May 26 2017

Opentree providing CDE WIP integration

Opentree’s Cabinet solution helps firms manages BIM work-in-progress, and offers automated file naming and seamless upload to common data environments (CDEs) such as Viewpoint for Projects.

Opentree logoExhibitors at the Viewpoint 2017 customer summit event (see previous post) included consultants Waterstons and PCSG, Sempre Analytics (helping Viewpoint deliver better dashboards) and Teesside, UK-based Opentree, who told me about their Cabinet enterprise-level document management solution.

Cabinet logoEstablished in 1992 as tsaADVET Ltd and selling network-based CAD solutions from Intergraph, Bentley and Autodesk, the company later resold and supported the Falcon EDMS for CAD management. However, they realised that the EDMS product was not meeting all customers’ needs (c 2000), so they developed their own EDMS, CAB-i-NET (now Cabinet). This product, with a ‘look and feel’ that will be immediately familiar to Windows users, was adopted by key engineering customers including British Steel (now Tata Steel) and Westinghouse Rail Systems (now Siemens) and Cabinet has evolved to manage office documents as well as CAD drawings. In 2014, after a management buy-out led by current CEO Andrew Frank, the company rebranded as Opentree. In addition to Tata and Siemens, customers today include Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Alstom and Sellafield Ltd.

Cabinet BIMFrank told me that they support the in-house “work-in-progress” phase of BIM authoring, prior to designs being shared with the client’s wider project team. UK BIM expert Mervyn Richards worked with the firm to help ensure it supports the BS1192:2007 processes required at Level 2, with Cabinet helping compliance through automated file naming and seamless upload to the client’s common data environment (CDE), eg: Viewpoint for Projects.

They have been working extensively with Viewpoint to integrate their respective systems via APIs (a recurring theme at the Viewpoint summit). Cabinet can also support automatic upload to other CDEs including Asite, Aconex, Sitedesk, Trimble Connect and Autodesk BIM 360 Docs – though two-way integration is dependent on these other vendors’ active cooperation and having fully documented APIs (some of these relationships were still at an early stage, Frank said).

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May 24 2017

Growing Viewpoint continues BIM push

Viewpoint Construction Software continues to grow its EMEA revenues, with BIM a strongpoint for customer adoption, says Steve Spark. 

Viewpoint logo 2016Ahead of the Viewpoint Construction Software UK user conference in London this week (24-25 May), I met up with Steve Spark, Viewpoint’s EMEA commercial director, to hear what the company planned to share with its customers and end-users.

Continued double-digit growth 

The Newcastle, UK-based EMEA operation continued to grow its SaaS collaboration and mobile revenues in 2016, up 24% on 2015, Spark said (at the conference, a slide showed full-year revenues at around £14m – c. $17.3m or €14.7m). The company’s Middle East market was “tough” and growth there had been “flat,” but its partnerships strategy in mainland Europe had delivered a boost of around 15%.

However, the company’s strong position in the UK has delivered the bulk of the company’s revenue growth, Spark said, with Viewpoint UK winning work from asset owner/operators, tier 1 contractors and also from consultants and other supply chain members. Looking at the UK’s top 20 contractors, he says Viewpoint is working with all but one of them.

Given that some clients may insist on other systems and that some contractors may use several SaaS providers, this is hardly conclusive evidence of market domination (customer logos displayed in vendor slide decks often include the same businesses), but Spark highlights enterprise deals, which are more conclusive. “Fifty per cent of the top 20 UK contractors have signed enterprise deals to use Viewpoint For Projects (VFP), while we also have enterprise deals with 15% of them for use of Viewpoint Field View.” (Field View was formerly the mobile application Priority1, acquired in December 2014).

The total number of VFP users as of April 2017 is now 262,000, up 29% from 203,470 in 2016 (active users were given as 43,181, up from 37,936 in 2016). The VFP platform now hosts over 711,000 documents, up 27%. Total number of projects was up 48% to 117,628.

Viewpoint VFP stats May 2017

Why adopt Viewpoint?

Viewpoint 2017 survey dataWe talked about reasons behind this growing adoption of the Viewpoint collaboration products, with Constructing Excellence’s key performance indicators (KPIs; 2016 report here) providing some context for customer research that Viewpoint had undertaken. This survey showed that 84% of Viewpoint rated the software as delivering a medium-high impact on return on investment, 95% rated it similarly for improvements in health and safety, in quality, and in reductions in errors and rework. “Sixty per cent of our users said they made cost savings of up to 20% at the design phase. Fifty-six per cent made cost savings of up to 20% at the construction phase.”

I asked if Viewpoint had seen any change in the market following Aconex’s March 2016 acquisition of the Anglo-German Conject business. “We understand that the Conject platform will be discontinued with many customers eventually being switched to the Aconex platform,” said Spark. “As a result, we have seen strong growth in enquiries from customers who are using this change as a reason to review their options. We have won new deals from customers who prefer our approach to collaboration to Aconex’s.”
(Read what Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper said about their product migration).

Product development

Viewpoint has continued to capitalise on its investments in adding building information modelling (BIM) functionality to its platform. Some of these date back to the early days of the UK BIM adoption programme or are updates on announcements made a year ago, though the latest step forward has been implementing support for IFC4. The VFP product roadmap includes addition of BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) capabilities (“We can already create and share BCF notifications; next step is to manage BCF responses”; BCF was discussed at Viewpoint’s 2016 summit too) and new tools to support asset owners’ operation and maintenance requirements.

As well as BIM and document control improvements, Spark said Viewpoint is also continuing to develop Field View with expanded support for forms, and growing project management capabilities, including integration with customer back-office systems including enterprise resource planning (ERP) – a strength of the US parent company. “We have been looking to strengthen our enterprise offering so that businesses can exploit their investment in their on-premise tools – such as Viewpoint’s Vista – by integrating these with our collaboration products in the cloud,” said Spark.

Team and Field

Larsen talks at 2017 VPCSJeremy Larsen (Viewpoint’s director of product development) told the conference about plans to make VFP more accessible from mobile platforms, with better support across the three main operating systems: Android (originally the sole platform for Field View), iOS and Windows. Repeating Spark’s integration point, Larsen also said further integration between VFP and Field View is on the roadmap.

Barry Frangipane talked about Field View. The product is now fully available on iOS, and Viewpoint is working towards full parity with Windows (the release is imminent). The dated and cumbersome user interface has been replaced; it is now faster to load, requires fewer clicks, and is more responsive, with customisable screens. Field View dashboards have also been improved. He also talked about “skinny sync” – optimising synchronisation between the web application and local devices so that users didn’t sync data they didn’t require, or no longer needed. Forms can now be printed direct from tablets too, and support for PDFs is improving, Frangipane said.

What’s next? Field View will be able to link to documents that are held in VFP. Field View will be available on smartphones in 2018 (it will be quicker to onboard new devices too), and there will be more APIs to give greater access to information.

Josh Wright talked about VFP product development. Multi-file upload has been added to the system, deploying new and more user-friendly drag-and-drop technologies (requiring less training), with an interface that includes progress bars so users are updated on upload progress. VFP Desktop provides “the ease of Dropbox with the power of VFP,” he said.

What’s coming next? VFP is moving to an HTML5 viewer (dropping any reliance on ActiveX plug-ins or Flash); the new Brava viewer will support view and mark-up in all major browsers, with comparisons available in Chrome. Dashboard developments will include slicker visualisations, customisable to personal and project level tasks. VFP Mobile will provide easy access to VFP on tablets (Android, iOS and Windows) for access to documents in the field. The BIM viewer has been strengthened to support IFC4 and improve COBie navigation and model performance. BS1192-2 numbering is also on the product roadmap for the second half of 2017.

Innovation and the future…. Larsen’s team is also looking beyond six-month spans seeking user guidance on what might be needed two-three years in the future, particularly on project communications. Matt Harris, SVP, Products, had earlier talked about “Viewpoint’s next generation project platform” – Larsen talked about a “state of the art platform”, utilising the Microsoft Azure platform (echoes of Bentley here), Xamarin, HTML5, and AngularJS. The aim is software that is intuitive, ease to use and flexible, supporting defined business processes, Larsen said.

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May 22 2017

eviFile – geo-located progressive assurance

Complementing BIM, mobile geospatial services such as IDS’s eviFile will help infrastructure providers securely track their assets and associated processes.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have had a number of conversations with Ed Williams, now client services director at the Leeds, UK-based IDS Group. When we first met, Ed was working on the concept of a mobile reporting tool that used familiar (and therefore user-friendly) Google geolocation technologies such as Google Maps and Street View to help built environment clients and their supply chains capture data about, report on and manage projects across dispersed locations.

Highway engineering case study

The concept was tested with UK contractor Balfour Beatty (eventually leading to a project case study published by COMIT: Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT in July 2015). BIM manager for highways and infrastructure Harry Parnell had wanted a solution to link photographic evidence of motorway project progress issues to designs authored using building information modelling (BIM). Previously, coordinating site photographs with their exact locations in 3D models was slow and laborious, requiring manual cutting and pasting of data, and importing and exporting between multiple applications. Parnell said:

Harry Parnell“We wanted a more seamless way to quickly and accurately capture up to 40 different metadata attributes relating to a photo, so that, as section engineers identified issues, the data could immediately then be reused for checking, approval and electronic, rather than in-person, sign-off processes.”

During 2013, Parnell and his Balfour Beatty colleagues began reviewing different mobile photo mapping and geolocation tools, eventually testing what is today the IDS solution on a motorway improvement project: the £208m M25 Section 5, J23-J27 scheme, northeast of London.

From marker posts and signs to gantry elements (pile, pile cap, leg, boom), over-bridges and culverts, around 1000 assets were each assigned a unique reference number, which was also captured in the 3D model. As work proceeded, issues – structural defects, missing signs, poor paint finishes – were photographed and their locations could be fine-tuned using Google’s Street View technology, incorporated in the browser-based system. Being written in HTML5, it also worked across multiple mobile operating systems and devices.

“GPS accuracy was +/- 5m, so associating photographs gave a clear visual confirmation of each asset’s exact location,” says Parnell. “Using the application saved hours every week. New issues were raised at evening coordination meetings, allocated to the relevant section staff, and once rectified could be checked and closed-out.”

In five months, over 50 engineers and inspectors managed over 900 quality tasks raised on-site using the system. Real-time reporting closed the gap and accelerated collaboration between site and office-based project staff. From a survey of users, Parnell calculated an average saving of three hours a week per person, saving approximately £250,000 against comparable projects.

The M25 Section 5 team delivered the project 26 weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, while using the application to work more efficiently and capture data once. Certainty regarding defect closure was vital. “Rectifying a problem after traffic management had been lifted would cost over £10,000, versus the average £690 if traffic management was still in place,” says Parnell.

Deploying a single data capture and reporting system across multiple projects means a contractor like Balfour Beatty can ensure high levels of data consistency and quality, and standardise cross-project reporting for group quality, health and safety and environmental purposes. Clients also get richer, more accurate, real-time data about their new assets. Importantly, the technology can also be used to manage existing assets. Williams adds:

“Being managed in a secure, cloud-based environment, the system is highly scalable. And by using unique IDs for numerous assets, it provides a convenient way for field workers to collect and share high quality, location-specific data in real-time with their colleagues.”

The product’s secure, time-, date-, location-stamped and tamper-proof format, now branded eviFile (reflecting its evidence-based approach), also provided reassurance to compliance teams, concerned about any potential dispute or claim.

eviFile – field data collection and reporting

In the two years since that Balfour Beatty case study, the product has been developed further. IDS is now marketing eviFile as an enterprise-level application that can be used to record and manage field assets, track inspection routes and provide tamper-proof evidence of events happening in the field. The system is accessible on smartphones, tablets and desktop devices, with all data securely managed by hosting partner AQL, and is designed as a ‘drop-in’ solution that can be easily integrated with an ‘ecosystem’ of existing applications and processes.

eviTrackComplementing the eviFile data capture technology, the platform also provides ‘eviTrack’: functionality that provides “a visual snail-trail of event activity and routes”. This can show, for example, the sequence of locations visited by an inspector, with the data captured at each location automatically time and date-stamped. The eviFile digital signing process guarantees that reports were collected at a particular time and in a particular place, with digital signatures captured using standardised UK cryptographic algorithms.

As well as the highways sector, Williams says the eviFile system is attracting interest from other highly regulated infrastructure providers, notably the rail sector – drawn by eviFile’s ability to provide what he describes as “progressive assurance“. Delivering new rail assets, or updating existing ones, can involve a sequence of ten or more activities, each of which is subject to a quality inspection and must be signed-off prior to the next one starting. Contractors can quickly accumulate large volumes of paperwork documenting these processes – Williams recalls a recent project generating some 26,000 pieces of paper, “and the number grows further once you add in the snagging loop on top of the progress monitoring.”

EviFile is licensed to Regular Users, who can then share an eviFile with partners, clients or contractors (‘collaborators’) to capture their comments but without enabling them to make any additional changes to the captured data. Data is stored in a Vault – which is available with two grades of security: enterprise and military strength. For 25 enterprise users, I understand pricing starts from around £30,000 per annum, though the cost per user obviously drops if customers need bigger implementations – a 250-user requirement would cost around £150,000, for example.

The new geospatial battleground

Geospatial data is becoming increasingly important. Implementation of BIM to support infrastructure projects was hampered until the industry started to develop classification systems, such as Uniclass 2015, that more adequately covered ‘linear’ civil engineering projects in the road, rail, power and water sectors, for instance.

As infrastructure providers seek to manage multi-project programmes of work or widely dispersed existing assets, often a map showing locations is the most obvious, and user-friendly, way to navigate to particular sites or places within sites. Steve Crompton, CTO of SaaS collaboration and CDE vendor GroupBC (Business Collaborator, proponents of ‘Semantic BIM‘ or connected data; post), powerfully demonstrated this at a BeginBIM17 event which I chaired at Turner and Townsend’s London office on 18 May (the company will also be exhibiting its “GeoConnect+” service at this week’s GeoBusiness event, on stand M15, in London, 23-24 May with a workshop about the service at 2.45pm on 24 May – Update [26 May 2017]: read this PCSG blog post about GeoConnect+).

Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper had geolocation services on his product roadmap when I interviewed him recently (post); last week I also wrote about the US’s Unearth (post) which is merging aerial imagery with project data, and recalled Finland’s Infrakit (April 2016 post) – also seemingly focused on geolocated civil engineering data and workflows.

[Disclosures: I provided consultancy work relating to the prototype technology and to compilation of the original Balfour Beatty case study. I am also a dissemination partner of COMIT, and have provided marketing consultancy services to GroupBC.]

2017 COMIT conference


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May 18 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 3)

Aconex logo 2014In the final section of this three-part Extranet Evolution interview with Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper (read part one; part two), the focus is digital transformation and long-term growth prospects.

Digitising construction

As a former McKinsey consultant, Jasper was pleased to talk about the McKinsey Global Institute’s ‘Digital Transformation’ reports showing how developed economies (like Australia, US, UK and western Europe) were pushing forward in digitising their construction industries. While the sectors were starting from a low base (in the US, MGI’s December 2015 report showed only agriculture and hunting was less digitised; a June 2016 MGI report showed that, in Europe, construction was bottom of the league), he said this meant there was lots of opportunities for technology providers such as Aconex to help the industry adopt new ways of collaborating.

McKinsey report cover“Construction is at the bottom in terms of spend on IT, which I see as an opportunity because at some point construction will start spending at the levels of other industries. The nature of the industry is that it’s quite conservative in terms of its adoption of technology, and the UK and Australia, with Germany in some respects, are well ahead of other markets. The [February 2017] McKinsey report shows all the countries that have been early adopters of our technology – collaboration or more general digitisation – have increased labour productivity in construction.”

Returning to the investor presentation and its growth forecasts, Jasper said:

Leigh JasperThere is no reason why we can’t grow at 20%-plus for a very long time given the scale of the market. And I reckon we are still only less than 1% of the impact we could have on the global construction market. With all the providers globally, the market is still less than 10% penetrated, and I reckon we are picking up less than 10% of the total processes we could manage over time. As the industry digitises more and more, every process will become digital over time – well, it will have digital as well as physical components. So there is still more impact we could have on the industry, and that’s what gives us confidence we can grow for a very long time.”

We discussed emerging industry standards in areas such as BIM and workflow, and how these have helped providers develop software. “We believe we can be a big part of that standardisation across the industry, and particularly being open with our APIs, we can become part of wider digitisation.”

However (and consistent with what he said when announcing the 2016 results), Aconex’s growth was unlikely to be delivered by another Conject-style competitor acquisition, Jasper said, forecasting “massive” opportunities for many construction software businesses as the industry digitises:

“We’ll do it organically. There might be some product bolt-ons – we’ll make some ‘build versus buy’ decisions and we have a range of discussions going on regarding potential bolt-ons. Nothing immediate, though.

“We don’t see any others in our space as competition – we are all helping in this drive towards digitisation. If we can take IT spend from 1% to 2-3% in a $10 trillion construction market, the potential is massive.

My analysis

While not the first SaaS construction collaboration provider to launch, Aconex has expanded out from its Australian roots to become the dominant pure-play provider in the global market (Autodesk and Bentley probably have similar global reach, but SaaS collaboration – Buzzsaw/BIM360 and ProjectWise respectively – are only parts of much bigger software portfolios, much of them based on on-premise installation and usage).

Recognising that SaaS provision quickly transcends national boundaries, and that the Australasian market alone would not satisfy their ambitions, Aconex established footholds in both developed and developing markets around the world. It also looked beyond building projects to embrace civil engineering and natural resource projects. While it suffered occasional setbacks due to regional conflicts (civil war in north Africa, for example) or economic downturns (eg: the global financial crisis, gas and oil price plunges), it seems this wide spread of activity has helped make Aconex more resilient compared to firms reliant on one region or one vertical market.

When Jasper talked about the Aconex technology stack “not being a mile wide but an inch deep”, I felt this might also now apply to their global reach. Its international expansion, particularly in the early days, was often based on creating small outposts, with energetic sales people looking for local early adopters to help grow a local footprint and reputation (not for the first time, someone at a competing SaaS firm last week described Aconex then as “backpackers”!). Aconex, particularly after the Conject acquisition, now has both wide international reach and sufficient depth of financial and human resources to build strong local operations in both developed markets and – probably more important for long-term growth – developing markets.

Aconex can also capitalise upon the technological sophistication of its customer base in the most developed markets such as the UK, Germany and other parts of western Europe, Singapore, Korea and Australasia and the US. As these push forward with BIM and other digital transformations (including – in due course – FM or asset management in the cloud), Aconex can make use of its customer and end-user networks to develop applications and functionality that can then support its customers’ construction and operations in emerging markets. Its ‘open’ philosophy may also help it grow as software partners market the integration opportunities with the Aconex platform.

Aconex shareprice all time to 17 May 2017The company has, understandably, attracted a lot of investor attention, being the first construction SaaS business to do an IPO. There was some uncertainty ahead of the on, off, on again flotation, but Aconex’s initial rise to ‘unicorn’ status in mid 2016 certainly boosted investor confidence in the sector. Partly as a result, several other ‘ConTech’ companies (eg: FinalcadPlangridProcore, think project!) are now well-funded and expanding their marketing and software R&D activities, adding scale and momentum to the industry’s digital transformation.

If early adopter customers start to show a conservative and often sceptical industry that they can improve productivity and deliver projects at higher margins and with greater certainty, then this may encourage other construction companies to upgrade their systems and undertake the necessary people and process transformations to make digital construction ‘business as usual’. Looking long term, Jasper may well see net construction IT spend more than double. The potential is, indeed, massive there.

And, while FM may be off the Aconex product road map for now, if digital transformation eventually extends to owners/operators managing asset information for operational purposes, then the growth potential (and, as operational spend is more consistent over time than construction spend, the resilience of revenues) could be even greater.

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May 17 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 2)

Aconex logo 2014In the second part of this now three-part Extranet Evolution interview with Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper (read part one), we talk about building information modelling, FM, mobile and other product development ideas.

Collaborative BIM

conjectCDE logoConject’s merger with BIW was a prolonged process, with key developments in areas such as mobile technology and BIM delayed at a time when, particularly in the UK, rival vendors were investing heavily in research and development activities. As a result, Conject lagged behind SaaS collaboration competitors such as Viewpoint (formerly 4Projects), Aconex and Asite in adding mobile applications to its portfolio (buying France’s Wapp6 in January 2014), while the same rivals were also pushing ahead with support for BIM (Conject finally entered the BIM race in March 2015, some three years after 4Projects had already started two BIM R&D projects, and a full eight years after Asite BIM was launched).

Aconex Connected BIM was launched in October 2014, and is marketed as part of the core platform, not a module for which customers have to pay extra. Jasper explained this was part of a wider digital operating system strategy:

Connected BIM“As it’s part of the platform, in a sense everybody uses it, but obviously to varying degrees. Some companies will use it very heavily and put lots of models into the system. Others might use it at a more shallow level. But BIM is a critical part of what we do – it wasn’t going to be something that was optional. We are putting digital building blocks together enabling us to create a collaborative operating system for the construction industry, and BIM is part of that operating system, as is mobility, how we handle documentation, workflows, cost – all these interlink…. Everything needs to be able to link to everything else.”

Jasper said he has seen growing use of Aconex for BIM, bolstered by an approach embracing open BIM standards, such as COBie, IFC and BCF (Aconex’s website features a video about BIM Collaboration Format showing how its platform can be used to share model ‘viewpoints’ generated in Solibri Model Viewer, and to manage the underlying workflows). Involved with BuildingSmart, Aconex’s open philosophy also extends to open APIs:

The more open companies are on the market the better it will be for adoption of technology. Everything we build we put an API around it, and then our customers can look at what degree they want to integrate with internal systems or even other providers in the market.”

Aconex’s Australian domestic market is not as far advanced as the UK in BIM adoption, Jasper said, partly because the UK had benefitted from the collective incentive of a government mandate:

“Certainly there is a level of BIM adoption in Australia which compared to the US is much higher, but behind the UK and one or two European countries. In the US, BIM became really topical about three or four years ago and we need to get that back. One of the challenges in the US is that people only look at it from their point of view. BIM is one of those things that, the more that owners and contractors work together the better the results for the project team.”

BIM for FM?

We touched on asset information management (“That’s probably the next step for the industry,” Jasper said, “Owners need to be specifying early what they need and then moving towards full asset life cycle and the operations phase”). However, Aconex’s investor pitch currently stops at information handover; Jasper hadn’t detected any huge demand from customers for Aconex to develop an FM solution:

“We see FM as part of that entire story but the reality is that … in our development stack there is still a lot to do in the design and construction phase. In five years, we will have a SaaS FM product as part of the suite, but we are not actively building that at the moment. Conject had such a product, but whether that’s the tool we end up taking forward we are reviewing at the moment. It’s a bit separate to other parts of the business.”


Aconex FieldBy contrast, the functionality of Conject’s mobile tools would be retained: “We are pulling it all into one platform. Any functionality that we don’t have in Aconex Field we are pulling into our solution,” Jasper said. The company’s product development approach is not based on trying to cover every possible requirement: “We are not one for being a mile wide but an inch deep. If we are going to add a function or a module, we want to make sure it’s really good.

Jasper summarised Aconex’s four functional priority areas as:

  • deepening the collaboration tools (developments include currently extending configuration to manage packages of work)
  • expanding field and mobility
  • extending BIM capabilities, and
  • Connected Cost (he talked about “making cost more collaborative”)

Aconex also wants to stay ahead of the game on security (in March 2017, Aconex announced it was seeking certification under the US Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, FedRAMP – something that will enable Aconex customers to win US federal government projects with advanced security compliance requirements; in the UK, it is already registered on the government’s digital marketplace, GCloud, and we briefly discussed PAS1192-5 – post). Jasper also talked about incorporating scheduling information (currently dominated by Oracle’s Primavera and MS Project) and geolocation services into the platform.

However, this isn’t all about adding functionality to attract new customers. Jasper said the business also needed to keep reminding long-standing customers and existing end-users that the once-familiar Aconex product set was constantly evolving and expanding.

(Coming soon: in the final part of this interview, Leigh Jasper talks about the growth opportunities if construction embraces digital transformation.)

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May 16 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 1)

Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper was in the UK recently, and talked to Extranet Evolution. This first instalment of a two three-part interview discusses outcomes of the Conject acquisition and the development of the Connected Cost application.

Aconex logo 2014The day after an Aconex investor presentation in Melbourne was a good time to get an update on the Australian construction collaboration Software-as-a-Service provider’s recent progress from CEO Leigh Jasper. Unusually, he hadn’t delivered part of the presentation himself.

That 4 May briefing was left to new CFO Paul Koppelman and COO Paul Perrott, who reiterated the Au$160-165m (c. £98-101m, US$122-126m or €113-117m) revenue forecast and the Au$15-18 EBITDA forecast given in January, along with expectations of underlying growth of 15-19%, and 20% revenue growth in the medium-long term. They also gave reassuring messages about sales momentum, reduced Brexit-related uncertainty in the UK, improved conditions in the US, and more stable oil prices. Aconex’s share price has rebounded to around Au$4.50 (it’s now recouped about half of that end-of-January plunge).

Aconex WokingMeanwhile, Leigh Jasper was visiting the UK. I met him in the former Conject offices in Woking (now with Aconex branding – the UK operation also has an office in central London, and the locations would eventually be rationalised he told me, though this won’t affect the development centre in Nottingham).

Conject integration

The office location (which, pre-Conject, had been BIW Technologies’ head office – and my place of work when I worked for the business) naturally prompted some questions about how integration of the Anglo-German business had progressed since Aconex bought it for A$96m (c. £51m) in March 2016.

Some one-off expenses associated with the Conject deal were noted in the investor presentation, but the merger had involved few redundancies, Jasper said: “maybe a dozen or less” out of 220 (I know few of the Woking-based admin and marketing staff remain, while at least one Middle East employee was let go). The rationale for the acquisition had not been about eliminating a competitor and then stripping out costs, but about growth synergies, improving Aconex’s European footprint, retaining a really strong team (“our sales leaders in the UK are all the Conject guys”), and integrating some of Conject’s sector-leading technologies into the Aconex platform.

Jasper felt the integration of Conject into Aconex had progressed smoothly because many of its people had already gone through a similar process and learned lessons from the previous merger (when Munich-based Conject acquired BIW in December 2010).

Conject customer reaction to the acquisition had been very positive, Jasper said. Customers are not being forced to switch to the Aconex platform; current projects managed on Conject (“which is very cost-effective to host and run”) will continue to be supported until they finish (even if this took 5-6 years). Some Conject customers (Mace was mentioned) have already started new projects on the Aconex platform, he said, and “maybe only one” customer had been lost.

Jasper said the deal had made Aconex a stronger proposition to customers that previously would not have considered either Conject or Aconex:

“In the UK market, we are selling in to new customers where Aconex wouldn’t have won them, but the strength of the product combined with the strength of the sales team means we now have a very strong combination. There was probably a bit of under-investment in the UK-based Conject products and having a stronger Aconex platform has helped.”

UK and European customers can now be confident they are dealing with a company with a strong regional presence, while the deal had also extended the technology capabilities, he said.

Connected Cost

Foremost among these was Conject’s Financial Control module, a mature construction project cost management application that, in its early days, had helped differentiate BIW from its UK rivals. Coupled with Aconex’s July 2015 acquisition of US-based vendor Worksite from ARES Project Management Ltd (which “brought us forward several years in being able to get Connected Cost to market”), Aconex now had a strong cost management team (Jasper singled out one-time Conject professional services director Nick Sansome; post) and a powerful cost tool. Aconex Connected Cost was Beta tested with some customers then made generally available in late 2016 ahead of an April 2017 marketing push. It enables Aconex to compete with US-based vendors whose systems have historically been stronger on cost control than on document collaboration. It was proving a strong differentiator, Jasper said.

Leigh Jasper“We are seeing really big interest, and a number of deals have already been done on the product. [American carmaker and energy storage company] Tesla is now a customer of ours and is one we wouldn’t have got without Connected Cost, so it’s helping us win more work, and it’s really important to our customers. Particularly in the US, cost is more important to them than collaboration, and I think our cost product is the best SaaS solution on the market, particularly when you compare it to some of the products built 10 or 15 years ago.”

(The second and third parts of this interview includes discussion of BIM, asset management and mobile technologies, and of growth prospects if construction embraces digital transformation.)

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May 10 2017

think project! sales up 35% in 2016

Expansion in Europe helped Germany’s think project! grow its 2016 revenues by around 17%, and its CEO plans to accelerate international growth.

Thinkproject-logothink project!, the Munich, Germany-based provider of Software-as-a-Service collaboration and information management software to the construction and engineering industries, recorded a 35% increase in sales in the year to 31 December 2016. It says it grew revenues to almost €30m (c. £25.6m or US$31.6m), compared to 2015‘s €25.4m – so somewhere around 17% revenue growth.

According to the company, revenues developed positively across all target segments (public and private asset owners, general contractors, project managers), while highlights included the February 2017 investment from private equity firm TA Associates, and the successful roll-out of solutions for BIM Collaboration. Last year, think project! also, in June 2016, acquired a majority stake in Austria’s think project! distributor, founded a joint venture with ProjectCenter in Spain (September), acquired German competitor Conetics (October), and established a new R&D location in Poland.

Following its roll-out of BIM Collaboration solutions, think project! says more than 60 projects have already mapped collaboration processes for more than 7,500 models within think project!. CEO Thomas Bachmaier said:

Thomas Bachmaier“We are very pleased with the business development of think project! in 2016. With our new partnership with TA Associates, we will accelerate our international growth and strengthen our position as the ‘partner for digital transformation’ by further focusing the developments of BIM solutions within think project!.”

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May 09 2017

Unearth: merges aerial and ground data

Unearth logoSeattle, US-based startup Unearth has launched a cloud-based construction collaboration application that merges aerial and ground-level data, potentially capitalising on the growing use of site surveys via UAVs or drones. Its proposition is summed up as: “Unearth provides interactive aerial maps of your projects, secure storage for your build history, and simple collaboration for your entire team.”

Now nine-strong, Unearth was founded by three people who had previously helped build a hotel marketing platform, Buuteeq (acquired by Priceline in 2014). Aware of construction’s consistently declining productivity rates and what they regarded as a lack of innovation in construction software, the team focused on merging all construction data sources into a snapshot of project status. Unearth CEO Brian Saab says:

“When you look at software in the construction sector, you’ll either see folks replacing existing pen and paper processes with digital forms, or you see advanced remote sensing data sequestered among a few tech-geeks working in an office far from the jobsite. We democratize all the information captured on a construction project and use it to jumpstart real-time discussion and decision-making across remote offices and the jobsite. Our software literally changes how information flows, how decisions are made, and how projects are completed.”

The platform combines:

  • mobile technologies
  • aerial imagery (from drones and satellites – Unearth is putting projects in touch with drone survey companies if they are not already using drones, but if a site is in restricted airspace, high resolution aerial imagery captured by aircraft can be provided instead)
  • artificial intelligence (AI) and spatial analysis, and
  • secure cloud-based networks.

These provide a new frame of reference for every member of a construction team, helping them coordinate build activities, direct supply deliveries, and monitor safety – all via a browser, or via native iOS or Android apps (which are currently in development). According to a news release I received:

“For weekly and monthly progress updates, the platform offers spatial and distance measurement tools to determine exactly what has been built. Over the life of a project, the activity feed stores a record of all conversations, pictures, and measurements by location, so precise build evidence can be retrieved and analyzed whenever the need arises.”

Unearth scenarios

The Unearth website outlines some scenarios. For example:

Unearth image 1Instant progress updates by location – You need on-demand capability to get project statuses. With Unearth, it’s simple: 1. Pull up your aerial map, 2. Drag a beacon to the location. We’ll immediately notify whoever’s closest or the team member of your choice, so they can instantly upload photos and a detailed report.”

Resolve contract disputes – The best way to end an argument is with hard evidence. Unearth securely stores and organizes your entire build history in our cloud, so you can: retrieve clear aerial photos of your build history, geosearch ground-based images and conversations, accurately measure distance and volume. Transform potential litigation into a minor hiccup within minutes.”

An Unearth customer, Casey Dougherty, a construction manager at IMCO Construction said: “The historical documentation we are able to compile from the product helps reduce claims, quantify materials and production, and helps build a solid jobsite portfolio.” The software has apparently been tested on a wide variety of projects by businesses with annual revenues between $20 million and $2 billion. The product is licensed per project with no limit on number of users or volume of data stored, but the Unearth website currently gives no product pricing information.

Initial reaction

It is also not clear from the company’s website what type(s) of projects are most appropriate for the Unearth service, but I suspect the primary target market would be civil engineering works and infrastructure projects, maybe also the groundworks of building projects (it is difficult to see how the aerial imagery might cover issues inside enclosed buildings or in subterranean works). It is, though, the type of product that might be integrated with other collaborative platforms.

The reality-capture focus on as-built works, perhaps coupled with photogrammetry and GIS, reminded me of Nearmap, an Australian technology business I discussed with Incite in 2010, of Infrakit, a Finnish-developed civil engineering project management platform I wrote about in April 2016, and some of the Bentley Context Capture tools shown at recent Year in Infrastructure conferences.

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May 08 2017

Procore opens Australia office

A major player in the US construction technology market, Procore is going to take on Aconex in its Australian back yard.

Procore logoCalifornia, US-based Procore, a provider of cloud-based construction management software, has opened an office in Sydney, Australia, with experienced construction SaaS veteran Milton Walters appointed vice-president of marketing for the APAC region.

Procore says it is expanding there due to regional demand for “intuitive, reliable and cost-effective project management, financial and collaborations solutions built specifically by and for the construction industry”. It says it already has more than 100 customers and 50,000 users in Australia.

Procore chief executive Tooey Courtemanche said

“Procore’s expansion into Australia is in response to strong demand from local clients and other businesses across the construction industry for flexible solutions that will enable them to reduce costs, improve safety, and deliver projects within budget and on time.”

Milton WaltersProcore highlights that Milton Walters has more than 10 years’ experience in the construction technology industry and extensive knowledge of the sector.

Before joining Procore, he was at Textura Australasia (December 2014 post), acquired by Oracle in April 2016 (post). Prior to this Walters was at Aconex, then QA Software, and more recently established a Melbourne-based company, Project Collaboration, to sell the 4Projects (now Viewpoint) SaaS solution in the Australasian market (August 2012 post), and later also marketed another UK developed solution, Kyloud (March 2014). The 4Projects arrangement initially looked to be successful (June 2013), but Viewpoint then switched to a direct sales model, terminating Project Collaboration’s contract on 1 April 2014 – a move which prompted a breach of contract lawsuit by Project Collaboration that was eventually settled out of court (see 4Projects facing Au$9m reseller claim) in July 2015.

Walters said he was excited to be part of Procore’s new office and growing presence in APAC:

“Procore is a highly innovative company with technology solutions that are disrupting the industry to deliver stronger value and results to customers. I look forward to working with the team to meet the increasing local market demand for smarter, safer and more cost effective construction technology solutions.”

Procore: background

Founded in 2002 and based in Carpinteria, California, Procore has been growing rapidly in recent years, attracting successive rounds of funding. When I first wrote about the company in 2008, it appeared to be focused on the construction management needs of a few hundred customers, mainly US high-end residential and mid-scale commercial builders (working on projects worth between US$250k and US$40m), having raised US$950k in 2004 and then US$4m in Series B funding led by Great Pacific Capital in January 2007. However, after weathering the global financial crisis, Procore has expanded its horizons into larger scale commercial projects, and has also been able to capitalise upon positive investor sentiment towards construction technology businesses.

It raised US$15m in Series D funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, BVP, in June 2014. Less than a year later, in April 2015, it raised a further US$30m in growth funding from ICONIQ Capital (with participation of BVP), and another US$50m in December 2015, by which point BVP was apparently valuing the business at around US$500m, with the Wall Street Journal reporting company expectations of generating more than US$75 million in upfront, 12-month license payments in 2016 – double the level in 2015.

According to Crunchbase, there was a further US$30m venture capital injection in February 2016, and in December 2016, Procore then raised a further US$50m investment, led by ICONIQ Capital, which it said it would use to fund international expansion – as well as Australia, it also talked of opening an office in Canada. At this point, the business was said to be worth over US$1bn (earning it so-called “Unicorn” status), and it said it had added 500,000 new users in 2016, growing its user base to 1.5 million, and claiming over 2,500 clients across 92 countries, served by almost 700 employees in seven US offices. Revenues in 2016 were forecast to be around US$55m.

‘Construction Operating System’

In late March 2017, Procore launched its “Construction OS” (see news release) aiming to create a “frictionless” construction process environment, while augmenting its core project management offering with two new cloud-based products, Procore Construction Financials and Procore Quality & Safety. The Financials product sees Procore competing directly with the Australia-based Aconex, which ‘soft-launched’ its Connected Cost module in late 2016 with marketing launches in early 2017 (post).

Courtemanche said:

Tooey Courtemanche“We are a software company that believes openness means freedom, partnering, choice, and truth. Construction OS is the culmination of all the technology that we’ve built, the API and the App Marketplace, that will help Procore scale so we can help you realize the promise of the single source of the truth. It will help further align all parties around that common goal of a frictionless jobsite with free-flowing communication that gets everybody closer to the main hub of information.”

Procore vs Aconex

Procore and Aconex were both formed around the same time, but, while seeking to grow strong domestic market positions, have pursued different international growth strategies. Aconex quickly embarked on international expansion, establishing offices outside Australia – building customer bases in south-east Asia, the Middle East, Europe and, over the past five years or so, its toughest market: north America. Procore, by contrast, has until now focused on supporting a growing international customer base for its cloud-based technologies from US offices. Perhaps stung by Aconex challenges in the US market, by opening its first Australian office Procore is now aiming to compete against Aconex in its home market – outside the UK and some western European states, perhaps the most developed market for SaaS construction collaboration technologies.

While Procore has been backed by venture capitalist and private equity houses through an extensive series of funding rounds, Aconex only had one significant funding round (in 2008), then later decided to do an initial public offering, launching on the Melbourne Stock Exchange in December 2014. Floated at Au$1.90, the shares rose and rose, fuelling talk of Aconex being the next Australian ‘Unicorn’, reaching an all-time high of Au$8.38 some 20 months later in July 2016. This, I think, helped fuel investor enthusiasm for construction technology vendors, and Aconex’s example probably helped bolster Procore’s fund-raising efforts. However, the past nine months have been less kind to Aconex – its share price is now around half what it was last July partly due to some investor disquiet about its forecasts (see Aconex shares plunge then plateau).

The two businesses also differ in terms of revenue, user base, and headcount growth. If the 2016 reports of US$55m revenue for Procore are accurate, they suggest Procore generates less than half what Aconex is forecasting – US$122-126m for the year to 30 June 2017. Meanwhile, Aconex’s user base is three times greater – over five million according to the ticker on its website, compared to Procore’s claimed 1.5m. In terms of personnel, Procore has around 700 employees, not that far behind the 850 in Aconex. However, the latter gained some 200 people through the Conject acquisition in March 2016 (on top of a couple of earlier much smaller deals: Grazer and Worksite), while Procore’s growth has, I believe, been largely organic rather than through M&A.

[Disclosure: I have written occasional freelance pieces for Procore’s Jobsite, including content for its ‘Construction OS’ campaign.]

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May 02 2017

hasTalk boosts health and safety delivery

hasTalk - team reportSite-based health and safety training is not always delivered regularly, and individuals and companies may not keep detailed records of what training has been received. An online service, hasTalk targets these problems.

In November 2011, I wrote about UK-based Darley PCM and its health and safety and e-tendering services. While the DarleyDoc branding appears to have been superceded, Darley PCM still helps UK construction industry professionals produce tailored health and safety documentation for projects and activities, matching project management requirements with the consultation and communication required by law (method statements, risk and COSHH assessments, for example). CEO Emma Jeffery tells me her business recently launched a new service (hasTalk) delivering online health and safety talks. Jeffery says:

“Health and safety talks always seemed to be an issue that was picked up during site visits. Either they were not being done at all, or not very frequently, or records were not being kept. So I am hoping that this service can help to address that problem. The service can be used by individuals, but also by teams and businesses to take care of talk delivery, assessment, results and records.”

hasTalk - dustSubscribers can sign up to view daily talks (for individuals, the fee is £20/year; for organisations managing teams of five or more, the rate is £10/user/year). These can be tailored to particular individual or project needs, and a wide number of talks – over 100, typically five minutes each – are delivered as text onscreen, with a post-talk questionnaire used to help assess whether users have understood key messages. (I did wonder about the effectiveness of an approach based mainly on reading content and then answering written questions about it).

hasTalk - report cardSuccessful completion of each assessment contributes to the compilation of a training log showing what users have seen and learnt, and – for employers – can provide evidence of health and safety training provision and levels of attainment. Individual users can view a “report card” summarising talks completed, passed and failed, and including a grade, talk streak and list of completed talks for the year.

The hasTalk website also includes a simple calculator indicating the potential cost and time savings (never mind the H&S improvements) that could be achieved by delivering health and safety talks in this way. Even based on minimum wages, the figures suggest an annual saving of over £200, with over 40 hours saved.

How will hasTalk work?

I put three questions to Emma Jeffery and these are her responses:

How will site-based users access the service?

It is early days since launching so this is from limited statistics, but currently around 50% of our users are accessing the site from mobile and tablets. I think users, particularly in the construction sector, will typically access the service from phones and tablets, and the team account managers will typically access reports and results from computer / laptop.

Will they be prompted to access it regularly?

We have only been launched for a couple of weeks and currently notifications are via email. We tend to email out new talks as they are added as a gentle reminder. But, yes, prompting / reminders is something we want to add, particularly push notifications for mobile. Getting users into a regular habit of taking the talks is important.

What about workers with literacy issues or for whom English is not their first language?

“We want the talks to be as easy as possible to complete, and considered other ways of delivering the information, but we decided against audio and video because if talks are accessed in a noisy environment it would be difficult to hear the information, and in a quiet environment if you don’t have headphones it could be very intrusive. We want users to be able to just pick up their phone or tablet and take a talk, if they are on site, in the office, commuting, or in a public place. In the future I would want to look at having the content available in other languages and perhaps other formats of delivery also.”

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