GoReport/RICS survey highlights data privacy concerns

A GoReport/RICS proptech survey found industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary, with privacy and ethical use of data seen as the biggest challenge to wider adoption.

GoReport logo 2018A proptech survey carried out by Belfast-based mobile survey technology vendor GoReport has found that industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary.

The survey (conducted in partnership with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and The Survey Association) gathered responses from 476 people, 95% of whom were based in the UK and Ireland, 75%  of whom were RICS members (65% of them being building surveyors). Just over two-thirds (68%) said they were users of proptech (quite widely “defined as all aspects of innovation and how this impacts the built environment… software, hardware, materials or manufacturing”)

Variable proptech adoption

The survey showed almost universal (98%) recognition of the digitisation opportunity, but adoption of proptech varied. Ranking themselves on a 10-point scale, 20%  were at 1 (no adoption); a further 36% ranked themselves from 2 to 5; 4% ranked said they had fully adopted proptech. Just over half (53% had a digital strategy) – about the same number (52%) as said they had a good understanding of proptech; 39% of organisations had not invested heavily in proptech or relevant training, but 48% felt they had the necessary skills and expertise to fully embrace proptech.

Lack of training/knowledge topped the list of challenges to adoption of proptech. However, content with traditional methods (39%) and fear of change (33%) both figured, alongside usual industry concerns about time and costs and about the return-on-investment and potential benefits.

PropTech barriers (source: GoReport)

Asked about the major challenges facing the sector and its increased reliance on data, privacy and ethical use of data was seen as the biggest challenge (45%), followed by data ownership issues (38%). Less challenging were silo-based data (33%) and issues with access to data (37%).

COVID-19 driving technology use

GoReport executive chairman, David Bell commented:

“Since the last survey in 2018, surveyors are seeing a greater impact of technology on their business and many are actively embracing the opportunity to drive efficiency, service improvements and to make more informed decisions.

“In the current climate, now more than ever we are witnessing the true value of technology and the benefits of digitisation as surveyors look to find smarter and more flexible ways of working. A continuation on this journey will enable the profession to be more resilient to deliver services to clients. The survey highlights the importance of increased information and training required for successful integration of technology into everyday working practices and the need to adopt a customer-centric flexible approach.”

For many people, the pandemic has compelled people to make greater use of technology in their private and work lives. The next chapter will be interesting to see how surveyors use digitisation to support the profession.

GoReport - Anthony Walker, CEO of GoReport (Nov 2018)GoReport CEO since 2018 (post), Anthony Walker, Technology Survey lead, RICS UK and Ireland Board member (right) said:

“Over the last two years the pace of technological change that is powering the digitisation of the built environment has continued to increase, requiring us to think strategically about how we deploy our expertise and resource. Surveyors need to be positioned centrally to add credibility to bridge between the technology sector and the surveying profession to ensure that technology is an enabler to augment their knowledge, skills, expertise and reflective thought. Technological is no longer an optional extra – without it surveyors will struggle to compete, be productive and add maximum client value.”

The report is available to download here, and, interestingly, GoReport has also provided an interactive Business Intelligence Dashboard.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/goreport-rics-highlights-data-privacy-concerns/

Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365

In April 2020, Bentley Systems announced it had opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service, including waiving subscription fees until 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extranet Evolution talked to Bentley and to a US customer about how ProjectWise 365 has helped keep projects going.

Bentley logo 2017ProjectWise 365 was announced in October 2018 at Bentley Systems’ Year In Infrastructure conference in London (read: Bentley ProjectWise365 extends Microsoft integration), extending the connectivity between Bentley’s collaborative workhorse ProjectWise and Microsoft’s 365 technology and office productivity tools. A year later, Bentley announced it would be targeting small-to-medium-sized businesses with this ProjectWise 365 offering (Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs).

Projectwise 365This pre-configured “instant-on, web-based” ProjectWise 365 solution has now been made generally available. It complements the enterprise-level ProjectWise Design Integration (DI) platform used — often on-premise — for work sharing by 74 of the ENR Top 100 Design Firms, said Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s VP, project delivery. With remote project working now widely enforced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such ProjectWise DI users said the platform helped “sustain their project productivity over the forced transition to work from home,” Parkman continued.

“Now, by broadly and immediately opening up access to our new simplified ProjectWise 365 cloud service, we’re extending ProjectWise advantages in collaboration and design review to infrastructure engineering project teams at every scale. By fully ‘digitally’ enabling every infrastructure professional, we hope to support their resilience in surmounting this crisis.”

A US-based user, Gregory J. Ellwanger, a project engineer for BLA, Inc. said:

“The present work-from-home conditions and coordination with multiple parties highlight how critical it is to our business and our role as prime consultant on projects, that our project teams always stay connected and productive. ProjectWise 365 cloud services enable us to rapidly deploy a common BIM collaboration environment that avoids the data silos, coordination delays, and the other limitations we’ve experienced while using network drives, file-sharing services, and email. ProjectWise 365 allows us to coordinate designs more quickly and reduce risk in contractual exchanges, regardless of the location of project participants, adding resilience to our design practice and increasing our ability to deliver high-quality projects on schedule.”

ProjectWise 365 uptake

Dustin Parkman - BentleyParkman told me ProjectWise 365, as a purely cloud-based solution hosted by Microsoft Azure, is good for small work groups, with none of the barriers that hamper enterprise IT deployments:

“It can start at the work group level or in small projects, where there may be just 10-15 people coordinating work, managing RFIs and other deliverables, and teams can get started in hours, not days. Our web services include review tools unique to ProjectWise 365, including markups on both 2D drawings or in models via our iTwin Designer view, on any device. And particularly on linear transportation projects, having geospatial context makes it easier to coordinate and review information.”

Since ProjectWise 365 became generally available, Parkman said there had been “incredible take-up” in just two weeks, with customers signing up across Bentley’s markets in southeast Asia, Australasia, Europe and north America, plus Latin America and India.

Coping with COVID-19 – Bentley perspective

Around 500 new organisations had signed up, predominantly mid-sized engineering companies, Parkman said. Many customers were replacing generic file-sharing services such as DropBox and SharePoint with the more secure ProjectWise 365 toolset. Some existing Bentley ProjectWise DI customers were also adopting the 365 solution for new projects, or because they wanted its BIM model coordination capabilities (Utah’s Department of Transport was mentioned).

Parkman said the COVID-19 impacts on construction clients and their projects had varied across the US, but many were focused on trying to minimise the impacts on the traditional Spring-Summer construction season, creating a massive appetite for remote working. There was also a strong focus on site-based health and safety:

“We want to do same work as before without being in physical contact. By integrating with the Microsoft Teams platform, ProjectWise 365 can help with design coordination, design sharing, markups and reviews, etc. We are doing more digitally, less manually.”

ProjectWise 365 - Design Review Screenshot

Coping with COVID-19 – a contractor view

I was also able to put some questions to Blaine Buenger, technology manager at US firm Foth about the impacts of COVID on its operations. Buenger gave a detailed insight into the realities of mobilising to support remote working:

Blaine Buenger (Foth)“Foth’s infrastructure team for the most part hasn’t skipped a beat during the pandemic. We are fortunate that infrastructure and IT leadership teams have designed and implemented a versatile and robust technology solution to support our geographically diverse workforce. Mobile CAD workstations, cloud technology, VPN and RDP solutions, mobile Riverbed WAN optimization, Microsoft Teams and Skype collaboration solutions, and various document management solutions all play key roles in keeping everyone securely connected to each other and to their work, all while staying efficient and productive.

“Our office workers have taken docking stations and monitors home to pair with their laptops and try their best to recreate their office environments at home.  Of course we still have to deal with a few challenges with home environments like kid’s schedules, home internet speeds, and supporting ergonomic home office setups, but we are doing our best to be flexible and keep the same level of support.

“Our field workers are basically business as usual, with the exception of new social distancing best practices.  Construction and geospatial activities for our infrastructure teams have seen little disruption in day-to-day work….

“Project delivery hasn’t been disrupted other than changing priorities from our clients.  Some clients are choosing to replace construction projects with design projects in order to prepare for a pending influx of federal funds.  Other clients are doing the opposite and ramping up construction while travel is down to work quicker and safer.  Aviation clients are taking advantage of historically low passenger air travel and choosing to divert projects to heavy traffic areas in their terminals.”

How did Bentley help Foth mitigate the impacts?

Foth logo“Bentley solutions have helped our successful transition to a primarily work from home environment. We owe a lot of that success to ProjectWise. Foth runs a hybrid on-premise and cloud ProjectWise setup.  The top three advantages that ProjectWise provides Foth in a distributed environment are:

      • Data integrity – all of our members are connected to the same project documents. We are not wasting our time uploading files to FTPs, emailing or transferring files, or operating at risk working in isolation on local drives.  All of these operations waste time and introduce risks of overwriting files and creating rework.
      • Efficient speed – a perfect combination of delta file transfer technology, ProjectWise’s ability to coexist and excel working with Riverbed WAN optimization, and most importantly – delivery of multiple sets of CAD standards efficiently by using ProjectWise managed workspaces, are the recipe for speed and successful project delivery.
      • Security – ProjectWise is kept secure using industry standard solutions such as Cisco AnyConnect VPN client and Microsoft Azure.”

And on what kinds of projects is ProjectWise 365 being used?

“Foth’s infrastructure team got its start using ProjectWise 365 services for construction activities on one of the largest site development projects in the U.S. – Foxconn’s new industrial facilities in SE Wisconsin.  We chose Forms as the first tool to setup and start using.  We are thankful we did, as it’s helped tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.  Construction staff can collect data and fill out forms in real time on their iPads, then publish data to the ProjectWise cloud project, thus allowing project managers and clients access to review progress, monitor issues, and submit regulatory forms all while working remotely.  We have effectively eliminated the need for exchanging paper for several types of forms using ProjectWise 365 Forms services.”

Bentley’s collaborative portfolio

GroupBCFinally, following Bentley’s acquisition of SYNCHRO (Bentley goes 4D, buys SYNCHRO), Parkman said the ProjectWise range will be expanded to include more construction-related capability, and he also briefly mentioned the March 2020 acquisition of another UK vendor GroupBC (Bentley buys GroupBC):

“ProjectWise is a powerful tool for design engineering team information management; the GroupBC platform gives strong owner-focused programme management, and both are complemented by SYNCHRO’s contractor-oriented construction operations capabilities. We now powerfully support the whole planning to design to execution to owner to digital estate data capture cycle.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/coping-covid-19-bentley-projectwise-365/

Novade to expand smart field management

Singapore-based Novade, a developer of smart field management applications for the architecture, engineering and construction industry, recently completed a Series B capital investment round.

Novade logoNovade, a Singapore-based developer of smart field management applications for the architecture, engineering and construction industry, recently (15 April 2020) announced the completion of a Series B capital investment round (value not given).

Lead investors were SIG and Vulcan Capital, while Wavemaker Partners (who led Novade’s Series A round in late 2018 with Enterprise Singapore) also participated. Novade will use the latest funds to accelerate its global expansion and market penetration in Europe, China and Japan, as well as step up engagement with the leading global firms in the industry. A London office has recently been established, headed by Tejas Thomas, who has relocated from Singapore.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Dennis Branthonne and serial entrepreneur Eugene Low, Novade is headquartered in Singapore, and also has offices in Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, plus an office in Paris. In November 2019, I talked to the company’s Rob Zasadzki (ANZ country manager) about its software.
Novade modules

Novade functionality

Zasadzki described Novade as a mobile-first application (“Novade started on smartphones then went to the web, not vice versa“) aimed at field personnel managing critical processes. Quality controls, safety inspections, task coordination, production reports, workforce management and equipment maintenance are all digitised and automated on the Novade platform. Importantly, particularly in a sector increasingly embracing offsite construction, Zasadzki also described how Novade was being used to track component quality in factory-type environments, with data additionally captured through construction, handover and commissioning, and into operations, maintenance and repair.

Novade InsightsDepending on the tasks and on the mobile device (Novade apps are available for Apple iOS and Google Android; data is hosted in Microsoft Azure facilities), the toolset includes QR code recognition, near-field communication (NFC), image annotation, forms, digital markup (Novade is not a drawing revision management tool, Zasadzki stressed) and digital signatures. The core field modules — Quality, Safety, Logistics, Maintenance, Workforce, Activity — are also supported by strong geo-location services. Depending on the type of project, locations can be tracked in hierarchies (suburb, block, street, number, level, unit) or by chainage for linear civil engineering projects. Data was also being captured for use by project teams using 4D building information modelling (BIM) to support progress reporting, augmenting the data captured in project management tools and so-called common data environment (CDE) platforms. Field-captured data can also be summarised and reported upon via the Novade Insights business intelligence module.

In five years, the user base of Novade grew to over 50,000, working for 200 clients. The solution has been used extensively on residential developments for clients including Capita Land, Frasers, MQDC, and City Developments. Contractor customers include Eiffage, Bouygues, Obayashi and Gammon; civil engineering works have also been managed by customers including EDF and Spie, while the UK’s Wood Group Industrial Services (acquired by Germany’s Kaefer group in February 2020) has also been using Novade for industrial projects. Over 20m records have been captured using the Novade platform.

Technology, AI investment and COVID-19

With the new funding, Novade also plans to increase its investments in technology and AI capabilities. Leveraging the millions of records collected across sites, clients can optimise operations or identify potential issues ahead of time with machine learning algorithms. “The additional funds will support our mission to elevate onsite performance through technology,” said Branthonne. “In the current global context, improving quality, productivity and safety is more important than ever.”

With onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, managing health and safety on construction sites is paramount for employees, companies and governments. In March, Novade launched new functionalities that enable rigorous implementation of health monitoring procedures on sites. “We are working with our existing clients to help them maintain or restart operations when the situation improves and are absolutely committed to supporting our clients during these difficult times,” added Bruno Suard, general manager EMEA.

Business development director Pierre Megret expanded on use of Novade to manage COVID-19 precautions:

“We are able to centralise the monitoring and enforcement of health and safety procedures using our mobile application, making it a more contact-less process. Companies can also use the captured data to show they are constantly applying the latest measures on site. And this may well be a long-term requirement: even after the peak is passed, construction sites will need to maintain safe operating procedures for a long time to help avoid new infections.”

The competitive space

Novade enters an already crowded market populated initially by solutions developed by various ‘web-first’ construction collaboration technology vendors, and then by ‘mobile-first’ vendors. The first group includes Autodesk and its Construction Cloud solutions, Bentley ProjectWise and its March 2020 acquisition GroupBC, Oracle Aconex, thinkproject, Trimble Viewpoint and Procore. The mobile-first grouping of field applications is internationally diverse and includes Europe’s Dalux, LetsBuild and FinalCAD, US-based Raken and Buildtools, and at least three Australian players: Envision, HammerTech, and APE Mobile – recently acquired by Damstra*).

This space is constantly evolving, with occasional mergers and acquisitions rationalising the market, only for new start-ups to emerge and try to disrupt their more established competitors. The ‘web-first’ group has also shifted from being primarily design-focused to managing and monitoring construction processes. That said, particularly for larger projects and larger enterprises, BIM capabilities will be key, as will capabilities leveraging data insights both from single projects and across multiple projects and programmes. Some industry customers are already starting to adopt ‘whole life’ approaches to their assets, so tools which can help them instantly assess the performance and efficiency of their supply chains, as well as the performance of the assets themselves, will deliver greater value.

* Melbourne-based Damstra Technology has appointed Aconex’s former chairman, Simon Yencken to its board ahead of its mooted float on the Australian Securities Exchange later this year, reports The Australian. The company raised A$9 million in a private funding in late 2018 to accelerate growth, and is planning to expand into the key north American market.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/novade-expand-smart-field-management/

thinkproject acquires New Zealand’s RAMM Software

Munich, Germany-based Software-as-a-Service construction technology provider thinkproject has acquired 100% of Auckland, New Zealand-based RAMM Software. RAMM is an established SaaS player in the Australasian market for highway asset management and operations, and the deal (no value given) will help thinkproject expand its reach to infrastructure clients and into the APAC region.

RAMM Software

thinkproject RAMMFounded in 1991 and based in Auckland, New Zealand with an additional office in Sydney, Australia, RAMM Software is a leader in asset, work, and field management cloud software to local governments, national authorities, consultants, and contractors throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. A 40-strong business, RAMM says its open and flexible architecture allows the expansion from the road maintenance and operations industries into other asset types in the near future. RAMM serves aroster of APAC clients, including New Zealand’s state-owned highway owner, the NZ Transport Agency, every local government council in New Zealand and all of their road maintenance suppliers, over 120 local governments in Australia, and the Fiji Roads Authority.

Deal rationale

Through this acquisition, thinkproject furthers its international expansion, already servicing clients in over 50 countries around the world. RAMM Software adds to thinkproject’s growing presence in the APAC region, following the opening of its Hong Kong office in 2018. Strategically, it says this deal is the next step in realising its vision of being a global leader in construction intelligence, enabling better industry results.

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)thinkproject CEO Gareth Burton says:

“We are very excited to add RAMM’s asset management products to our platform of solutions for the built environment as this strengthens our ‘Design in our platform, Build in our platform, and Operate in our platform’ promise to clients. The addition of the 40 strong RAMM team will bring even more industry and platform knowledge to our teams.”

Graeme NormanRAMM Software’s general manager, Graeme Norman, will continue with the company in the role of thinkproject regional manager for Australia and New Zealand. He says:

“Being brought into the thinkproject fold is an exciting time for us, because it will allow the Australasian team to continue developing the RAMM solution suite while also being able to leverage thinkproject’s suite of integrated SaaS solutions to meet existing and new client needs”.

The deal is thinkproject’s first in Australasia and its first outside Europe. Previous acquisitions have predominantly been in the group’s core market in mainland Europe, though it did acquire the UK-based construction contract change management specialist CEMAR in May 2018 (post) – a solution with a growing user base in the APAC region.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/thinkproject-acquires-new-zealands-ramm-software/

Evercam : site imagery, AI and BIM

Ireland’s Evercam monitors construction sites via IP cameras and is integrating live imagery with BIM and using AI to track site activities.

Evercam logoDublin, Ireland-based company Evercam provides cameras for construction sites to provide regular feeds of images that can also be used to create time-lapse and project management video sequences.

Established in 2010 by Marco Herbst and Vinnie Quinn, the company looked at various potential applications of high resolution IP (internet protocol) cameras (which are more resilient as long-term solutions than digital SLRs or GoPro-type devices). In 2016, a commission to support a Dublin contract for a student accommodation project highlighted opportunities in the construction sector, and since 2017, the business has been solely focused on supporting construction projects. “Main contractors, in particular, are interested in using cameras to support communications and collaboration, and to avoid disputes,” says Herbst. “These are a perfect fit for what we have built.”

Evercam’s clients now include several of Ireland’s leading main contractors (John Paul, Bam Ireland and Sisk, for example). Its cameras are being used on Ireland’s biggest healthcare project, the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin. And the firm has also been commissioned by several of Ireland’s high-tech industry clients including Google, Facebook, AirBnB, LinkedIn and Oracle.

Marco Herbst - EvercamCustomers pay a fixed monthly fee per camera per calendar month (currently £350/mth), plus an installation charge. Cameras may be mounted on adjacent buildings, on other site structures (sometimes alongside installations installed to monitor noise, dust and vibration), and on tower cranes (“Imagery covering groundworks often delivers the most value for the least investment,” says Herbst, right). They may also be installed inside buildings to show, for example, the fit-out of large spaces inside pharmaceutical facilities. On the Royal London Hospital project, Evercam has seven camera feeds covering both external and internal views.

Integrations

Cameras securely transmit imagery via the internet to  a cloud-computing storage facility in Frankfurt, Germany. “Our hosting is predominantly used for storage, and to host the software application that sits over the top,” says Herbst.  “Authorised users can then access their projects online through our web interface, or we can also embed Evercam into third-party solutions.” Another Dublin-based construction technology firm, Zutec (posts), was among the early adopters incorporating an Evercam feed into their interface, but Herbst says integration involves little more than cutting-and-pasting some code into the HTML of the destination web page, mentioning Procore and Viewpoint as platforms where Evercam imagery was already being shared on an “ad hoc” basis.

Imagery can be used for marketing videos – showing “before and afters”: the progress of construction from empty site to finished building, to do weekly updates or comparisons, or to produce videos of particular operations (the Evercam website case studies include the controlled demolition by explosion of power station cooling towers, for instance). It can also be used by professionals for project management, to plan work or highlight issues on site, and to provide digital evidence of the sequence of events leading to problems that might cause disputes.

AI and BIM applications of Evercam

Evercam’s development team is applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to extend the uses of the camera imagery and software. Using the AI image recognition tools, managers can, for example, monitor vehicle movements in and out of a site. On one project, Herbst showed me how the software captured time- and date- stamped images showing the arrival and departure of all large vehicles at a UK hotel construction site, and then narrowed the search to show just the movements of concrete mixers. “We are also thinking about applying the AI to people movements. In the current coronavirus pandemic situation, we could potentially use tower crane imagery to check that site workers are maintaining social distancing, perhaps to  identify hot-spots where additional measures might be needed.”

Herbst also demonstrated how Evercam imagery could produce live and historic visual evidence to support building information modelling (BIM), enabling detailed comparison of what was designed and scheduled with what was delivered and when – effectively validating so-called 4D BIM programs. “We are typically taking outputs from Autodesk’s Navisworks or Bentley’s Synchro, adjusting the models’ viewpoint to ensure alignment with the camera view, and providing a real-time view showing how construction is progressing against what was scheduled.”

Growth

Evercam has grown to a 34-strong company and has started to expand internationally. A London-based team was established in 2018 to grow the firm’s UK footprint in 2018; new operations are being established in Singapore and in Australia; and Herbst is also looking at opportunities in the United States (“We already have a couple of US customers who want us to expand to support their projects in the States, but we will need to think about how we fund this expansion.”). Channel partners are a key aspect of the company’s delivery model – the company currently has a dozen firms across the UK and Ireland helping supply and install equipment.

The Extranet Evolution view

Project collaboration platforms have long been used to share site progress photography in the same way as they have shared documents, drawings, spreadsheets and form-based process data. Incorporating live webcam views is also well-established (my one-time employer BIW Technologies worked with Camvista in the early 2000s to deliver a webcam module), but the cameras, connectivity and software have advanced rapidly, and – as Evercam demonstrates – is now pushing into new possibilities enabled by AI and ML.

The technology also complements other reality capture tools, including:

  • conventional digital still and video photography, perhaps extended using photogrammetry techniques (Bentley Systems has talked extensively about its context capture technologies in recent years)
  • laser-scanning and point-clouds
  • 360-degree photography (see 2017 Holobuilder post, and Panono: December 2018 post)
  • body-or helmet-mounted cameras (Buildots and OpenSpace: December 2019 post)
  • drone, aerial and satellite imagery (OnePlace—formerly UnEarth—for example: May 2017 )
  • machine controls (Infrakit: April 2016) and
  • a host of mobile smartphone and tablet-based image and data-capture applications

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/evercam-site-imagery-ai-bim/

Coronavirus construction impacts (and software offers) continue

With the UK coronavirus lockdown into its second month, construction software vendors are still trying to encourage new use of their applications.

SARS-CoV-2Since I first wrote about the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown on construction (Coronavirus, construction and software – 23 March 2020), there has been a constant stream of UK construction trade press coverage.  Thousands of office and site workers have been furloughed, and – amid sometimes ill-tempered debates about what constitutes “essential work” and about contractors’ enforcement of contractual obligations – the impacts in the UK have been been widely variable.

The UK is now some five weeks into its coronavirus lockdown. Constraints on “non-essential” construction work are being interpreted differently in different parts of the home countries: Scotland and Northern Ireland have fairly stringent restrictions (with the result that work on around 80% of housing sites has been suspended), but England and Wales is less restricted (last week, around 44% of private housing and 32% of social housing schemes were suspended – work on the North Greenwich residential sites that I can see from my office is currently suspended).

Meanwhile, some of the UK’s largest firms have lobbied hard to continue working and so mitigate the potential economic impacts of a prolonged lockdown. Some brick manufacturers and builders merchants have closed and then reopened; some contractors and house-builders have already resumed work on some sites (or are planning to do so soon) – but there are still concerns that safe operating procedures may not be universally observed.

Software sector impacts

Construction software businesses are, of course, heavily dependent upon continued planning, design and construction activity by their customers. Slowdowns and suspensions of project work will have knock-on impacts, and, in some cases, these may be quite rapid. Company software purchase or subscription decisions may be delayed until projects resume and circumstances are more certain and predictable.

There will be some interesting negotiations about the volume of use of some applications, particularly where they are licenced per user, for a specified pool of users, or for company users at a particular location (in the March/April 2020 issue of AEC Magazine, Martyn Day looks in detail at Autodesk’s switch from perpetual licenses to subscriptions for design authoring tools including AutoCAD and Revit: read The subscription yoke). Alternative licencing approaches, such as the per-project variants used by some Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms, may also prompt some discussions between vendors and customers where the schemes in question are on hold.

Vendor offers to meet coronavirus pandemic needs

Meanwhile, offers of training or free use of software applications during the pandemic have continued. A month ago, I outlined deals offered by Revizto, Autodesk, Graphisoft, WeBuild, Vectorworks and Procore (among others), and there have been more since. For example:

  • Projectwise 365Viewpoint is offering contractors in the UK and Ireland a complimentary six-month trial of its cloud-based construction project management solution Viewpoint Team (its entry point solution for small-to-medium contractors, subcontractors and housebuilders – not Viewpoint for Projects) during the pandemic.
  • Bentley Systems opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service (launched October 2018 – post – with an SME offering launched a year later), including waiving subscription fees through to 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home.

Visilean logoSome new services are also being developed to support projects working through the pandemic. A COMIT webinar last week, for instance, included a presentation from Visilean (March 2018 post); James Ellis described how its web and mobile applications are being used to help plan site-based activities so that they are not only lean but also comply with COVID-19 safe operating procedures. The company is also offering complimentary access to its suite of cloud-based construction management solutions for three months to all projects related to agencies supporting healthcare and infrastructure in the fight against the pandemic.

Asite focuses on building resilience

Asite - Building ResilienceLondon, UK-based SaaS collaboration vendor Asite has published a report, Building Resilience, which talks about the need to build greater resilience into the construction sector’s operating methods to mitigate the impacts of threats such as the COVID-19 outbreak. Nathan Doughty, Asite CEO, said: “Now more than ever, I believe our industry needs to come together and operate as the global industry it is to solve future challenges and build resilience.”

The Asite report says digital engineering and the establishment of strategic operating models are key to building resilience and safeguarding the industry in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. It also calls on the global industry to recognise regional interdependencies and to develop a strategy that is both regionally engaged and globally responsive (read more about the report in this BIM Plus story). Themes include BIM, Brexit, modular construction, climate change and smart cities.

(One small hiccup in the report, however, is its mention of BIM Level 3. “Level 3” was never formally defined, and the UK BIM levels were effectively discontinued in October 2019 following the launch of the ISO 19650-compliant UK BIM Framework by the Centre for Digital Built Britain, the UK BIM Alliance and BSI.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/coronavirus-construction-impacts-and-software-offers-continue/

RIB Software grew 57% in 2019

Revenues at Germany’s RIB Group grew 57% in 2019, and the company’s financial performance has also been detailed in a Reasoned Statement in response to Schneider Electric’s takeoever bid.

RIB software logoThe latest annual report and accounts from Stuttgart, Germany-based software provider RIB Group, for the year to 31 December 2019, shows revenue up over 57% on 2018 (post) to €214.6m (c. US$231.9m or £188.4m). The company also increased its profits: EBITDA was up 32% to €51.2m (c. US$55.2m or £44.9m).

According to RIB’s announcement:

“2019 was characterized by strong investments in personnel, technology expansions for MTWO and the acquisition of users for our MTWO/iTWO 4.0 platform as well as promising initiatives such as the MTWO “out of the box” solution, which can be used by clients within 48 hours. As a result, we were able to significantly increase the MTWO/iTWO 4.0 user base from 3,000 to 69,337, far exceeding our target of 30,000 users in 2019.”

As well as the MTWO/iTWO offerings (within which the Microsoft-supported MTWO is positioned as “the first vertical cloud platform for the construction industry“), RIB also provides web-based support for procurement processes (supply chain management and e-commerce, grouped as RIB’s xYTWO segment).

RIB 2019 metricsUntil 2019, RIB derived most of its revenues from Germany. Now it’s much less:

  • Germany: €73.8m (34.4%)
  • EMEA: €65.5m (30.5%)
  • North America: €41.0m (19.1%)
  • APAC: €34.3m (16.0%)

While Germany is still its most important single market, accounting for just over a third of income, revenues from the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa now account for around 30% of revenues, while the North American and APAC regions have grown rapidly, buoyed by the company’s programme of mergers and acquisitions. This programme has also seen the company grow its headcount from just over 1000 to almost 1600 during 2019.

During a busy 2019, among other deals, RIB invested in the UK AEC software reseller Cadline (April), acquired 60% of the Atlanta, USA-based building specification software vendor, BSD (June),  acquired 70% of South Africa’s CCS, a provider of cost estimation and project control software (July), and took a strategic 15% stake in India’s company, Winjit, an Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain developer (August). It then invested in another India-based software business, SoftTech, bought a German business intelligence specialist, Datapine, and acquired an Australian reseller, Redstack (November).

In 2019, RIB aimed to become a more global player by reducing its reliance on localised, on-premise software installations, In 2018, annual recurring revenues (SaaS/cloud and maintenance) grew 21% to €57.4m. In 2019, this figure was almost doubled: ARR for 2019 was up 94.5% to €112.6 million.

Schneider Electric deal commended to shareholders

In February 2020, French multinational Schneider Electric made a €1.4bn bid for RIB Software. RIB’s financial announcement was accompanied by a Reasoned Statement from the managing directors and the administrative board of RIB. In it, they recommend that RIB shareholders accept the offer, saying the offer price of €29.00 per RIB share is adequate and arguing that a strategic participation of Schneider Electric in RIB is in the best interests of RIB, RIB shareholders and other stakeholders.

Update (20 April 2020) – Two days before the deadline (midnight CEST, on 22 April) on for acceptance of the Schneider Electric offer, RIB has appealed to shareholders urging them to respond.

A condition of the offer’s acceptance is that it must reach a minimum acceptance threshold of 50% (plus one RIB share) of all RIB shares. The acceptance rate as of 17 April (14.00 hrs CEST) was only 32.47%.

RIB underlines that the €29 offer price offers a premium of over 40% over the closing price of  RIB shares one day before the announcement of the transaction. Since then, the SDAX and the TecDAX have lost 22.2% and 12.5% respectively, mainly due to the Coronavirus crisis. “The Managing Directors and the administrative board of RIB recommend that shareholders wishing to accept Schneider Electric’s offer do so without delay.”

Update (30 April 2020) – The minimum acceptance threshold was reached (at the deadline, 76.63% of shareholders had indicated acceptance). Schneider Electric expected to complete the transaction in the second quarter of 2020, subject to approval by competition authorities.

A quarterly trading update from RIB showed revenues in the first quarter of 2020 were up 39.8% to €65.6m, and operating EBITDA up 36.2% to €15.8m. Uncertainties caused by Covid-19 led RIB to “severely limit” its M&A activities an to focus on the successful expansion of its iMTWO segment. The company continued: “we plan to discontinue or sell the physical trading business in the segment xYTWO, which does not contribute to EBITDA.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/rib-grows-57-2019/

Procore IPO in for prolonged coronavirus lockdown?

US construction collaboration SaaS technology provider Procore planned to offer its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in the near future, but its plans could be undermined by the coronavirus pandemic.

Procore logoOn 28 February 2020, California, US-based construction collaboration SaaS technology provider Procore filed registration documents with the US Securities and Exchange Commission relating to a proposed initial public (IPO) offering of its common stock (news release). The company said the number of shares to be offered and the price range for the proposed offering had not yet been determined. It intended to list its common stock on The New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “PCOR.” The IPO could value the company, according to Bloomberg News, at US$4 billion.

The IPO filing gives a lot of background about Procore’s finances. In 2019, revenues were US$289.2 million, up from US$186.4 million in 2018 and US$112.3 million in 2017; the company recorded net losses for all three years: US$55.5 million in 2017; US$56.7 million in 2018; and US$83.1 million in 2019. At the end of 2019, Procore had around 1.3 million users. Potential investor risks included: a history of losses, potential future decreases in construction spending, failure to compete effectively, and miscalculation of the future market opportunity.

Extranet Evolution analysis

Procore has previously raised over US$250 million through a succession of funding rounds, valuing the business at around $3 billion in December 2018 (post). These investments have helped the firm expand overseas into markets including Australasia (May 2017 post) and the UK and Ireland. It has also cultivated a substantial marketplace of complementary integrations with other solutions, and, despite the mounting losses, has made the occasional acquisition (for example, Honest Buildings in July 2019).

The revenue figures make interesting reading, not least because they enable comparisons with the financial performance of other construction SaaS vendors. For example, Aconex, prior to its December 2017 US$1.2 billion acquisition by Oracle (post), generated revenues of US$127.6m (c. Au$161.2m, £99.3m or €108.3m),  in the year to 30 June 2017 (post), a figure that put it just ahead of Procore’s performance at the time.  But Aconex also made an operating profit (US$11.9m – c. Au$15.0m, c. £9.2m, or €10.1m), and claimed a 5.3m-strong user base – nearly four times bigger than Procore’s current figure.

However, global events in the three weeks since Procore’s announcement may well see it shelving its IPO plans (as might Bentley Systems – post). The unfolding coronavirus pandemic has sent markets plunging and many analysts are forecasting a deep recession. Hardly the right time for an IPO. Moreover, past recessions suggest construction experiences a deeper recession than other industries, and takes longer to bounce back. So, even when things do improve, there may be other sectors that offer earlier gains from an investor point of view.

The pandemic is also  likely to lead to a major slowdown in construction activity and spending (see previous post), with a corresponding impact on software vendors including Procore; its revenue growth may falter, with even bigger losses in 2020. The impacts will, of course, depend on the extent to which Procore’s current and future customers – mainly SMEs to mid-sized contracting firms – are affected by the slowdown and how far, if at all, they are supported by clients, banks and governments during the downturn.

The other investor risks – failure to compete effectively, and miscalculation of the future market opportunity – also need to be considered, particularly from a technology point of view. Building information modelling (BIM) was positioned as one of the steps necessary to modernise construction and help it emerge from the financial crisis of the late 2000s; in the UK and several other developed economies, it is seen as a foundation for digital transformation of the built environment. Procore’s platform, though, currently has little BIM functionality compared to its competitors (it has a BIM viewer). Procore-Aconex integrationAconex, and its acquisitions, invested substantially in BIM and associated model, data and workflow management over several years, as have most of Procore’s other key competitors (eg: Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Trimble). But there has been little demand to date from Procore’s SME to mid-sized contractor customers for BIM functionality – most are still predominantly working with conventional drawings, documents and spreadsheets. Integrations with other solutions such as Aconex may help (post), but if Procore wants to compete directly with rival platforms and support larger contractors and owner-operators, it will have to invest significantly in developing or acquiring stronger BIM object capabilities.

[Disclosure: I have written occasional freelance pieces for Procore’s Jobsite, and have provided consultancy services to Procore’s London office.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/03/procore-ipo-prolonged-coronavirus-lockdown/

Coronavirus, construction and software

The coronavirus pandemic could potentially shut down construction, with a catastrophic impact upon firms and workers, many of them self-employed. How can software firms help?

As just about every nation is affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, entire industry sectors are facing unprecedented shutdowns. Construction is no exception. In some instances, the shutdown has been enforced by national or local authorities, by clients, or by transport restrictions.

Construction shutting down?

In countries such as Italy and Spain, where people have been told to stay at home, site-based construction activities have effectively ceased; in the United States last week (16 March 2020), Boston closed down 97 construction sites across the city (ENR news article) even before movement restrictions were enforced. In London, non-essential work on the Crossrail infrastructure project was stopped on 19 March (Building news), while closures and service reductions on London Underground and Transport for London bus services were hampering workers’ ability to travel to offices and to sites. Numerous industry events and meetings have been either postponed, cancelled altogether or shifted online, and many industry organisations have closed their buildings and, where possible, encouraged staff to work from home.

pwcom office windowFrom my home office window* in southeast London, however, I can see tower cranes still turning on construction sites in north Greenwich. Renovations on two houses in a nearby road are continuing, and scaffolding erected for roof repairs to my house was dismantled just this morning (social distancing, I chatted through the window to one of the scaffolders, telling him I normally work from home – he joked about having to do his work from home from next week!).

SME and self-employed impacts

As SME businesses, the scaffolder, the local builders, and, no doubt, the numerous trades working on the next phase of Greenwich’s  Millennium Village have little choice but to continue working while they can. Many construction workers are also self-employed. When they stop working, they stop earning – with all the financial hardship and worry that follows. Understandably, some UK construction industry organisations are urging the UK Government to extend its wage support lifeline to the industry’s army of self-employed workers (see Construction Enquirer).

Demolition NewsTo avoid the financial impacts of a complete shutdown, some UK industry organisations (for example, Build UK and CECA) are saying sites should be kept open so long as safe working practices can be ensured. However, the site-based physical processes of construction, maintenance, repair and demolition are not always activities that can be managed while keeping safe. Mark Anthony’s This Week in Demolition newsletter quotes an impassioned plea from an Italian demolition contractor:

“Mark, use your pen to advise the demolition and construction market to SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY.   Construction employees travel together, they work together, they have lunch together. It is impossible to wear a protective mask for eight hours if you’re doing a heavy activity.

Please Mark, help the industry to think in a clever way, The sector has to understand that business comes after the employees’ health and safety. Help the sector to take the right decision to SHUT DOWN before it’s too late…”

A freelance writer and journalist like me, Mark Anthony draws his living from the demolition and construction sector, and says: “the closure of the demolition sector will have a catastrophic impact. And, since I am self-employed, there will be no employee benefits to fall back upon. I, therefore, have very little choice but to keep calm and carry on. I am currently unable to visit sites and, by the time I am able, there is no guarantee that there will be any sites left to visit.”

(I spent part of yesterday writing a detailed email to the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, of which I am a Fellow, explaining why I felt the UK Government’s Coronavirus financial support measures failed to help freelancers and micro-business owners. The CIPR has joined forces with the PRCA to send a joint open letter to the Chancellor today pleading for better aid to support individuals whose incomes are and will be devastated by the pandemic. The Creative Industries Federation and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) are campaigning for creation of a Temporary Income Protection Fund to ensure self-employed workers are not left behind.)

Impacts on AEC software businesses

Slowdowns and shutdowns of construction sites and the closures of the offices of the many organisations involved in planning, designing and managing projects will also have an impact on the technology businesses supplying hardware and software used in these projects, though the effects may take time to work through.

AEC investment in ITThe pandemic has created huge uncertainty and clients will doubtless delay decisions about new projects, affecting every firm reliant on that pipeline of future work. And as ongoing projects are suspended or restricted to essential works only, many workers across the supply chain will be laid off and will no longer be using construction-oriented IT daily. Even in the best of times, the construction industry has historically under-invested in information technology (around a third of the pan-industry average) – often IT is regarded as an overhead not an investment – and some hard decisions will be made, perhaps postponing or delaying purchases, or terminating ongoing licenses and software subscriptions.

Of course, some hardware and software investments might be made to support employees working from home. Remote access to corporate networks might need to be enabled (in the US, one VPN provider, NordVPNteams, says VPN use has grown 66% since 11 March, while overall sales are up 600%). New hardware may need to be provided. Design or project management applications may need to be installed on employees’ own machines. New tools such as teleconferencing solutions might be need to support team working and collaboration (data gathered by Learnbonds.com indicates that downloads for video conferencing and online meetings platform Zoom increased by 1,270% in the month to 22 March). Cloud-based storage or more construction project-specific solutions might need to be implemented. On tech website BIM+, Nigel Davies from Evolve Consultancy, writing about getting BIM under remote control, mentions use of Autodesk BIM 360 or Bentley ProjectWise (other solutions are available, of course), and Richard Saxon (Coronavirus ‘wartime scenario’ will push the digital agenda like never before) says leaders’ efforts in stress-testing remote working arrangements are paving the way for others to follow faster.

How are AEC software vendors helping?

BIM+ (read Industry steps up to help firms with remote working amid coronavirus) has also started to look at how software providers might help an industry increasingly needing to manage its finances and support its growing number of people working from home. Firms highlighted include:

  • Revizto (doubling the number of users on an existing licence at no cost)
  • Autodesk (offering an Extended Access Program for several of its flagship cloud collaboration products, including BIM 360 Docs; extending contract payment terms – see also the Autodesk COVID-19 resource centre)
  • Graphisoft (free emergency licences to help architects work remotely; free 60-day access to BIMcloud as a service – for ArchiCAD users)
  • Evolve Consultancy (offering a major discount on all its online training courses)

London-based 3DRepo is hosting a free webinar at 10am GMT on 26 March (details) on collaborative BIM and delivering projects while working remotely.

WeBuildSlightly further afield, in Australia (though web-based technologies are, of course, quickly adopted internationally), I have been sent news from WeBuild (previously Tenderfield – post), which offers a cloud-based platform offering modules for construction tendering/bidding, document collaboration, project and contract management, and quality and safety control. Looking to help small and mid-sized construction businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, new WeBuild subscribers can have six months free access to all products until 30 August 2020. Co-founder Jason Kamha said: “We realise that many construction businesses will be impacted by shutdowns and time away from the office/jobsite. As a result, SMB’s, who make up the majority of our industry, may need to re-think their digital strategies and implement collaborative technologies for greater project control.” He says the company has “updated our platform’s UI/UX design and added quite a few new features into the system including scheduling, submittals, iOS and Android applications and expanded our operations into Hong Kong and the US.”

Updates (26 March, 3 April 2020)Vectorworks is offering free virtual training opportunities, and has amended some software license conditions to enable more working from home (see blog post).

Procore logoProcore is providing current customers access to the Procore platform and customer support for their work on COVID-19 emergency relief construction projects at no additional cost – see news release.

In AECbytes, Lachmi Khemlani has provided a similar US perspective on coronavirus and AEC software.

(If other construction technology firms are contributing to industry efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts, please let me know.)

(* In his BIM+ article, Richard Saxon talks about using social media apps for virtual co-working. My window photo was shared in a Twitter thread #WFHwindows started by UK BIM Alliance deputy chair Casey Rutland.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/03/covid-19-construction-software/

Autodesk Construction Cloud adoption grows

autodesk logoAutodesk Construction Cloud, launched in November 2019 (post), is gaining traction with owners, contractors and subcontractors across the construction industry, says Autodesk.

The portfolio of software and services brings together Assemble, BIM 360, BuildingConnected and PlanGrid with Autodesk’s established design authoring tools, helping to connect headquarters, office and field teams to increase collaboration and productivity. The company says (news release) recent growth landmarks include:

  • Autodesk Construction CloudAutodesk Construction Cloud’s builders network, powered by BuildingConnected, now has over one million users, “making it the industry’s largest network of owners, designers, builders and trades, enabling each to connect with the right partners and projects”.
  • BuildingConnected’s preconstruction platform now manages an estimated $56 billion worth of project bids each month, with 15 of the top 20 ENR-ranked general contractors using BuildingConnected to manage bidding.
  • PlanGrid field collaboration technology is now used on nearly two million projects around the globe (a figure that I still think needs to be treated sceptically – see these post comments). Coupled with BIM 360, more than 1.5 billion drawings are now in Autodesk Construction Cloud.
  • BIM 360’s machine learning technology Construction IQ is now used monthly by nearly 12,000 project leaders, demonstrating accelerating adoption of Autodesk’s predictive insights to identify, prevent and manage risk.
  • Model conditioning and 3D quantification tool Assemble has had more than 85,000 models uploaded in the last year, revealing that contractors are increasingly turning to Assemble for model-based workflows.

Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

“Our customers are continuing to see strong benefits from our best-in-class solutions working together to improve efficiency, increase margins and reduce risk for the construction industry. Autodesk is a trusted partner to more than 300 of the top ENR-ranked general contractors who use at least one Autodesk Construction Cloud product, and many of them are interested in adopting products across the entire portfolio. It’s truly accelerated our growth.”

The growth in Autodesk’s community is largely US-driven as two of its key components, PlanGrid and BuildingConected, were mainly US-oriented businesses prior to their acquisition – in November 2018 and January 2019, respectively – by Autodesk. Whilst an independent provider, Plangrid only began marketing in the UK in 2017 (post); BuildingConnected is due to be launched in EMEA during 2020.

Autodesk trust study: UK collaborationAutodesk, in partnership with management consulting firm FMI Corporation, has also released findings from an industry study, Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust. The study measured the costs and benefits of different levels of trust within construction organisations and across construction project teams. Organisations with “very high” levels of trust achieve better financial and organisational performance, the study said. 240 of the survey’s 2,500+ respondents were from the UK, which reported higher than average levels of trust and collaboration (the study also referenced a previous survey undertaken by Plangrid – post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/03/autodesk-construction-cloud-adoption-grows/

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