial maintenance simulation and also augmented reality, and as such we believe he will be a key commentator and influencer on our sector in the years to come.
Jonathan Massoud, Divisional Director & Market Analyst Field Service, WBR
Massoud’s role as Divisional Director at WBR puts him in control of a number of the industry’s key events including Field Service USA which is the jewel in the crown as the key point in the USA field service calender.
In addition to Field Service USA, WBR also run a number of important industry focussed events including Field Service Medical and Field Service Europe and in his role as Divisional Director Massoud is directly involved with each of the events and responsible for delivering industry leading content to keep field service professionals up to date with the key trends with in the industry. Massoud is also responsible for overseeing WBR’s research and a respected analyst within the sector
Sumair Dutta, Customer Satisfaction Officer, The Service Council
Chief Customer Officer for The Service Council™ Dutta is responsible for new member acquisition, member engagement, community expansion, as well as the development and expansion of TSC’s Smarter Services oriented research agenda and portfolio.
He is also heavily involved in The Service Council’s ability to provide service executives the ability to benchmark their operations and also provide guided insight to improve service organisation performance through dedicated research programs. Dutta also plays a key role in building out TSC’s community platform focused on becoming the single source of information and networking for service executives globally and is a prolific author on the matter of field service.
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The world's longest-establish rugged tablet PC maker, Xplore Technologies, has partnered with CLS America to launch the Thorium X, a first-in-class satellite communications tablet system based on the Xplore XSLATE D10 Android rugged tablet PC,...
The world's longest-establish rugged tablet PC maker, Xplore Technologies, has partnered with CLS America to launch the Thorium X, a first-in-class satellite communications tablet system based on the Xplore XSLATE D10 Android rugged tablet PC, meaning "off-the-grid" workers in the UK and Europe can maintain operations almost regardless.
Xplore has received an initial order from OEM customer CLS for 1,000 XSLATE D10 units and will fulfill follow-on orders as needed. It is now available in the UK and Europe.
Thorium X comes with the Thorium Application for immediate use of satellite email, weather, mapping and more. Thorium X also comes with a ThoriumWeb account, so users can log on and see their locations, the data moving through the system, electronic forms results, connected sensor values and a number of other features.
Thorium X is priced at $2,299.00 (satellite and Wifi) and $2,499.00 with cellular. There is a range of satellite service packages available, starting at $20 per month plus usage charges.
We know that communications challenges in places or during times when no cellular or WiFi is available costs global industries and governments millions of dollars.Thorium X now allows people to stay connected via satellite 100% of the time
The Intel-powered Thorium X features an integrated Iridium Short Burst Data (SBD) modem and flexible satellite antenna that significantly expands the reliability, speed, and cost-effectiveness of mobile communications. As a result, users will be able to maintain continuity in their professional activities from any remote location around the globe – and most likely at a lower cost than most cellular data plans.
Michael Kelly of CLS America said: “We know that communications challenges in places or during times when no cellular or WiFi is available costs global industries and governments millions of dollars.Thorium X now allows people to stay connected via satellite 100% of the time, and at a fraction of the cost of satellite phones.”
In fact, Thorium X users will have the unprecedented ability to access email, view statistical reports of missions, engage in M2M communication and monitoring, and send electronic forms – among other critical tasks – via satellite in real time. A bright, 10.1” outdoor viewable screen and Glove Touch capabilities make it easy to conduct secure, TPM 1.2-protected transactions day or not, even in inclement weather. Thorium X software solutions are also available as a tablet app and desktop platform to securely facilitate mapping functions, deliver weather reports, and perform data compilation and transmissions in real-time via the rugged satellite tablet.
Michael Kelly added: “The launch of Thorium X means that users no longer have to rely solely on WiFi or cellular network connections. This is a huge win for people and teams who work in remote areas, or during times that other communications have been compromised, especially those supporting global operations related to emergency management, military, environmental monitoring, government, fisheries, and other field-centric industries."