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ThinkProject adds German reseller for DESITE BIM

thinkproject logothinkproject, the Munich, Germany-based provider of Software-as-a-Service technologies to the construction and engineering sectors, has announced a partnership with Mensch und Maschine Software (M+M – also known in English-speaking markets as Man and Machine).

Under the deal, M+M – a 1000-strong supplier of computer-aided design and manufacturing, product data management, and building information modelling applications – becomes a non-exclusive master reseller of thinkproject’s DESITE BIM product suite. DESITE BIM was added to thinkproject’s product portfolio with the company’s acquisition of ceapoint  in March 2019 (post).

The six product variations of DESITE BIM offer varying levels of BIM proficiency and seamless collaboration and information exchange throughout construction projects thanks to its open and neutral support of a variety of data formats and easy integration with CDEs (thinkproject has two such productstpCDE for construction projects and EPLASS CDE for rail, road and infrastructure projects). DESITE can integrate different types of information into building information models, conduct model and clash detection checks, and run 4D simulations, in addition to creating schedules, information take- off, and quantity take-off.

DESITE from CeapointM+M will support thinkproject with sales, marketing and customer training for the DESITE BIM product suite in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, UK, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. MD for construction and architecture Rainer Sailer says: “The DESITE BIM product portfolio takes BIM to another level and is a great option for many customers because it integrates well with so many existing softwares. We’re excited to be working with thinkproject to sell this product and integrate it into our leading European BIM Ready training program.”

thinkproject head of product strategy and innovation Jochen Hanff says: “As an already established BIM expert, Mensch und Maschine is a natural fit for this type of partnership. Their knowledge and resources will help us take DESITE BIM to new markets across Europe and bring great value to our customer experience.” His chief sales officer colleague Anton Hofmeier adds: “Joining forces with Mensch und Maschine will allow thinkproject to continue to grow as a global leader in construction intelligence by making our market leading products accessible to a wider international audience, while ensuring the high level of support and product quality that our customers have come to expect from thinkproject.”

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Buildiro Direct launched in London

Buildiro launches a same-day delivery service for London-based tradespeople sourcing tools and materials from local builders’ merchants.

Buildiro logoBuildiro, positioning itself as “the world’s first mobile app for materials procurement” and launched in London in September 2019, is introducing a new service on Monday 20 January 2020, just under a year since the startup launched its prototype app (February 2019 post). Buildiro Direct will deliver crucial, small, missing items to tradespeople within London, offering a 0.5% discount off every purchase via a points collection system and free courier returns.

Having solved one problem – knowing merchants’ stock availability (helping tradespeople become more productive and merchants build better trade customer relations) – Buildiro is now seeking to resolve another pain point: discovering missing items that threaten to hold up jobs.

Buildiro Direct: 90-minute or same-day delivery

Buildiro Direct London reachBuildiro Direct will deliver from a list of over 20,000 items held on the Buildiro app whether that’s a tool, cable or valve, items that are necessary for the smooth running of jobs.  Tradespeople can select from either the 90-minute or same-day delivery option which will run every day (including Bank Holidays) from 7.30am to 6.30pm on items which will typically be under 12kg in weight and fit on a motorbike or small van.

Michael Strnadel at LM Solutions London Ltd has been trialling Buildiro Direct in beta, and said:

“With Buildiro Direct I don’t need to leave the job I’m on any more as I can get what I need delivered within 90 minutes! On top of that, the e-invoicing system is just amazing, my accountant is now connected to my Buildiro account so I don’t have to worry about invoices at all because it’s all automated.”

Luke Polach (Buildiro)This app enhancement comes on the back of substantial investment in the app from investors who became aware of Buildiro’s UK success.  Luke Polach, CEO and founder, says: “We’re pleased with progress to date – tradespeople have told us that they are saving time and money in their search for supplies and, as a result, have widened the list of merchants they know and use.  The trade has been crying out for innovation, “we need an UberEats or Deliveroo for the building trade”, and we are delighted to have delivered.”

Polach says that tradespeople will continue to use Buildiro to source all key supplies faster, more cost-effectively, reducing time wasted spent driving to merchants to source items: “The new enhancement will help in the day-to-day smooth running of jobs on site as a small, one-off requirement can be even more time-consuming than sourcing larger items if it puts a job on hold.

At the same time Buildiro is reminding UK users of its e-invoicing option which can be linked to any accounting software which saves merchants’ time and helps their customers to seamlessly comply with the UK’s Making Tax Digital scheme.

The Buildiro app was developed in-house and runs on the Google Cloud Platform, where data is secured and protected.  It is available from the Google Play and Apple app stores and is currently expanding its list of merchants. Fast, same-day delivery will cost £6.90 and the 90-minute delivery option will cost £14.90. Buildiro’s reach will be extended to other cities “soon”.

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Autodesk converges its Construction Cloud

The June 2019 projected convergence of Autodesk’s construction-oriented solutions was crystallised in late 2019 with the launch of the Autodesk Construction Cloud.

Autodesk Construction CloudAt the London Build trade show in November 2019, Autodesk followed up its Connect & Construct Summit announcement in Las Vegas, promoting its Autodesk Construction Cloud to a UK audience.

Five months earlier, at the London edition of Connect & Construct in June 2019, Autodesk had signalled the convergence of Plangrid and BIM 360 technologies, merging its acquisition of Plangrid (November 2018 post) with the more established BIM 360, while also talking about two other acquisitions: Assemble (July 2018 news release) and the US- centric BuildingConnected (January 2019 post) – set to be launched in EMEA in 2020.

Autodesk Construction Cloud brings these four solutions together alongside the group’s design authoring tools, connecting headquarters, office and field teams to increase collaboration and productivity. Over 50 new product enhancements, as well as deeper integrations between each product, allow data to flow across all stages of construction. New artificial intelligence (AI) functionality helps construction teams identify and mitigate design risks before problems occur – reducing delays, rework and costs.

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

Jim Lynch“Despite the tremendous challenges construction companies face to connect huge volumes of data and people, no one has delivered on the promise of unified construction from design to operations – until now. With Autodesk Construction Cloud, we’re introducing a new era of connected construction and offering unrivalled integration between headquarters, office and field teams. We’ve never been more dedicated nor clearer in our mission to empower designers, contractors and owners to meet the world’s rapidly expanding construction needs, while helping to make building more predictable, safe and sustainable.”
Autodesk Construction Cloud

Construction Cloud enhancements

Launching Autodesk Construction Cloud, the company unveiled more than 50 new product enhancements spanning the building lifecycle from design to operations. Highlights include:

  • Expanding support within Assemble for the latest version of Autodesk design tools AutoCAD, Revit and Navisworks.
  • Empowering subcontractors to immediately quantify 2D views in BuildingConnected Bid Board Pro.
  • Enabling greater collaboration, field teams can now take videos directly within the PlanGrid app. Along with improved photo management, teams are able to provide richer commentary from the jobsite.
  • Enhancing all BIM 360 modules, along with deeper feature integrations – such as between Construction IQ and BIM 360’s design review capabilities, called Design Risk Management, which helps reduce the likelihood of RFIs and change orders originating from design issues.

To help construction teams reduce miscommunication, errors and rework, Autodesk has rolled out 18 different integrations, allowing data to flow between all its construction products (between Revit and PlanGrid, BIM 360 Design and Civil 3D, BuildingConnected and PlanGrid and BIM 360 and Assemble, to name a few). Built with BIM 360’s common data environment (CDE), Autodesk Construction Cloud ensures the whole team is collaborating on an integrated record set, and supporting customers in meeting ISO 19650.

With nearly one million (mainly north American) subcontractors using BuildingConnected, Autodesk says its Cloud encompasses the industry’s largest ecosystem of owners, designers, builders and trades, including nearly one million subcontractors who use BuildingConnected.

AI-powered analytics

Autodesk Construction Cloud encompasses powerful AI to help construction teams identify and mitigate risks before problems occur – helping to reduce delays, rework and cost. Autodesk cites technologies such as TradeTapp, which arms general contractors with subcontractor risk analysis during the planning phase, and Construction IQ, which uses algorithms to prioritise the highest risk projects, subcontractors and issues that need attention during the build phase, gives teams the insight and confidence to make informed decisions and build right the first time.

A case study on BAM Ireland’s use of Autodesk Construct IQ was shared in London in June 2019, and was discussed again at a Constructing Excellence event in London in September 2019 (read the final section of 15 October EE post, BIM is not big data). Michael Murphy says:

“Autodesk’s end-to-end system for the entire building lifecycle – from design to long-term maintenance – is giving us a competitive advantage. Using the advanced technology and predictive insights of Autodesk Construction Cloud, we achieved a 20% gain in quality and safety on a high-profile project. Autodesk Construction Cloud is bringing us one step closer to a unified solution with all our data in the same platform, so that information is no longer in a silo or lost. We’re strongly aligned with Autodesk in pursuit of better construction across the globe.”

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Tony Ryan, Asite CEO, dies suddenly

Tony Ryan, the flamboyant Irishman who has been CEO of SaaS technology vendor Asite since 2006, died suddenly in London yesterday (2 January 2020).

Sad news from the London-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider, Asite:

Tony Ryan (Asite CEO)“It is with great sadness that we announce that Tony Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Asite, died yesterday in London, due to unexpectedly severe complications from a recent illness. The entire Asite family mourns this loss. On behalf of our Board of Directors, management team and employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to Tony’s family.”

With immediate effect, our Chief Operating Officer, Nathan Doughty, is appointed Chief Executive Officer, supported by the Board of Directors and management team.

Tony Ryan

Ryan, who died aged 48, was appointed CEO in June 2006, having previously been COO (December 2005) and before that Asite sales director, back in the days when it was an AIM-listed company. Ryan succeeded Gordon Ashworth who had taken over from Tom Dengenis (later CEO of Synchro – since June 2018 part of Bentley Systems) in March 2005.

Tony Ryan at Adoddle17 launchWith Nathan Doughty (former CTO then COO), he led Asite through a period of enormous change in the AEC SaaS space. For the most part, UK collaboration vendors survived the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s, after which began a series of mergers and acquisitions which, in Ryan’s view, left Asite as the only significant UK vendor that was still independent (though GroupBC might disagree). Ryan led the company to its first annual profits in 2010. Technologically, Asite was also one of the earliest of the UK vendors to embrace building information modelling (2006) and to look at mobile solutions and Salesforce-style platform-as-a-service models (2010), while it also invested in its marketing – embracing social media (2009), creating a cartoon robot character called Adoddle (2012 – Ryan incorporated the phrase ‘It’s a doddle” into his Twitter handle), partying hard at an annual yacht regatta, running Open BIM design competitions, and launching the 17th edition of Asite’s software at an Irish-themed party in London’s Shoreditech on St Patrick’s Day (17 March 2014 – Ryan, pictured right at the event, was a flamboyant Irishman) – repeating the feat four years later in Sydney, Australia (March 2018). Revenues continued to rise throughout his time, though efforts to break into the US market and to grow Asite’s business in other locations were less successful – in 2018, around three quarters of the company’s revenues were still from the UK (post).

The Extranet Evolution perspective

As CEO of one of the UK’s leading AEC SaaS vendors, Tony Ryan spoke to Extranet Evolution on numerous occasions, commenting on ownership changes among competitors or on technological developments, while – ever the salesman! – also promoting Asite hard and trying to position it at the leading edge of industry developments. There have been occasions when the accuracy of some of his claims needed to be questioned, but he would argue his case hard and sometimes abrasively.

Nathan DoughtyNew CEO Nathan Doughty has been with Asite throughout most of its existence. He joined the business in 2002 from another AEC SaaS startup, Bidcom (where he was a colleague of Tom Dengenis), which later merged to become part of Citadon, and was active in several of Asite’s technology initiatives, being also involved with BSI, the International Alliance for Interoperability / BuildingSMART, and the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers, championing open BIM throughout.

Asite logo 2012Less flamboyant and more pragmatic than Ryan, Doughty is perhaps the perfect person to steady Asite at this tragic time. The business and its shareholders have seen several of its former UK competitors snapped up by international corporations in billion-dollar deals: BIW and Aconex are both now part of Oracle, 4Projects became Viewpoint and is now part of Trimble. Doughty might be the man to steer Asite, which is still majority owned by the property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz (post), towards a similarly lucrative outcome.

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Buildots: site visual data capture

Tel Aviv-based Buildots uses 360-degree wearable cameras and AI for “automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies.”

At October’s Digital Construction Week 2019 trade show in London, I spotted Israeli startup Buildots among the exhibitors. I didn’t have chance to learn more then, but the company presented at December’s COMIT community day (held in IFS‘s impressive new offices by the River Thames in Staines, west of London).

buildots-logoFounded in Tel Aviv and now with an office in London, Buildots was founded in early 2018 by Roy Danon (CEO), Yakir Sudry (CTO) and Aviv Leibovici (CPO) – who presented at the COMIT ‘wearables’ event. The three have backgrounds in computer science and electrical engineering, and all have worked for the Israeli government or  its defence force. Buildots investors include Innogy and TLV Partners.

Automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies

Aviv Leibovici - BuildotsLeibovici (right) described Buildots’ solution as “automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies.” It aims to help contractors more effectively manage the plan, execute, measure and optimise cycle – especially the measure and optimise steps. The  toolset combines data collected by 360-degree cameras worn by employees with data from project schedules and uses artificial intelligence, AI, to compare captured visual data with what is scheduled in the project programme and what has been designed. It gives “precise control of the last 5%”, Leibovici said, and enables “continuous flow assurance” – which is vital in the high density residential projects where Buildots has hitherto been focused.

Buildots data and analysis from projects undertaken in Israel was shared (I understand the firm is also working with UK contractor Balfour Beatty in London). Leibovici said wearable devices enable seamless collection of highly detailed information (visual evidence). In one walk around a single floor of a residential development, data on 2500 elements was captured. Moreover, once the data had been collected, uploaded, processed and analysed, Buildots could also help to identify missing elements  (missing power sockets, for example) or errors (eg: wall apertures that had been closed – on one project, 812 walls and 515 door openings were being created, and the toolset identified two doors had been omitted).

buildots error demoSnapshots from the visual evidence could then be used to notify contractors about defects or omissions, while also providing a visual as-built record of how and where services had been installed prior to floor, wall or ceiling finishes being applied. The Buildots Software-as-a-Service solution also provides dashboards showing percentage completion of work packages, work logs, and can be used to help schedule payments.

The quality of visual data is, of course dependent upon the quality of the 360-degree camera used. At the COMIT event, Liebovici responded to questions about the weight of the devices and battery packs, the frequency of surveys, and lighting levels. Accurate image capture is apparently easier in sunny Tel Aviv than cloudy London!

The Extranet Evolution view

HoloBuilder LogoUsing wearable or mobile devices to capture visual site data is being trialled by several contractors, alongside more conventional capture using static laser-scanning and photogrammetry equipment and techniques. Perhaps the most notable competitors to Buildots in this space are the US-based OpenSpace and Holobuilder solutions.

OpenSpace hit the headlines in August 2019 after raising US$14m in Series A funding (read Forbes article), and has integrations with Procore (OpenSpace news) and Autodesk’s BIM 360 (ditto). The technology has also been deployed in the UK: St Albans-based Lindford Consulting offers OpenSpace project recording as one of its services, for example (Update [22 January 2020] – read this BIM+ interview with Lindford’s Edward Carolan).

HoloBuilder SpotWalkHolobuilder launched its 360 Construction Documentation Solution in July 2017, for example, and has expanded in Europe and progressively extended the platform’s functionality, adding SiteAI (December 2018), a JobWalk Planner (April 2019), and – launched at Autodesk University in November 2019 – SpotWalk, the first robotic construction 360° capture solution. SpotWalk equips Boston Dynamic’s Spot robot with autonomous 360° image capturing technology, allowing customers to let Spot remotely walk around a project site and create a 360° digital record of their construction projects. US Holobuilder customer Hensel Phelps is already testing SpotWalk on its $1.2 Billion San Francisco Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Airport project.

eviFile logoIn December 2018, COMIT also hosted a demonstration of a German-built Panono 360-degree camera (post), and 3D photography and scanning by firms such as Matterport have also featured. Away from 360-degree photography, smartphone or tablet apps for progress documentation – geo-located progressive assurance – are provided by Leeds, UK-based eviFile* (May 2017 post), which has been successfully winning work on civil engineering infrastructure and utilities projects. In July 2019, eviFile announced a project with Yorkshire’s Drax power station where its technology could potentially save the generator £1m a year (read Yorkshire Post report).

[* Disclosure: I am a non-executive advisor to eviFile.]

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Newforma acquires EleVia

Newforma logo 2015Newforma, the US-based provider of hybrid (on-premise and cloud) project information management technology backed since mid 2017 by Battery Ventures, has announced the acquisition of Minneapolis-based EleVia, a financial software company for the architecture and engineering vertical market (no deal value given).

Elevia logoFounded in 2016, EleVia delivers and supports software that facilitates key financial and operational processes for the architectural and engineering markets with software modules for electronic invoicing, payables approval and tracking, A/R management and collections, forecasting, and more. These modules improve cash flow, automate tasks, improve productivity, reduce operating costs, and provide valuable insight into project performance and profitability. It prides itself on its “deep knowledge of Deltek Vision” (and VantagePoint), and claims 250 professional services customers in North America, Europe, Asia and South America.

Newforma says the acquisition widens its Project Center footprint in the AECO market with connectors  to additional industry applications, enabling a more complete offering for architecture and engineering design organisations.

Brock Philp, CEO of Newforma, says:

“EleVia’s technical prowess strengthens our commitment to solve the AECO vertical market’s unique challenges and remain at the center of all things project related with the addition of deeper solutions. We are pleased to welcome EleVia employees and customers to Newforma.  EleVia will continue its operations as they are today and continue to serve customers and partners well.

The Extranet Evolution view

In an information-centric and cost-conscious industry such as construction, adding some financial management capabilities to project information management may make sense. However, while PIM is a fairly generic function, financial management is less international, being subject to national accounting regulations and to historical industrial practices and processes that are often quite specific to local and/or vertical markets. Assuming Newforma plans to integrate EleVia capabilities into its PIM platform or does some cross-selling, in the UK, for example, it faces strong competition from well-established UK-based rivals such as COINS, Redsky IT, Causeway and Eque2.

Prior to Battery Ventures’ involvement, Newforma was strongly pushing a connections strategy (see September 2016 post: Newforma gets connected). This latest deal seemingly overlaps Newforma more with Deltek, another US-based AEC ERP business, which in July 2016 acquired a Newforma competitor, the UK-based Union Square.  Deltek could perhaps be wondering if Newforma is now going to be targeting its combined ERP/PIM customers. Interesting times.

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AI in construction: chatbots for marketing and training

Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning in construction might involve using chatbots for lead generation on building trade websites, as well as for training.

I have been talking about artificial intelligence and construction sporadically for some time, and a news release about a new UK service for lead generation in the building trade reminded me about both recent and past conversations about chatbots and natural language processing.


Leadoo logoLeadoo, a 40-strong Finnish lead generation martech company based in Helsinki, has launched its interactive chatbot in the UK (a chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods).

In uncertain times (Brexit, anyone?), Leadoo believes the chatbot will generate an average of between 30 – 100% increase on lead conversions for businesses in the building trade (targeting a similar market to two other startups recently covered in Extranet Evolution, Buildiro—post and Snaffle—post); Leadoo chatbots are generating leads for a Nordic roofing company, and you can talk to one to download the case study. It advocates using chatbots to take better care of website visitors, turning them into leads and potentially increasing online sales (average website conversion rates vary between zero and 1%).

Leadoo founder and CEO Mikael da Costa says:

Mikael da Costa - Leadoo CEO“Leadoo brings website content alive! Our chatbots activate passive website visitors, who represent over 90% of all traffic, by providing a two-way conversation between the visitor and the site which converts them into leads. In our experience in other markets in Europe, we find that all aspects of the building trade – including tradespeople, suppliers and merchants – can benefit from our bots.”

“We believe it’s the perfect time for us to enter the UK and achieve a return on the investment that businesses have already made in their websites.  The building trade spends an enormous amount of time, money and energy attracting visitors to their sites only for them to lose interest – for every 100 visitors, less than one would typically convert.  We are going to help UK businesses overcome this challenge.”

Leadoo believes it can help any company so long as they have enough website visitors to make it worthwhile.  It’s then a matter of ensuring that the interactive help matches with a visitor’s thoughts and expectations, which makes it twice as likely they will convert into a lead.

Leadoo inpagebotDepending on a company’s requirements, Leadoo can implement different bots including ModalBots, VideoBots and InpageBots, the latter being hugely successful. Leadoo says InpageBots sit as a natural part of website content, do not distract or interrupt the visitor, and have a 6x higher engagement rate than traditional chatbots as they ask just the right questions at the right place and time.

Leadoo aims to keep its processes and customer service as simple and responsive as possible and aims to have a client signed up and working in two weeks. There are three packages starting from £399 per month (annual contract) for use of one of the Leadoo bots (Modal, Chat or Video for example).


Daden logoConversations about chatbots reminds me of Birmingham, UK-based Daden (who still send me their newsletters). Almost a decade ago (see March 2010 post), when BIM was still at an early stage in its UK roll-out, they were pushing the boundaries of Second Life, a web-accessed virtual reality application, for a variety of construction industry scenarios. In March 2011, Daden felt virtual worlds could be used in planning, in consultation, for project collaboration, for building user feedback, to model use by wheelchair users, to model services for future maintenance needs, to show different environmental conditions, to test security strategies, to identify building navigation issues, for simulation and training purposes, etc. Many of these scenarios were also being tested on real projects, supporting design activities relating to the new Library of Birmingham, for example.

Daden imageIn addition to immersive learning and ‘Trainingscapes‘,  Chatbots were then an early part of their online toolset and over the past decade Daden has been exploring how such tools might be used internally for employee coaching, knowledge management, virtual tutors and customer service. This latter application is therefore similar to Leadoo. Meanwhile, last week at the LondonBuild show, I also talked to Botmore’s Aydin Ozcekic, CEO of Botmore Technology, who has been developing a ‘construction digital assistant’ combining project data, sensor-derived data (the ‘internet of things’) and interactive chatbot technologies, using natural language processing techniques (see February 2019 post: AI, Machine Learning, construction and bots) – also being exploited by HiveMap (post), whose co-founder Torsten Wolter was also at LondonBuild.

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Is contech a subset of proptech (or vice-versa)?

Some writers seem to regard contech as a small subset of proptech, but data created during asset delivery will be a foundation for many future proptech transactions.

I recently subscribed to a proptech newsletter from James Dearsley’s online community Unissu, wanting to understand a little more about how the real estate world is developing, using and potentially being disrupted by new technologies.

JLL State of ConstructionMy interest was partly stimulated by realisation that the UK architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is increasingly being exhorted to think about the whole life value of the built assets it creates (see the 2018 UK Government Construction Deal, for example, and the Construction Leadership Council’s 2018 Procuring for Value report). And recent UK attention on the potential of ‘digital twins’ also underlines the connection to be made (literally!) between the digital delivery of built assets and their design, construction, operation, maintenance and use in real life (read post). I subsequently had an interesting conversation with James Dearsley about my views of proptech versus contech – and I was reminded of this recently by a Unissu newsletter link to a blog post by US writer Logan Nagel: PropTech and ConTech Aren’t So Far Apart (stimulated by a US State of Construction Technology report from Jones Lang LaSalle).

Proptech v contech

As a technology consultant and analyst, I have watched the AEC sector shift from being a largely paper-based analogue world in the late 1980s to one where digital transformation is now widely discussed. Suffering from decades of under-investment in ICT, construction currently has low levels of digitisation – as repeated analyses from the McKinsey Global Institute have shown – with other market sectors far more advanced. MGI’s European study puts construction bottom of the table.

Industry digitisation in EuropeReal estate, by contrast, sits mid-table. However, it is one of the worse sectors in terms of its “digital asset stock” (basically, the extent to which its assets incorporate digital technologies and are digitally connected, and how far its firms are data-enabled). This is perhaps to be expected: the real estate market operates with buildings that may have been built decades, even centuries ago, and retrofitting legacy buildings with new digital technologies is a relatively slow and expensive process. MGI’s assessment of European real estate sector, though, also says that while it is relatively under-digitised, it has some digital disruptors. These operate in the proptech space.

Common definitions of proptech describe it as digitising property management using a variety of smart technologies to enable financial and information transactions, to manage properties and related documentation, and to provide research and analytics. There has been significant investment in tools to digitise the sale, purchase or rental of residential or commercial properties, for example, and also in managing the associated financing, insurances and contracts – areas where proptech overlaps with professional services and with financial technologies, fintech.

In terms of size, the global real estate market – in 2016, the residential market was worth some US$170 trillion, while the commercial real estate market was worth over US$32 trillion – dwarfs global construction output: US$10.8 trillion. Similarly, investment in proptech has outstripped investment in contech. It is perhaps understandable, then, that some commentators see contech as a much smaller subset of proptech.

Proptech push/pull

However, perhaps we should regard the two areas as complementary: one pushing data, the other pulling it? Construction is, after all, more than just buildings, and it is an activity that precedes real estate occupation and use.

First, if we remove the ‘real estate blinkers’ and look at the bigger picture, we can see that construction is not just about buildings. It also includes extensive developments in infrastructure including transportation and utilities. Investment in such infrastructure, often with longer life-spans, is critical to the success and continued value of real estate projects. So, if we regard infrastructure as the necessary foundation for successful buildings, perhaps we should be adopting a more holistic view of the built environment than one which is mainly focused on ‘property’.

Second, increasingly digitised planning, design, construction, commissioning and handover processes involve capturing, creating and developing rich data about our built assets – data which will often find itself being reused for post-construction activities. For example, cloud-based collaboration platforms, reality capture tools, building information modelling (BIM) processes, geospatial data, and embedded sensor technologies are now being used to create the digital foundations for future owner-operator or end-user interactions with their surrounding built environment.

In the aftermath of London’s Grenfell Tower tragedy, creating a digital “golden thread” of information about our built assets from planning through to occupation and eventual demolition may well become obligatory. And looking ahead, strategic decision-making about future built asset investments will be informed by economic, social and environmental insights made possible by securely connected ‘Digital Twin’ capabilities.

Third (and following on from the previous point), efficient planning, design and construction of built assets will have a direct bearing on how rapidly they deliver a return on investment and on how well they perform as (data-rich) assets. With asset owner-operators able to ascertain the energy efficiency and space utilisation of their buildings, the productivity of their people, and the real-time costs of maintenance activities (among and other metrics) – in short, the value created – they will be in a better position to define their future asset needs (and associated information requirements), while also providing a feedback loop to designers and constructors about how well they contributed to the asset’s value.

This enables a virtuous circle in which data – initially created by designers and constructors, then expanded and extended by owner-operators – evidences the opportunities to continuously improve asset delivery processes. By moving from digitisation – the replacement of analogue processes by digital approaches – to digitalisation – “changing the business model and providing new revenue and value-producing opportunities” (to paraphrase Gartner’s definition) – asset owners and their asset delivery teams will use technology to enable new forms of digital business, while eroding the distinction currently made between ‘contech’ and ‘proptech’.

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Hivemap startup pins hopes on cloud analytics

London-based startup Hivemap launched in early 2019, and is trying to disrupt the construction collaboration market by a focus on business data analytics.

New Civil Engineer’s TechFest event in September 2019 featured a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style contest between five early stage technology businesses. Alongside the relatively mature EviFile* (see post) was a London-based company which only launched its solution in early 2019, and which is trying to disrupt the collaboration market by its focus on analytics and business intelligence.

Hivemap logoHivemap was incorporated in 2018 by Matt Hobby, a former healthcare analytics specialist, and Torsten Wolter, a former product and business leader at Amazon, who felt they could apply insights gained from trying to solve problems for software teams to other industry sectors. And with insights from advisors including former Bechtel executives with experience of launching AEC software products in the US (Rhumbix – November 2017 post – was mentioned), construction was selected as Hivemap’s initial target industry in late 2018.

Hivemap’s target market

Matt HobbyTorsten WolterHivemap is targeting medium-sized projects in the £5m to £50m bracket – schemes, Hobby (left) said, often undertaken by SME main contractors run by ambitious 30-something construction professionals. These are often frustrated by the sheer volume of reports, spreadsheets, emails and other communications – Wolter (right) says “Hivemap helps project leaders focus on the crunch points.  No need to read lengthy reports and emails. This means better and faster actions“.

They believe many managers are not helped by cumbersome document management platforms, by new “voodoo” technologies (drones, AR/VR, etc) or by the Luddite attitudes of many SME business owners in an ageing industry. Some ten years on from the first wave of mobile-first application developers (SmartBuilder, Woobius – post), Hobby says a younger generation of entrepreneurs want to set up their own businesses and apply the kinds of agile, intuitive mobile and social media tools they have grown up with. He sees construction as being at an inflection point – “45% of the industry is aged under 35” – and believes the time is right to launch a new generation of project management and coordination services underpinned by rich analytics.

A prototype minimum viable product was launched in January 2019 to elicit feedback from use on a residential development in Yorkshire. This prompted a major overhaul of the user interface, and Hivemap is now at what Hobby described as a Beta test stage, looking for new users to road-test the latest version of the system.

Coordination and insight

Hobby says Hivemap seeks to resolve a trio of strongly connected problems arising from disjointed project information common in fragmented multi-disciplinary, multi-company project delivery teams:

  • Poor and/or slow decision-making: most projects generate huge volumes of documents – daily reports, quality assurance documentation, health and safety reviews, plans and programmes, etc – and, for many projects, email is a poor way of connecting people to this data
  • Opaque logistics: The supply and delivery of materials, components, plant and equipment to sites is poorly managed
  • Legal disputes: Owners, consultants, contractors and suppliers can sometimes find themselves embroiled in time-consuming arbitration processes relating to project time and schedule overruns or quality issues (many small contractors, Hobby said, stand a more than even chance of becoming involved in at least one arbitration if they work on a typical projects over a five-year period).

Of course, there are SaaS/mobile solutions that solve one, or sometimes more than one of these problems, but, after talking to 100s of businesses, Hobby said he had yet to find one using a solution that could manage all three. Moreover, he said the commercial delivery models of existing solutions does not reflect where the value is added (collaboration platform license fees calculated on a small percentage – say 0.8% – of project capital value are commonly deployed on UK projects, he said).


Hivemap issuesThe basic project management features of Hivemap are provided free of charge. Documents, drawings and forms can be uploaded to the system and accessed by authorised team members via a standard web browser (native mobile applications are in development, applying a WhatsApp style interface to encourage near real-time conversations, while retaining records of who did – and said – what and when). A mindmap-style interface is easy to navigate; users can define shared team and private spaces, populate these spaces with project-related content, manage a range of common industry workflows (including progress on ordering and taking delivery of materials, etc), and rapidly create reports via a drag-and-drop report builder.

And as well as standard tabular reports and barcharts, Hivemap can present analysis in other formats: network diagrams and word-clouds, for example, showing clusters of issues arising in, say, design, procurement or project communication. If a business encounters a problem, the core system does more than provide the documentary background. Hivemap’s selling point is its analytics toolset that can be used to identify the root causes of changes, delays, budget overruns, defects, health and safety problems, etc. Particularly where these might cause legal disputes, Hobby says its customers are happy to pay for the analytical insights; using natural language processing (NLP) to search through ingested information, the core platform’s algorithm is constantly learning from 1000s of exchanges, searches and queries run by previous and current users. Wolter says there are lots of tools that are good at quantitative analysis, but few make sense of the language used in projects to identify the critical pain points.

The Extranet Evolution view

In some respects, Hivemap shares similarities with the kind of business intelligence (BI) generated by Autodesk’s Construction IQ platform (see BIM is not Big Data). However, Hivemap is making that kind of insight available to SMEs, not just large Tier One contractors (who might pay for it as an additional paid-for service on top of their common data environment, CDE). In the currently highly fragmented construction market (one in five of the UK’s SMEs work in construction – over 300,000 UK businesses), that means there is a lot of untapped potential, and many share Hobby’s frustration with spreadsheets and email (as, for example, did the founders of another London startup, Aphex – post)

Hivemap is at a very early stage in its development, and while it was unsuccessful in its bid to win at the NCE TechFest, Hobby said the experience confirmed the cloud analytics capability set it apart from other solutions.

The pricing model is potentially disruptive. Collaborative information management via the web is a mature market with a lot of UK and overseas suppliers of both generic and AEC-specific solutions. There were at least a dozen at Digital Construction Week in London, 16-17 October 2019 – I noted Asite, Atvero, Autodesk (and Plangrid), Bentley, BuilderStorm, Clearbox, Dalux, Glider, GroupBC, iBinder, Kreo, LetsBuild, Procore, RIB and Viewpoint, to name just a few). SaaS/mobile document management is therefore something of a commodity (Wolter used the phrase “red ocean”: cut-throat competition in existing industries turning the ocean bloody red) and, in an enormously price-sensitive target segment like SME contractors, a ‘freemium’ model could be very appealing (it’s a route also taken by Kreo – see November 2019 post).

[* Disclosure: I am a non-executive advisor to eviFile.]

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