Aug 18 2016

COMIT: “Digitally building Britain”

COMITI have been involved with the UK-based construction technology membership organisation COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT) for some years, and as mobile hardware and software become ever more important in the planning, design, construction, commissioning, handover and future operation and maintenance of built assets, so it has seen growing interest from its two main audiences: mobile technology providers and mobile technology consumers.

In recent years, COMIT’s autumn conferences have been organised in partnership with US-based technology organisation Fiatech (2014, 2015 posts), but this year it is flying solo. It has also brought its event forward a little to avoid clashing with other technology-oriented events in a busy October and November such as the annual ICE BIM conference, Digital Construction Week, Bentley Year in Infrastructure, and Autodesk University. The two-day 2016 COMIT conference is being held at CH2M’s Hammersmith offices in London on 28-29 September, and online booking is now open.


The title – Digitally Building Britain – is a deliberate reference to the Digital Built Britain strategy which was published in February 2015 and which remains a strong guide on the future direction not just of Britain’s building information modelling drive but of wider industry digitalisation (“For Level 3 BIM, read Digital Built Britain“). The theme is about delivering value through innovation, and, within that, the two days of the conference have also been themed: day one will be broadly about CAPEX, while the second day will have an OPEX theme. Attendees only able to attend one day can therefore chose the day most appropriate to their interests (but, of course, attending both days will give you the TOTEX experience!).

Speakers on the first day include Alex Lubbock of the Cabinet Office giving a keynote about Digitally Building Britain, while there will be new perspectives on innovation by speakers from Volkswagen and BT, plus a teaser of Fran Rabuck’s always insightful “Toys for Techies” talk. Day two features talks on drones, virtual reality, collaboration, ecological analysis and visualisation using GIS, and more “Toys for Techies”. Should be good!

Update (19 August 2016) – For those in the southwest of England who can’t get to London for the COMIT event, there is another BIM event on 28 September at the University of Bristol. The one-day conference and workshop on collaboration and construction is being co-organised by Behaviours for Collaboration (December 2014 post) and the Southwest BIM Hub. More details and registration. [Disclosure: I am an active supporter of the Behaviours for Collaboration initiative.]

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Aug 17 2016

BIM Assure: cloud-based model checking

BIM AssureIn the upFront.Zine, Ralph Grabowski has a great article about a cloud-based BIM checking service, BIM Assure. The feature was written with Marty Chobot, VP of marketing at the system’s developer, a startup called Invicara with offices in Michigan in the US, India and Singapore. The application was also reviewed recently by Lachmi Khemlani in AECbytes. I won’t steal the thunder of these two articles – go and read them! – but here’s a quick outline.

BIM Assure in a nutshell

Development of the browser-based product started in 2013, with the focus being on the ‘I’ in BIM (a phrase often heard at BIM conferences), looking to interrogate beyond the geometry in a model, and to ascertain if required information has been created and modelled correctly to meet different milestones during a project. While other model checkers exist (Solibri’s has been frequently mentioned at various events I’ve attended, and has formed part of the BIM offerings from SaaS collaboration providers Viewpoint and Conject, among others), Invicara says BIM Assure is the only cloud-based one – though it is not a pure browser-based tool: users have to download a plug-in.

Currently, there is only an Autodesk Revit plug-in. This enables users to publish models to BIM Assure’s servers (hosted by Amazon Web Services) and then pull data from BIM Assure back down into Revit, while templates help with basic checks on doors, walls and equipment. Invicara is looking at other integrations with BIM authoring tools, and “working with customers to decide which one will be next.”

Interestingly, pricing is based on consumption, not on number of users or amount of storage. Invicara provides an evaluation subscription so that customers can estimate how much they might use the service, and then charges for analysis with customers buying tokens to run their checks.

(Incidentally, the name reminds me of BC Assure, the compliance application launched in 2011 by GroupBC, formerly Business Collaborator, and which I understand is also being used by some of its customers to support BIM process compliance.)

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Aug 16 2016

Newforma now playing cloud catch-up?

It’s over 10 years since my first posts about US-based construction provider Newforma, and during the intervening decade the company has executed a gradual, but now almost complete, about-turn.

Newforma logo 2015In June 2006, Newforma was dismissive of cloud-based applications: senior executives described project extranets as “digital landfills” and insisted that we now call Software-as-a-Service had no traction in the architecture, engineering and construction market. Their dismissive attitude continued through 2007 and the business’s 2009 UK launch in 2009. But by 2012 it had started something of a U-turn, launching its Newforma Project Cloud in October that year. In 2013, it established a relationship with Amazon Web Services to make Project Cloud more widely available, complemented by an expanded set of mobile solutions announced in April 2014.

The company’s latest announcement puts the cloud at the centre of its offering. Newforma Project Center release 11.7 features ‘Newforma Cloud Services’ which, the company says, “frees information from silos created by the use of multiple file sharing solutions” and makes Project Center “the industry’s first truly hybrid platform to integrate on-premise and cloud storage to support collaboration among dispersed project teams”.

A customer, Lyle Lemon, director of digital practice, Bruner/Cott Architecture and Planning, says:

“Newforma Cloud Services has reduced the risk that someone would work with out-of-date files. The software makes server-based files available in the cloud, where access is easy, whether using a browser or a mobile device. It eliminates duplicating files that are on the file server to a file sharing site or application. Even our most technology-challenged partners are able to share files online, and Bruner/Cott people are using the Newforma app to reference files when working out in the field.”

 Newforma CEO Ian Howell says:

Ian Howell, Newforma CEO“Successful project delivery is only possible when project teams can collaborate using the most current information on which to base decisions. The launch of Newforma Cloud Services provides our customers with the option to keep their project information on-premise, in the cloud or in dual locations. What’s more, files are automatically synchronized across the platform to ensure project teams always have access to the most current data in the office, on the jobsite and on mobile devices.” 

To me, it seems Newforma is finally now positioning itself as an ‘extranet’, pointing out the challenges of trying to manage project information via email or via generic file-sharing solutions such as DropBox, Box and ShareFile (in much the same way that SaaS vendors ridiculed FTP in the early 2000s). The file-sharing platforms are highlighted in this Newforma blog post, but – not surprisingly, perhaps – there is no mention of construction-oriented extranet solutions (many of which have long offered integration with localised tools such as Microsoft Outlook).

Why no mention? In my view, because this is where Newforma is now, arguably, having to catch up with rivals who not only saw the cloud on the horizon but used it as part of their core offering.

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Aug 15 2016

Corecon increases its SME appeal

Corecon logoCalifornia, US-based SaaS construction software vendor Corecon recently launched its ‘next generation’ construction software suite (read news release). Mainly targeting small and medium-sized businesses (numerically the largest sectors in most developed construction markets), the new version of Corecon features a new user interface that is said to increase speed and improve functionality, while speeding up implementation and shortening training time for new users.

Corecon lead mgmtA new Quality Control and Safety landing page in Corecon helps construction firms mitigate risk and costs associated with rework by incorporating modules for checklists, compliance notices, permits, punch list items, safety accidents and test/inspection (the mobile quality control market is one of the most competitive sectors in the architecture, engineering and construction sector).

Corecon’s appeal to SMEs includes provision of modules for business development (right), estimating, document control, contract administration, job cost control, scheduling and collaboration, plus continued support for popular small business accounting software tools such as Sage, Intuit and Xero (post), and mobile web functionality.

Corecon Technologies President Norman Wendl says:

Norman Wendl“By listening closely to our customers and understanding their daily operational needs, we have built a modern user interface, incorporating all elements of a construction firm’s operations into one technologically-advanced, yet easily executed construction management tool. This is our most significant upgrade since the launch of Corecon v7 in 2010, and we are excited about the value our next generation of Corecon will bring to small and medium-sized construction firms and their clients.”

Rapid implementation

In my consulting work, I am frequently asked about implementation of SaaS applications. It has to be said that the leading platforms – mostly established vendors that have dominated the market since the turn of the century (Aconex, Viewpoint, etc) – have generally required some professional services support to cover hosting setup, software configuration and provision of initial user training. These have not generally been solutions that can be bought online and used immediately; corporate customer accounts also often need to be established. Where construction customers have enterprise accounts and experienced in-house users, new projects might be mobilised more quickly, but – particularly at the sophisticated end of the market servicing the larger capital projects – this is not a market where you can generally self-provision and start to use the tool “out of the box”.

Asite KeyliteCorecon has therefore sought to differentiate its offering from other US vendors providing more enterprise or large project solutions. In the UK and Europe, similar businesses include Collabor8 Online (2013 post), SherLayer (May 2015), (December 2015), BuildCloud (May 2016), and GenieBelt (February 2015) for example; in the US, I’ve also covered Jobsite Unite (post) and Skysite (post), among others. On both sides of the Atlantic, the market appears largely polarised between vendors supporting major construction projects with larger budgets, and those targeting the SME level business with more modest IT spending capacity.

London-based Asite is, perhaps, an exception. Despite its focus on “corporate collaboration”,  it offers a Key Lite product starting at £15/month per user (I recall CEO Tony Ryan telling a group of journalists in March 2014 that the Asite platform was being used by “five-man bands doing loft conversions”), though there doesn’t appear to be an easy start. There isn’t the common 30-day, no credit card required, free trial often found with other SaaS applications – like Xero, for example.

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Aug 05 2016

Oracle building its construction offering

A Construction Index news story today about the Bank of England’s decision yesterday to reduce the central bank interest rate to 0.25% highlighted once again the UK construction industry’s poor record on prompt payment. It quotes the National Federation of Builders’s chief executive Richard Beresford: “The construction industry has the worst payment record of any sector, with 31% of all late payment in the UK. Construction SMEs are owed more than £30bn in unpaid invoices.”

According to the NFB, the interest rate cut will affect how late payments are calculated. The Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2013 allows companies owed money to charge interest at 8% of the debt plus the Bank of England base rate. With interest rates cut, the amount of money that creditor businesses may claim will also fall.

Previously, this would undoubtedly have caught the attention of construction payment (CPM) technology provider Textura Europe, but I didn’t spot any @Textura_Europe tweets from its Slough UK office.* However, this may be because the business, like the rest of Textura Group, has been adjusting to life under new owner, Oracle. The US tech giant announced in late April 2016 that it was acquiring Textura for US$663m (Textura news release).

Oracle’s Textura deal heats up collaboration battle

Textura logoOracle is, of course, no stranger to construction – in 2007 it acquired Cimmetry, developer of the popular Autovue browser CAD viewer plugin (later rebadged as an ‘enterprise visualisation’ tool), and its project management software Primavera is widely used in the sector. The acquisition of Textura’s cloud-based CPM services will extend the reach of Oracle’s cloud-based services, with some 85,000 contractors – mostly in the US – in the Textura network, and over US$3.4 billion in payments processed per month. Textura launched an Australian operation in 2012, and two years later appointed former Conject CEO Colin Smith to lead its European push, which focused particularly on subcontractor payment management and included a trade financing service (2015 post).

Oracle plans to integrate Textura with Primavera’s project, cost, time and risk management toolset in a new Oracle Engineering and Construction Global Business Unit. While I didn’t particularly consider Textura a key player in the construction collaboration market, the Oracle deal does open up some potentially interesting new battlefronts and/or integration opportunities.

For example, Oracle already has a cloud-enabled Primavera NEC3 toolset, which pits it against vendors of contract change management applications – both stand-alone solutions such as UK-based MPS, Sypro and CEMAR (formerly CMToolkit – post), and the NEC toolsets of SaaS construction collaboration platforms such as Viewpoint for Projects, the now-Aconex-owned Conject, and Asite (post). [Update (5 August 2016, 17:00 BST): Should also mention here Oracle’s Primavera Unifier which has NEC capability and links to BIM via Ecodomus (thanks, Mace’s Crawford Patterson); Ecodomus was also mentioned by Graham Kelly at ThinkBIM last month – post].

Textura already dominates the CPM sector in the US, and has made strong inroads in Australia (competition there includes Progressclaim – post) and begun to establish itself in Germany and in the UK (where OpenECX’s WebContractor is also competing). (A thought: could the Textura CPM and trade financing technology also be extended by Oracle to industry sectors outside construction?)

And the continued adoption of so-called ‘5D BIM’ where cost information is incorporated into the building information modelling process, could also open new contests, playing to Oracle’s strengths in cloud-based enterprise resource planning software, and pitching it against SaaS construction incumbents such as Viewpoint (post), Bentley Systems’ EADOC (post) and Aconex’s Worksite (post) and Conject financial control applications.

[* Disclosure: I have undertaken consultancy projects in the past year for Textura Europe.]

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Jul 28 2016

Secure SaaS without passwords, via Secure Cloudlink

Secure Cloudlink logoUK-based startup Secure Cloudlink (headquartered in Leatherhead, Surrey) has a unique and US-patented product that eliminates the use of passwords and is designed to secure cloud / SaaS applications.

With Secure Cloudlink, each user is uniquely identified and authenticated, but as no user credentials are stored or replicated behind the scenes the risks of security breaches due to password interception or hacking are eliminated. The technology also eliminates the time costs involved in resetting passwords.

Eliminate security objections to Cloud

Secure Cloudlink CEO Brian Keats (ex ITExact, Colt Technology and Citi) says:

“Security is regularly cited by end user organisations as an objection to Cloud, so it should come as little surprise that it recently topped the list of end users’ concerns in recent research from the Cloud Industry Forum. According to the research 61% of end user organisations questioned stated that security was a significant concern in the adoption of Cloud services within their organisation.”

Password and identity sharing is also difficult to monitor and manage for SaaS application providers and end user organisations, and adds to costs. According to the Gartner report ‘Design IT Self Service for the Business Consumer,’ password resets account for as much as 40% of IT service desk contact value.

Although some organisations are investing in technology to automate password resets to reduce the number of calls, user credentials still persist, exposing the organisation to the threat of cyber attack. At Secure Cloudlink our approach is to eliminate the passwords and streamline the granting of access to applications, IT resources and on-line services.”

Conventional SSO (single-sign-on) password management and biometric recognition systems remove passwords from the user perspective, but, behind the scenes, user credentials are still stored, transmitted and replicated. This can make them prone to ‘man-in-the-middle attack’ (Wikipedia) or interception.

Secure Cloudlink diagramSecure Cloudlink provides anonymised authentication to SaaS, cloud or on-premise applications without storing, replicating or transmitting passwords anywhere outside of the directory services. Using a patented token security system that operates without the use of passwords, Secure Cloudlink – SaaS Providers Edition (a slightly clunky name!) includes a SSO service and optional biometric or multi-factor user authentication to improve the end user experience. Network users can securely access multiple cloud services wthout even appearing to have left the corporate network.

Company founder Dave Worrall told me the solution had been in development since the mid-2000s, and in the past three years had been rolled out in several early adopter customers.

“We have been on a journey with these customers. Companies might start with authenticating one or more mobile apps, then look at their Active Directory, and then some desktop client applications. We have learned a lot from these deployments – in government, with SaaS providers, and in financial institutions – working with companies with over 60,000 IT users, operating in B2C and B2B markets. In these organisations, password resetting is quickly a thing of the past.

“We provide an easy way for an organisation to switch rapidly from one method of authentication reliant on passwords to one in which no passwords are transmitted or stored on any devices. We have also been looking at how we can make our solution attractive to end-users. Some education is necessary to ensure end-user confidence, but then we want to make it easy for them to onboard.”


As Keats says, security has long been the main concern (often an objection) for potential Cloud customers and end-users, and ever since the advent of SaaS tools (or application service provision, as it was previously known) in the mid-late 1990s, SaaS vendors have had to educate the market about their security provisions. Working for a SaaS construction collaboration software vendor in the early 2000s, I wrote various briefing sheets and white papers outlining both the physical and digital precautions taken to safeguard the platform, associated data, and user interactions with them.

Passwords and SSL encryption became standard measures. Hosting on systems carrying BS7799 (later ISO27001) accreditation also offered an early marketing edge but gradually became the norm (achieved by, among others, BIW in 2006, Cadweb in 2007, Aconex in 2011, Kykloud in 2013, and think project! in 2014). But some organisations demanded more – for example, two-factor authentication using USB device RSA tokens has been an additional option offered by Conject and think project! (post). And customer and end-user security expectations are also influenced by advances in authentication provided by banks and other services, and by new hardware provisions such as mobile fingerprint or voice authentication.

For the SaaS vendors, Secure CloudLink technology potentially not only eliminates the need for user password management but also eliminates password sharing. This practice has a direct impact on revenues if vendors are charging per user (as some SaaS construction collaboration vendors do – others operate per-project or enterprise licensing approaches).

More importantly, password sharing also undermines compliance regimes, so Secure CloudLink can provide assurance that a SaaS platform user is a known and authorised individual, helping ensure an accurate audit trail of user access and interaction – vital in many highly regulated industries. (And as an additional incentive, Secure Cloudlink also has a referral program with the opportunity for SaaS vendors to earn incremental revenues!)


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Jul 21 2016

Union Square acquired by Deltek

In an echo of an earlier US/UK acquisition in the construction IT space, ERP vendor Deltek has acquired UK project management software vendor Union Square.

UnionSquare-logoMostly, ExtranetEvolution focuses on Software-as-a-Service solutions and related applications in the architecture, engineering and construction sector. However, I do keep an eye on vendors whose software solutions occasionally either compete with or complement cloud solutions. Nottingham, UK-based Union Square is a good example.

The Union Square back story

In the early 2000s, when other construction collaboration vendors were establishing themselves as SaaS providers, Union Square remained focused on its niche: construction-oriented but locally-hosted practice management systems or intranets. Its core market was small to medium-sized design firms, and Union Square Workspace became a strong platform to manage a host of internal collaboration requirements, from drawing management to timesheets, while also enabling authorised users outside a company to share information.

It added project accounting to its portfolio in early 2010, and later that year acquired its principal rival, Glasgow-based Archetype Software (post). By 2013, its revenues had reached £5m, and it was also beginning to expand into Australasia and to develop mobile tools. In March 2014 (revenues then up to £6.1m), I attended a Union Square user group conference in London where customers learned about a contract administration module, an Android mobile app and externally-hosted ‘extranet’ functionality – partly driven by demand from Union Square’s contractor customers. At that time, BIM was rarely being considered by their largely SME customer base, but demand for this functionality has grown and I saw some BIM functionality described at a London seminar earlier this year.

Deltek expansion

Deltek logoFounded in 1983, Virginia, US-based Deltek has largely concentrated on project-focused ERP, with Costpoint becoming its flagship product in the 1990s. At different times, it has been publicly listed and privately held, and has also been acquisitive – in 2006, I noted its purchase of US-based Welcom, a leader in earned value management and project portfolio management software (Open Plan being its most well-known product), and the following year it acquired an Australia-based EVM vendor, WST Pacific. In 2014, it acquired Portland, Oregon-based ERP vendor Axium (on the doorstep of its similarly acquisitive US rival, Viewpoint Software).

In parallel with its M&A activity, Deltek has gradually expanded in the UK and Europe. Ten years ago (May 2006), it began to exhibit at UK construction events, and it has also been able to grow its footprint by capitalising upon US-based customers (eg: HOK) expanding in the UK and elsewhere. But it has faced strong competition from well-established UK-based rivals such as COINS, Redsky IT, Causeway and Eque2.

Union Square

Deltek’s product portfolio covers solutions for professional service firms and applications for government contractors. Today’s acquisition of Union Square (no value given) therefore strengthens its reach into AEC professional services, while also growing its footprint, particularly in the UK and Australia (it has some 450 customers in 15 countries). It says the acquisition:

“broadens and deepens Deltek’s portfolio of solutions for the AEC industry by enabling companies to organise and leverage a complete set of information around each project – ensuring that project teams can better collaborate on critical project data to successfully manage projects for clients.”

In some respects – US ERP vendor with Australian operation buys UK-based project management solution provider – the deal is similar to Viewpoint’s February 2013 acquisition of 4Projects, but the main difference is the software architecture. Union Square’s user base remains predominantly on-premise, while 4Projects was a pure Software-as-a-Service vendor, and it is some years ahead of Union Square in developing BIM ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) capabilities (showcased at the May 2016 Viewpoint 2016 UK customer summit). On the other hand, Deltek has also been pushing its cloud ERP offering, so it may well accelerate a transition for some Union Square customers towards SaaS-based systems, and increase competition in the cloud collaboration sector.

It also marks yet another rationalisation in the construction IT space – overdue consolidation in this sector being something that Viewpoint CEO Manolis Kotzabasakis talked about when I interviewed him in May. It also potentially forms another player able to combine collaboration and financial management in the cloud – Aconex has been growing its financial functions (as well as the Viewpoint/4Projects deal, in 2015 Aconex acquired Worksite and the more recent Conject deal added to its capabilities).


Meanwhile, Richard Vincent, managing director at Union Square Software says:

“Our organisation is thrilled to become a part of Deltek. Together, we have nearly 50 years of experience working hand in hand with AEC firms to make their businesses run better. Our two companies share a common focus, a common culture, and a deep knowledge of what it takes for AEC firms to be successful. That’s the foundation for a bright future as we come together. Our combined forces will deliver an even more powerful solution to the fast-growing AEC industry. We look forward to working closely with Deltek in the days ahead.”

Mike Corkery, president and CEO of Deltek says:

“Deltek continually looks for ways to deliver more value to our customers through product innovation and acquisition, and that’s why we have acquired Union Square. Managing data and collaborating on information to make smart decisions is critical for successful companies, especially in the AEC industry. We acquired Union Square to meet the acute needs of Architecture, Engineering and Construction firms to organise the many emails, documents, drawings and other artifacts that are produced in the course of successfully delivering a project. In Union Square, we have found a company that shares our passion and dedication to helping AEC firms run better and deliver on-time and on-budget projects to their customers. On behalf of our global team, I’d like to welcome Union Square to the Deltek family. Together, we will continue to set the pace within the AEC industry.”


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Jul 15 2016

Collaboration, BIM and FM

Last week’s ThinkBIM conference focused on the transition of data from construction to facilities management. FM is getting more involved with BIM from the earliest stages of a project, and will collaborate more frequently during project delivery.

The latest ThinkBIM half-day conference (on 6 July at Squire Patton Boggs’ new offices in Leeds, and sponsored by Trimble and construction collaboration vendor GroupBC, formerly Business Collaborator) looked at the use of building information modelling by those working in facilities management, operations and maintenance for owner-operator organisations, and yet – on a show of hands – only a small handful of attendees were actually employed in FM. The day therefore repeatedly returned to what government and industry needs to do to get more FM professionals engaged with BIM.

The government push on BIM for FM

ThinkBIM July 2016The business case for BIM has been well made by the UK Government’s BIM Task Group since 2011. Keynote speaker Deborah Rowland (currently director of FM at the Ministry of Justice) has been at the forefront in pushing the BIM for FM message in the public sector. Citing Government Soft Landings (GSL), she underlined how asset management is fundamental to BIM-enabled project delivery, with client facilities managers involved from a project’s inception in helping to define the employer’s information requirements (EIR) and asset information management (AIM) needs.

PAS 1192-3 covering information management in the operational phase was published in March 2014, and since then advice, standards and protocols covering FM inputs to BIM and beyond have expanded. Deborah highlighted recent useful additions, notably a RICS-developed NRM3 dLCC (digital lifeycle cost) toolkit which aligns BIM with SFG20 maintenance information needs (more about SFG20 here). The MoJ’s BIM2AIM group also recently launched a suite of documents providing clear and concise instruction and guidance on how to define, procure and deliver Level 2 BIM projects (read BIM+ news).

The MoJ’s strategy envisages such tools providing, among other things, much-needed transparency and evidence of value for money to taxpayers, while providing the MoJ with key information to make strategic decisions on its asset portfolio, to innovate, and to continually improve. Surely, many other client organisations will want to reap similar benefits?

“Keeping the BIM live”

ThinkBIM July 2016The second keynote came from CAFM software vendor FSI’s Jacqueline Walpole. She recalled how many FMs were once a paper-based afterthought. Typically, for the client or owner-operator, the completion of a built asset was followed, nine months later, by the handover of a large paper-based archive of information, much of it in paper-based form, some of it already out-of-date (it was for this reason, I remember, that BIW Technologies – later Conject, now Aconex – was one of the first collaboration vendors to digitise the production of the Health and Safety File, work initially undertaken in partnership with retailer Sainsbury’s in 2002 – post).

Computer-aided FM (CAFM), therefore, often tended to start from scratch. Digitising design, construction, commissioning and handover processes, she said, opens up the prospect of a digital flow of information into FM (“keeping the BIM live”), achieving operational readiness almost instantly, and Jacqueline highlighted the publication of a new BIFM guide (available here) to achieving such readiness, which includes an EIR template.

The two short keynotes, therefore, promoted readily available toolkits, guides and templates showing how BIM can be applied to support FM, and, in so doing, to enhance the roles of facilities managers. I would expect collaboration/’common data environment’ (CDE) vendors to be looking to incorporate elements of these templates into their workflows and reporting tools to support clients’ facilities managers.

Data for operation and maintenance

Two of the afternoon’s roundtable workshop sessions underlined the potential value of data to help managers improve the performance of their assets and to connect their built asset’s data with valuable data held in other systems, but recurring themes about people and silo cultures also surfaced.

Jacqueline Walpole chaired one of the roundtables. She got delegates to consider, first, what data might be needed to support asset operations (with a nod to ‘lean’ thinking: “if in doubt, ask the caretaker – what are their ‘must haves’?”), and how some data schemas manage simple issues such as floor-numbering.

Second, we talked about how in-service performance data might be used to support asset management. Applying analogies including cars and jet engines, we talking about creating and maintaining a built asset’s “service history,” and using the data generated by different building systems’ sensors to improve reliability and energy efficiency. Just as Rolls-Royce routinely collates huge volumes of data from every engine and flight as a basis for meeting its customers’ service level agreements, so facilities managers could collate and analyse built environment data (energy use, temperature, humidity, heating, lighting, equipment use, etc, over time) to support post-occupancy evaluation, optimise lifecycle cost efficiency, and – for ‘repeat clients’ – provide data to help them collaborate with design teams to improve the planning, design, construction and operation of future built assets.

Linked data for better decision-making

GroupBC’s Steve Crompton led a roundtable pondering trust issues and other reasons why construction project teams have tended to re-key rather than re-use data. Conflicting standards, industry inertia and resistance to major people and process-related changes quickly cropped up. Old attitudes of ‘knowledge is power’ need to be overcome, as does distrust of ‘other people’s data’ (“We don’t trust digital data yet, because we haven’t moved on from distrusting paper information, or stuff off the web”). This workshop also highlighted some of the messages from June’s ThinkBIM ‘twilight’ event (read my post: Open Data, BIM and the semantic web) – semantic web technologies can help connect data about built assets to other data about the environment and about social aspects of the areas around those built assets. However, security, commercial confidentiality and personal privacy concerns all need to be addressed in selecting what data might be shared and used.

ThinkBIM July 2016Finally, delegates heard a ‘RetroBIM’ case study from BIM Academy’s Graham Kelly, relating to the compilation of data to support improvement works undertaken at Sydney Opera House in Australia. That a UK-based firm led this project is another indication of how UK BIM experience is prized by clients worldwide, and there is clearly potential for UK FM businesses to similarly become world leaders in applying BIM to FM – though Graham was cautious about some software businesses: “BIM software companies have raised uninformed expectations,” he said.

The conference talked about the return on investment (ROI), but also highlighted it is not only a technological change. ‘Silo cultures’ and ‘change management’ were two of the key risks on Graham’s project. The same people and process themes were voiced in the workshops, and they apply equally to the wider adoption of BIM – and not just by the FM community.

[Disclosures: This is an edited version of a post first published on the ThinkBIM blog, delivered as part of consultancy support for Leeds Beckett University. Separately, I have also delivered consultancy services to GroupBC.]

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Jun 21 2016

TIM: The Inspection Manager

Almost since we first started to use mobile phones on construction sites, we have sought to use them to manage defects and conduct inspections (I was at BIW, later Conject, when it launched its Windows app in 2006). As a result, over the past 10 years, and particularly since the 2007 advent of the iPhone and other smartphones, I have seen and written about numerous construction-oriented quality control, defects management, site reporting and ‘punchlisting’ and ‘Field’ applications. Some are tightly integrated with Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms that deliver wider functionality; others are more “point solutions” designed to support particular key processes.

Enter TIM

TIM screengrabFalling into the second category is TIM: The Inspection Manager. Director Paul Miller tells me that the Southport, UK-based company has been developing mobile data gathering apps since about 2008. Its first TIM product (The Inventory Manager), targeted the residential property inspection market, while The Inspection Manager was launched just over two years ago, and its report templates or survey schedules can be customised – by TIM’s technical support team – to suit any sector (I was shown examples from civil engineering and facilities management, for example).

These customised surveys (delivered on iOS, Android or Windows devices) can include mandatory or optional questions, with built-in guidance notes attached to each question. If needed, survey results can be scored in the background, and actions or recommendations specified. Paul summed up the on-site benefits of TIM:

  • All text content is entered in to the pre-designed report template sections, using the mobile device keypad, mandatory questions can be included to ensure the forms are filled in correctly.
  • All images captured on the device camera are embedded into the final report with geo-tagged location co-ordinates, along with date and time stamps.
  • The digital report can be downloaded in a choice of formats (PDF, CSV or XML file) for printing or sharing with clients and project teams within minutes of being completed.
  • The templates are designed to comply with all the necessary regulations/legislation, and health/safety.
  • Your documents are backed up to fully encrypted and secure cloud based servers.
  • Base data (job type, WI number, Surveyors name, etc) can be imported from excel or CRM systems, that automatically synchronise with the devices.
  • Guidance Notes can be added to any question which can show information on how to answer.

The application is available on a monthly subscription tariff (for up to 10, the cost is £50 per month per registered device, with three customised templates included in the deal; for a single user, to register just 1 device to use 3 templates on an unlimited basis is £100 per month). TIM also offers the option to purchase a 5-year licence, with the hosting software installed onto clients’ own system/s.

Competitive comparisons

TIM is competing in a busy market. Disregarding (for now) the SaaS providers delivering inspection as part of a wider offering (Viewpoint, Aconex, Conject, Asite, etc), TIM is also up against some mature UK point solution competitors including SnagR, Dome’s iSnag, Kykloud and GoReport (both the latter offering RICS approved survey reports – post), plus near continent offerings from Finalcad (post), among others.

The core TIM functionality appears little different to its competitors; like Kykloud it claims a 50% time reduction in building survey times, but Kykloud also offers customers the option of designing their own surveys to more exactly meet customer needs rather than templates being created by the vendor, while GoReport also offers some integration with other devices. However, while TIM and Finalcad are available across three operating systems, both GoReport and Kykloud are iOS only.

Kykloud and (particularly) Finalcad are also working hard to support BIM-related processes and long-term asset management, and even – in the case of Finalcad – embracing ‘Big Data’ and leveraging business intelligence reports to set industry benchmarks (post). In this respect, Finalcad appears the most forward-looking of the point solution data capture applications.

Update (8 July 2016) – A note from Paul Miller: “we have licensed the Inspection Manager software to ‘the Warehouse Auditor’ which targets the warehousing/logistics sector. This Wednesday at the Dorchester Hotel we won the ‘Technical Innovation’ of the year award.”

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Jun 20 2016

“Top 10 (US) Construction Apps”

In the UK at least, we are coming up to the time of year when some construction software vendors start thinking about the Construction Computing Awards (the so-called “Hammers”). As I wrote in July 2015, when last year’s call for nominations opened, I have long been a somewhat sceptical observer of this event, seeking greater clarity on the criteria for inclusion and shortlisting in a category, and wanting the judging process to be as transparent and objective as possible. Other autumn 2016 awards programmes are also being promoted – I see London Build (unfortunately, clashing with Digital Construction Week – and both a week after the Build Show) has a software category in its London Construction Awards, for example.

Top 10 Construction Apps

Tsheets Top 10 AppsSo I was interested to get an email about another construction awards or ratings programme (I was also offered an infographic – here). Idaho, US-based TSheets – a provider of SaaS-based, time-tracking, scheduling and pricing applications – recently ran a “Top 10 Construction Apps” programme. They basically reviewed a longlist of 100 or so apps with “experts from a wide range of construction companies”, based on:

  • How good they are at solving specific problems for construction workers
  • How easy they are to use
  • The number of users each app has
  • The number of integrations each app has
  • The quality of each app’s customer service
  • The previous track record of each app developer
  • Their average ratings in the Apple App store and Google Play store
  • Additional ratings and reviews in the press and on other websites, such as Capterra
Some useful criteria there but, as you might expect, I was told “most of the tools were developed in the US and have large customer bases there“, though “at least one comes from France (BulldozAIR, the runner-up in the Construction Plans and Blueprints category) and many have significant customers outside of the US, including in the UK and Australia.” I also understand that the reviewers were mainly from contractors, so the listing may be skewed towards their needs rather than those of, say, architects or engineers. And there is also a danger that the reviewers just rate the tools they’ve personally selected or been told to use – there may be better ones on the market but they may not be in a position to make comparisons.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given that it’s a vendor-instigated listing, Tsheets own product features as “best app for time tracking and scheduling”; the rest of the (very US-centric) list featured:

If nothing else, this ‘Top 10’ underlines how parochial the international construction application market is currently, and also how fragmented and open to new entrants it remains. Across most of the above categories, I can think of (and have written about) alternative products in the UK and other international markets, and even some that span continents (looking at some of the mobile tools available from the major SaaS collaboration and design authoring vendors, for instance). That said, it would be tough for a US contractor to rate an app designed to support, say, UK or Australian building regulations, just as a UK worker, used to working in metric, might find it difficult to evaluate a tool that delivers outputs in imperial measures. Will we, in five years time, see similar lists that are more international in nature?

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