Nov 28 2018

The future of project controls

Several innovative companies in the field of project controls have come together at an event (organised by Phil Shatz) at the Little Ships Club by the River Thames in London. Presentations are scheduled by InEight BASIS, ShapeDo, Aphex, Sablono, BuildSafe, Turbo Chart, Resolex, BuiltIntelligence, Chase, and Th3rdCurve. I will be live-blogging from the event this afternoon.

InEight BASIS

InEightBASIS logo(2.05pm GMT) – Dr Dan Patterson (InEight) has focused on project controls for past 20 years, and believes most projects fail due to poor planning, not poor execution. BASIS is a planning assistant, sitting alongside existing tools such as Primavera P6 or MS Project, complementing critical path management (CPM). It uses “augmented intelligence” – BASIS makes suggestions as users develop the planning process – and then “Human intelligence” – where team members apply their opinions as markups to the plan which are then subject to discussion and consensus development. Patterson talked about BASIS’s context-aware inference engine, plan templating, and normalising knowledge using tags, and machine learning. Collaboration with field experts is enabled via  a simple scorecard which registers whether individuals buy-in or push-back against the plan.

Resolex

Resolex logo(2.15pm GMT) – Tony Llewellyn of Resolex presented about optimising complex construction projects, focusing on behavioural theory as well as technology. Project Intelligence combines social, technical and commercial elements, he says – “it’s important not to forget about the people (who don’t always behave in a rational, sensible manner).” Llewellyn talked about the importance of early warning signals (EWSs) – signals or indicators of future developments – which organisations are often very poor at identifying, or optimistically believe will sort themselves out. There are few mechanisms to identify EWSs – so Resolex’s tool RADAR is used to help identify issues using a web-based questionnaire created specifically for each project, and which is usually deployed at monthly intervals. It creates a safe environment to provide feedback, and lets organisations take action before issues turn into crises.

Aphex

Aphex logo(2.30pm GMT) – Carlos Adams presented Aphex Planner (a platform I covered in May 2018), describing industry issues and the recommendations of the Farmer report Modernise or Die.  We have to innovate, Adams says, but do it within existing practices, encourage lean thinking, have tools that are simple to use and which provide actionable data, and which treat users as customers. Aphex Planner, based on Last Planner thinking, aims to help make users lives easier, to deliver project efficiencies, and to provide companies with insightful data. Aphex identified that most current short-term planning methods are inefficient, relying on tools that aren’t fit for purpose. Adams did a rapid presentation of the platform – the latest release, with new features, was pushed out today, he said – and includes tools to manage resources such as construction plant, and reporting dashboards. Positive testimonials from Network Rail, Hinkley Point and HS2 were shared.

Sablono

Sablono logo(3pm GMT) – Lukas Olbrich presented on behalf of the Berlin-based construction progress monitoring vendor Sablono (which I’ve seen exhibited at Digital Construction Week in recent years), founded in 2013. Like Aphex’s Adams, Sablono is born out of frustration that many construction folk still tend towards pen, paper and sticky notes rather than technology. Project management remains focused on time, quality and budget – mainly using spreadsheets and Gantt charts, but new technology can help us, Olbrich says. Sablono aims to help project supply chains know what they need to do next. The platform shows different levels of programmes, long and short range, and provides real-time reporting dashboards covering tens, even 100s, of thousands of activities (a Mace project in Greenwich, southeast London, had 150,000 interdependent and overlapping activities, for example). Project insights that used to take seven days could now be gained in a few hours; team meetings dropped from 40 minutes to 15 minutes (YouTube video).

BuildSafe

BuildSafe logo(3.15pm GMT)BuildSafe is a mobile tool for safe and efficient construction projects, said founder and COO Sam Jaeger (former Textura Europe executive Paul Bamforth is currently an advisor; post). It is a Swedish company established in 2015, and aims to involve all parts of the supply chain in gathering data to solve problems on site so they don’t affect productivity. Sweden’s high tax regime encourages businesses to become more efficient and improve their margins, Jaeger says, and BuildSafe focuses on field issues – the three Ps: people, process (“our processes are killing us whilst creating little or no value”) and purpose. The platform comprises a web platform and a user-friendly mobile app used to report observations, risks and accidents in the field. Ambitiously, it was first deployed on the £600m Urban Escape project in central Stockholm – it was used by 300 people; there were around 120 inspections every month, risks were reduced on average by 80%, and improved reporting to the whole supply chain – all achieved by creation of 250,000 data points.

Turbo-Chart

Turbo-Chart logo(3.30pm GMT) – Russell Johnson presented Turbo-Chart – pitched as the efficient solution for Time-Location charts (aka Time-Chainage charts) – and used an early example from the Empire State Building’s construction to explain the principles. Turbo-Chart connects an image/location of a linear project (a high-rise building, pipeline, metro tunnel, highway, railway, etc) and relates that to a schedule (imported, for example, from Primavera P6 or MS Project). Johnson did a very rapid live demonstration, importing a schedule from P6 with some custom code, and then showed one he’d started earlier. Changes in P6 are replicated into the Turbo-Chart; data can also be pasted in from Excel; different charts can also be compared.

Th3rdcurve

Th3rdcurve logo(3.50pm GMT)Th3rdCurve is a new company, founded in 2018, which is developing a project control simulation platform. It was presented by CEO and co-founder Niall Faris (who has background in finance software), who started the company alongside senior engineers with experience on major London tunnel projects including Crossrail, HS2, and, in particular, Thames Tideway. The company’s mission is to deliver “investment confidence by unlocking organisational capability.” The company’s services are: business transformation, project services, controls systems delivery and controls training. Partnering with Prendo, Th3rdCurve has developed SCHOLA – a simulation tool that helps anyone working in a project environment embed good management practice, Faris said.

FastDraft

FastDraft Built Intelligence(4.30pm GMT) –  NEC contract expert Glenn Hide and Nathan Lambert of OnDemand Software presented FastDraft / Built Intelligence, an administration tool for drafting and managing NEC contracts. The platform is used to administer contracts (not just NEC, but also FIDIC, JCT). The site offers a portal presenting a series of ‘register’ modules delivering elements of a contract, and is automatically updated as contract processes are instigated, progressed and completed. Like CEMAR (September 2017 post; since acquired by think project!), it adopts a look and feel resembling paper-based notifications. Status reports can be exported (eg as Excel spreadsheets). The platform is not just about contract compliance, Lambert says, it also prompts users to provide context for contract change notifications, while “contractor’s assumptions” regarding risks can also be captured. The platform, Hide said, deliberately excludes “general communications” to keep teams focused on contract processes, embraces the whole supply chain, and is priced competitively to encourage wide adoption.

P3M Ecosystems

(4.45pm GMT) – David Dunning of Chase Management Services didn’t have a polished product to promote but had a concept to share, focused on meetings management, on what he called “governance technologies” to avoid nasty surprises. He said these can be avoided by taking three steps: 1) listening with confidence (he cited a meeting feedback and monitoring tool, MeetingQuality, that might help with this); 2) sorting out the data (as this involves collating data from multiple future-facing systems, he has set up a group, the P3M Data Club to create an open reporting framework); and 3) “operationalising governance” (he likes Microsoft’s Teams product, and believes it can be applied to a project board’s governance). This prompted some discussion of virtual programme board meetings.

ShapeDo

ShapeDo control change(5.20pm GMT) – Ari Isaacs presented the ShapeDo proposition which I have seen evolve from change control (June 2017) to dispute resolution (April 2018). ShapeDo doesn’t sit comfortably in any conventional software category (eg document management), Isaacs said. Software can potentially undertake key human interactions as well as established processes, he says (thought it may be difficult to sell solutions that replace their users, he admits). Design information (40% of data exchanged) is often a reflection of much wider project understanding, but information exchange is often reliant on manual interpretation and action – ShapeDo helps automate change detection, reports on who has reviewed documentation and when, and efficiently identifies changes between versions of information. Such changes can then be used to generate notifications of new bills of quantities, for example. 20-40% improvements in design and QS efficiency can be achieved, Isaacs said – “we got through 3000 drawings in two days – it was phenomenal,” said a ShapeDo user in the room. The ShapeDo technology is capable of being applied to BIM, but Isaacs doesn’t think the industry is ready to use this yet – most design is in BIM, but a lot of construction is managed using smart 2D.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/the-future-of-project-controls/

Nov 23 2018

RIB plans further cloud expansion

Stuttgart, Germany’s RIB Software is expanding aggressively beyond its central European heartland, winning customers in Australia, the US, Asia and the UK, and plans growth in its cloud-delivered construction ecosystem developed in partnership with Microsoft.

RIB software logoEarlier this autumn, I talked to RIB’s COO and executive board member Mads Bording about the company, which he joined when the German software business acquired Copenhagen, Denmark-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Docia in July 2014, having previously (October 2012) acquired Australia’s SaaS player ProjectCentre (since rebranded as iTWOcx and revamped in 2017). RIB has over 800 people and in 2017 achieved revenues of €108.3m (c £96.4m or US$123.8m).

Docia and iTWOcx still co-exist within the RIB portfolio as part of the “iTWO ecosystem”, Bording said, providing a strong basis for document management, and catering for the regional markets where they were developed. Docia usage continues to grow, he said, while iTWOcx’s more enterprise orientation continues to sustain a stable client base.

The RIB group’s core product is iTWO which Bording described as an “integrated 5D BIM solution.” Emphasising how construction has lagged other industry sectors, he said iTWO was inspired by SAP and digital transformation in the automotive industry during the late 1990s. SAP identified opportunities to rationalise and integrate the hundreds of software applications used to design and manufacture a motor vehicle, and to build it virtually, integrating internal stakeholders and external suppliers, and eliminating mistakes before even committing to an assembly line. “This enabled co-development, co-creation – they could reuse data from one platform, and reuse standard components from one BMW series to another, and they could do integrated concurrent engineering with suppliers like Bosch.”

Estimating foundation

RIB was founded in 1961. It started out as the internal estimating and IT  department of a German contracting group that was then spun out as a separate entity before being acquired. It then grew organically, Bording said, benefiting from Germany’s very detailed and cost-oriented culture. “It had a fantastic estimation kernel that had been created within the industry, and which became the de facto standard, and this eventually became the cost backbone of the RIB tool used today for 3D, 4D and 5D.

The first version of the iTWO technology was deployed as client-server technology in 2011, and the business initially targeted the top 1,000 contractors, providing a premium-priced enterprise solution in the ERP space. “It was also agnostic so far as design solutions were concerned, so we could connect to whatever formats contractors might be using and create a federated model that was clash-free and also buildable.” Bording explained how iTWO could, for example, take an architect’s design of a building’s floor plate and translate it into manageable processes for constructing that floor plate, detailing the quantities and the sequence of construction.

“At an inflection point”

However, iTWO is no longer aimed solely at contractors. RIB found asset-owners such as Deutsche Bahn, major municipalities and technology clients wanted a less wasteful process than that traditionally provided by contractors. “By building virtually, you can simulate different alternatives, and also plan for future building scenarios.” A technology business, for example, might need to anticipate future hardware, power and cooling requirements in its data centres and office buildings, and factor these costs into its cost model for the building. “For them, buildings are mission-critical, so we are now at an inflection point in the construction space.”

Mads BordingPreviously the core platform had been heavily dependent on Citrix technology, but Bording explained how the iTWO product has been recoded in the last four years, using HTML5 so that it can be fully cloud-enabled and deployed as an on-premise solution or as a private cloud or a multi-tenant architecture. Major industrial customers with substantial IT resources often want RIB software hosted internally and integrated with other tools inside their businesses, he said, but RIB also has a mass market with less sophisticated requirements. For these, RIB offer the product as a subscription-based cloud solution, and, in May 2018, the company engaged with Microsoft as a development partner to offer RIB via the Azure cloud, as MTWO (rather than iTWO), with hybrid on-premise hosting as an option where customers have stringent security requirements.

He sees the technology market shifting towards support of more collaborative and value-adding work which demands “a more democratised end-to-end process leveraging data in the model, helping companies make money from the data in BIM” (we touched briefly on the UK Construction Leadership Council’s report on best whole life value and on the Project 13 alliancing model). Asset lifecycle costs are also vitally important, Bording said, but current business models often don’t let information flow. “Virtual design and construction is still very new. It is easily understood by university students, but if I am talking to a 55-year-old cost estimator or engineer I get inertia or resistance.”

Marketing the iTWO ecosystem

RIB’s strongest markets are in central Europe (“around 90% of assets created in Germany use our technology”), while Bording says the Nordic region is also very mature in terms of its adoption of BIM and of collaboration tools. UK customers include LendLease; US customers include general contractors plus manufacturer clients such as Procter & Gamble (June 2017 news); Asia is also a key RIB target market – the company signed a deal with China’s MyHome group in June 2017 (news), and its 6th annual global community and partner event, the iTWO World Conference, was recently held in Guangzhou, China. Since August 2018, the company has announced major deals with Siemens Energy Management (September), German/Dutch power transmission business TenneT, and American Electric Power (November), plus three other enterprise deals with unnamed clients.

As well as acquiring SaaS technologies, the Docia and ProjectCentre acquisitions helped raise the regional profiles of the core RIB iTWO/MTWO ecosystem in Scandinavia and Australasia. The long-term vision is to consolidate everything into the core platform with over 600 software developers all focused on the same technologies and able to leverage still further the group’s 30% investment in R&D (a policy that was a factor in Bording’s decision to sell Docia to RIB, he said).

RIB aims to become a large European-based global player like SAP, Bording continued, and is planning a higher marketing profile in the coming months and years. “We have a great ecosystem – if you want a strong estimating tool, we have that; if you want scheduling, we have that, and if you want an enterprise system, we have that as well.” RIB offers Platform-as-a-Service capability, he explained, and has open APIs that will enable ‘open BIM’ or other technologies that complement RIB’s core solutions and can be sold as third party tools from RIB’s ecosystem (similar to Autodesk’s Forge platform – see post).

A fund-raising round in April 2018 raised €131m which is earmarked for further acquisitions (in January 2018 it completed the acquisition of Australian estimating vendor Exactal, and in August acquired an 80% stake in German CAFM vendor, IMS), and for building a partner and reseller channel network to help in distribution of the product portfolio. Also in August 2018, RIB announced its first MTWO MSP partnership and investment agreement with ICS, a Microsoft certified partner from Redmond, California, and it has since signed two further MSP deals – in Australasia and Holland. Update (7 December 2018) – RIB has agreed a three-year deal with California contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie to implement MTWO.

Seeking to target the maturing BIM market, RIB will be making a further push into the UK too (the company announced an April 2017 deal with UK contractor Carillion, nine months before the Wolverhampton-based group collapsed into liquidation) – it has established a London office and has a UK website.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/rib-plans-further-cloud-expansion/

Nov 22 2018

New African BIM portal: NavBIM

NAVBIMWhile discussion about building information modelling (BIM) in north America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region is well advanced, it has yet to reach the same levels across much of Africa. A recent initiative, NavBIM, from the BIM Academy Africa aims to help African organisations jump-start their BIM adoption journeys.

Vaughan Harris told Extranet Evolution about why he helped establish NavBIM

“This an exciting time for the African construction sector, as it moves into its own era of digital construction and unlocks the efficiencies of digital construction and information management not only during the design stages of projects, but throughout the construction and operational stages too. The key to unlocking this potential is BIM.

This navigation tool is a comprehensive step-by-step guide aligned with international BIM standards and best practice to help teams improve how they share and analyse data through the entire life of a building.

Countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and Singapore have transformed their own construction sectors significantly and valuable lessons can be learnt from their combined journeys. It is however also important to factor in Africa’s unique strengths and weaknesses into the process.

BIM is a journey. We envisage that it will grow with time and will inspire more advanced and innovative use of BIM. I would like to encourage all BIM practitioners to join in this industry effort to grow this portal into a wealth of BIM knowledge for Africa.”

NavBIM

Much of the information on NavBIM is through the guidance development philosophy from Australian Natspec and the Singapore Building Construction Authority. The site also includes much of the associated British Standards and refers to parts of the BS 1192 / ISO 19650 standards. Launched in September 2018, the BIM portal has already achieved over 172,000 impressions on the African continent alone. Some basic guidance is provided free, but a subscription is required to view some of the detailed content, including information about common data environments (CDEs), etc.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/new-african-bim-portal-navbim/

Nov 22 2018

Construction-savvy Plangrid adds to Autodesk toolset

Plangrid has been expanding into the UK since 2017 with internationalisation now largely complete, and the solution now more about workflows than ‘sheet’ management. Company executive Bill Smith also identified how Plangrid complemented Autodesk’s design strengths.

Plangrid logoOn 18 October 2018, around a month before Autodesk announced its US$875m acquisition of Plangrid, I talked to Bill Smith, Plangrid‘s president of global field operations, about the company’s growth.

Smith was in London to visit the Digital Construction Week trade show, and to work with Plangrid’s growing UK-based team, now 10-strong, as it expanded its sales and marketing efforts (having made its first concerted UK marketing efforts with a stand at DCW in 2017).

Internationalising Plangrid

The company has since recruited UK staff from other vendors, including three people from Viewpoint, he said. Viewpoint has apparently been shedding some UK staff following its April 2018 acquisition by Trimble, while Plangrid said it had also attracted interest from some Viewpoint customers when it exhibited recently at UK Construction Week in Birmingham.

As well as Viewpoint, Plangrid’s competitive landscape includes mature SaaS solutions such as Oracle Aconex, Asite, Procore, Autodesk and Bentley’s collaborative toolsets, plus more recently founded businesses such as US rival FieldLens and France-based Finalcad – which Smith said shared some investors with Plangrid, and was encountered as a rival for projects, particularly in Asia. Plangrid was also getting enquiries from potential customers in mainland Europe, he said – the UK was to be the hub of the company’s European operations.

Since 2017, Plangrid had spent time internationalising its solution so that it would appeal to non-US construction businesses, with the work likely to finish in early 2019, Smith said:

“While most of the functions are the same – they are just called different things, so we have either renamed processes or given them more generic titles. … Plangrid started out working on US hospital projects so we learned from how teams worked on those, but even in the US there are different terms for the same things. Most of the internationalisation, particularly in the back end, is now complete, so it’s now about rethinking US names such as punchlists to make them more generic – we are tending to talk more about ‘issues’ and ‘tasks’ now, for example.”

Plangrid Android drawing viewThe platform has expanded from its original focus on ‘Sheets’, and moving more towards of a classic SaaS workflow platform, he continued. “We are managing submittals, issues, tasks – we’ve just done a major release on this – and we are now more of a business application rather than managing paper.” Building information modelling (BIM) hasn’t had a major impact yet, but Plangrid was planning a new release incorporating a 3D viewer in early 2019.

The Plangrid platform is hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), with UK customers currently supported by an AWS facility hosted on the US east coast – though, as a mobile solution provider, Smith said customers should be less concerned about “data at rest” and focus on ensuring device and transmission security. “Construction is probably the least secure industry I’ve every seen in my life.”

Initially iOS-only, the Plangrid solution is now available on Android and as a Windows application, as well as offering a web browser-based environment, with major releases made about every 60 days. People in management tend to like iPad devices, but at site level smartphones are more widely deployed, Smith said. Originally developed in English and Spanish language versions, the solution is now supported in approaching 20 different languages.

Plangrid growth

By October 2018, Plangrid’s global headcount had grown to 380 staff, and the company was planning to reach 400 by the end of 2018. Most of these staff are based in the United States, with around a third in San Francisco. International sales and marketing offices in Canada, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and India (and “soon to be in Singapore”) accounted for around 40 people, he said.

Bill Smith - Plangrid president, global opsGlobally Plangrid has around 10,000 paying customers (“we’ve moved from the original user model to a customer model”), predominantly in its US heartland, but including a growing number (“currently around 200 customers”) in each of EMEA and Asia Pacific. This translated into around 100,000 end users of the Plangrid platform, with user growth currently around 15-17% year on year, and the company is “acquiring about 10 customers every day”. Smith said Plangrid was seeing growing interest from owner-operators (he divided the company’s customer base into roughly 20% owners, 40% general contractors and 40% subcontractors) – with hospitals, retail, hotels, and corporate campus owners increasingly interested in the platform.

Smith joined Plangrid in October 2014, shortly before its US$19m Series A funding round, led by Sequoia Capital, in May 2015. The company then had about 45 employees, and Smith’s job was to grow the Software-as-a-Service business, drawing on over a decade’s experience of successfully growing SaaS operations at San Francisco-based Taleo, a HR solution acquired by Oracle in 2012.

A Series B Funding round in November 2015, led by Tenaya Capital, with additional fundings from Sequoia Capital, Founders Fund, Y Combinator, and Northgate Capital, raised a further US$40m (news) – a round that valued the company then at US$419 million, according to PitchBook. Ambitions were to grow the company in what was seen as a massive market that is just beginning to utilise technology in the field, with a view, Smith said, to future acquisition or a possible float – though he said compliance issues often deterred US businesses from going public. He had identified a lot of interest in construction from software majors including SAP and Microsoft, and mentioned that former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz now sits on Plangrid’s board. Regarding Autodesk’s solutions he said, “We overlap a little bit on design, but mainly we pick up where they leave off as teams move into construction.”

Postscript

That final remark perhaps confirms some of the rationale for Autodesk’s acquisition. Its mobile solution is attractive to workers needing information out on site – not an area where Autodesk solutions have traditionally been strong (to be fair, this is also common to other software vendors strong on design – rival Bentley Systems, for example, has been growing out its construction management toolset too; post).

The business is also growing at a good rate, expanding into new markets, taking the collaboration battle to rival products such as Viewpoint and Aconex – both going through post-acquisition adjustments – and offers a strong mobile-first product to complement Autodesk solutions that were mainly designed for office-based deskop/laptop interaction.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/construction-savvy-plangrid-adds-to-autodesk-toolset/

Nov 21 2018

Autodesk acquires Plangrid for $875m

Surprise consolidation in the construction cloud collaboration space as Autodesk acquires the rapidly expanding Plangrid.

Plangrid logoAutodesk has announced it is to acquire PlanGrid, the San-Francisco-based provider of construction productivity software, for US$875 million, saying it will “enable Autodesk to offer a more comprehensive, cloud-based construction platform.”

PlanGrid software lets general contractors, subcontractors and owners in commercial, heavy civil and other industries work together throughout the construction project lifecycle. PlanGrid software offers real-time collaboration, keeping the field and the office on the same page. It gives builders real-time access to project plans, punch lists, project tasks, progress photos, daily field reports, submittals and more.

“As designing and making converge, Autodesk is connecting project data from design through construction and putting predictive insights into the hands of contractors,” said Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost. “There is a huge opportunity to streamline all aspects of construction through digitization and automation. The acquisition of PlanGrid will accelerate our efforts to improve construction workflows for every stakeholder in the construction process.”

“At PlanGrid, we have a relentless focus on empowering construction workers to build as productively as possible,” said Tracy Young, PlanGrid CEO. “One of the first steps to improving construction productivity is the adoption of digital workflows with centralized data. PlanGrid has excelled at building beautiful, simple field collaboration software, while Autodesk has focused on connecting design to construction. Together, we can drive greater productivity and predictability on the jobsite.”

Proposed Integration

BIM360 logoJim Lynch, Construction General Manager at Autodesk, said, “This acquisition allows us to do more for general contractors, and we’ve got new growth opportunities with subcontractors and owners. We’ll integrate workflows between PlanGrid’s software and both Autodesk Revit software and the Autodesk BIM 360 construction management platform, for a seamless exchange of information between all project members.”

Autodesk and PlanGrid have developed complementary construction integration ecosystems to which customers can connect other software applications. The acquisition is expected to expand the integration partner ecosystem, giving customers a customisable platform to test and scale new ways of working.

Analysis

Update (10.30am, 21 November 2018) – On the face of it, Autodesk is taking out a fast-growing US-based competitor, and improving its offering in the construction phase of projects.

In June 2014 Plangrid saw itself as competing with Bluebeam, Autodesk’s BIM360 application, and FieldLens. It was one of several mobile-oriented construction cloud platforms that aimed to improve site worker access to documentation, drawings and workflows – taking information from the design process out into the field (GenieBelt, Basestone, FinalCAD, and AproPlan are other Europe-based examples).

Given that Autodesk has BIM 360 Docs as part of its BIM 360 suite of applications (see previous post), the Plangrid acquisition appears to be an admission that the Docs application doesn’t offer the streamlined experience demanded by users working on a project site. Autodesk has long supported design collaboration – its Buzzsaw solution was launched around 20 years ago – but such solutions didn’t always integrate well with non-Autodesk solutions used across a multi-disciplinary team. Moreover, the desktop or laptop browser experience of SaaS collaboration platforms is very different to that required by mobile workers who have, in the past 10 years, been increasingly using tablets and smartphones – small wonder that leading AEC SaaS collaboration vendors have invested in acquiring mobile expertise.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/autodesk-acquires-plangrid-for-875m/

Nov 19 2018

Autodesk BIM360 embracing 5D

Cost management is being added to Autodesk’s BIM 360 platform, the company announced at AU2018 in Las Vegas last week. The 5D BIM addition will help it compete with the growing cost management capabilities of rival CDE products.

BIM360 logoAutodesk is adding cost management capability, sometimes called 5D BIM, to its BIM 360 software ecosystem, the company announced last week at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

The BIM 360 platform was launched at AU2017 following a revamp intended to connect workflows across all its BIM 360 products (which include the BIM 360 Docs document, drawing and model management toolset). The ecosystem, based on Autodesk Forge, is also intended as an environment in which partner companies can create accessory software applications, and around 100 partners have now provided software integrations.

At the AU2018 Connect and Construct Keynote, Jim Lynch, vice-president and general manager of Autodesk’s Construction Business Unit, announced it had added cost management capabilities to its BIM 360 platform, providing real-time visibility of the financial health of a project, and reducing decision-making risk. Lynch said: “Together, we’re delivering technology that supports key construction workflows by centralizing project information for all stakeholders and opening the door for innovation through greater access and analysis of project data.”

Little is currently known about the new application (reports Engineering.com); Autodesk said it will be offered as a limited availability pre-release in December 2018.

5D competition hots up

However, the addition of cost management to the BIM 360 portfolio is surely intended to help it compete with the growing cost management capabilities of rival common data environment products.

Oracle Aconex logoOracle Aconex has a long history of incorporating cost control functionality into its platform. One of its acquisitions, Conject (previously BIW Technologies) developed a cost control module as part of its document management platform in the early 2000s, winning sales to major UK contractors who valued the immediacy of up-to-date reports of the financial consequences of project changes. More recently, Aconex’s July 2015 Worksite acquisition boosted the Australian collaboration vendor’s project cost functionality, expanded still further by the deal to acquire Anglo-German rival Conject in March 2016. Meanwhile, Oracle had acquired SaaS construction payment management platform Textura in April 2016, and, just seven months after Aconex had launched Connected Cost in April 2017, Oracle announced it was acquiring the Australian-based business for US$1.2bn.

Other businesses which will be watching Autodesk’s development with interest include:

  • Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems – Bentley’s ProjectWise platform has been gradually extended to include more construction change management capabilities, following the 2015 acquisition of EADOC, ProcureWare in 2017, and Synchro in June 2018. At last month’s Year in Infrastructure conference, Bentley executive Steve Jolley told me the company aimed to expand its support for construction managers beyond BIM – “Their primary concerns are time, money, risk”.
  • Trimble logoTrimble  – As another US-based construction technology giant, Trimble has a long history of collaboration buys dating back to Meridian Systems in 2006, and since then including Sketchup in 2012, GTeam in 2014, and in 2018 the major buys of e-Builder and of Viewpoint. The latter deal, in particular, will focus Trimble on cost management; before it acquired the UK-based 4Projects SaaS collaboration business in 2013 and a mobile collaboration developer in December 2014, Viewpoint’s core US business related to ERP systems (and I have been hearing industry rumours that Viewpoint’s new masters want to build on this legacy rather than boosting SaaS collaboration functionality – which may explain some recent UK company staff departures).
  • RIB software logoRIB – Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software has described itself as “the world’s leading provider of 5D BIM Big Data technology for the construction industry” though its pure SaaS capability, iTWOcx, was mainly based on acquisitions.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/autodesk-bim360-embracing-5d/

Nov 14 2018

PropTech leader is new GoReport CEO

Belfast, UK-based Software-as-a-Service developer GoReport has appointed RICS PropTech leader Anthony Walker as its new CEO.

GoReport logo 2018SaaS PropTech business GoReport* has appointed Anthony Walker as its new CEO. The Belfast, UK-based business says it is looking to expand its portfolio of digital surveying solutions for the commercial and residential property sectors.

PropTech passion

GoReport - Anthony Walker, CEO of GoReport (Nov 2018)Walker has more than 30 years’ industry experience as a surveyor and project manager. He chairs the RICS Building Surveying Professional Board Group on which he also leads on PropTech, and he developed and led the PropTech offer at Trident Building Consultancy for over four years.

He has also held a number of senior positions within the public and private sector including 10 years with the Department for Education where he led the Property Data Survey Programme, the largest single building surveying programme in Europe covering more than 52 million square metres of internal area. Walker said:

“PropTech is my passion and has been central in my professional life for over 20 years. Most recently I’ve witnessed first-hand how much simpler and effective GoReport makes intelligent data capturing for surveyors on site and the added value it brings for their clients. Their customer service is something that stands them out in this space. I’m really looking forward to being a part of the continued growth and development of this innovative company.”

GoReport is best known for its software for surveyors, project managers and estates managers, capturing site data electronically to convert into vital property management information, reports and data analytics. Founded by Conor Moran, the business launched its iPad-based application in November 2012 (post), enabling companies to create standard data capture and report templates for their surveys, so that surveyors can then efficiently capture information on-site. Early users reported time savings of up to 70% in compiling reports, and support for RICS standard reports followed in 2014. Moran left GoReport and joined Aveva in early 2017.

Competition

Competing PropTech solutions include Kykloud* (Moran claimed GoReport delivered a high quality report than what he saw as Kykloud’s more quantitative asset management-oriented approach). Launched in January 2012 (post), North Shields, UK-based Kykloud also said it improved surveyor productivity and in April 2013 was the first to provided RICS-approved reporting tools. It also looked to expand into overseas markets including Australasia and the US, while also winning major domestic projects, including, in 2016, a three-year condition survey of around 80,000 buildings in 22,000 state-funded schools across England for the Education Funding Agency (where Walker worked up to August 2014). More recently, in January 2018, Kykloud was acquired by Austin, Texas, US-based software business Accruent for an undisclosed sum.

[* Disclosure: GoReport and Kykloud are past clients of pwcom.co.uk.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/proptech-leader-is-new-goreport-ceo/

Nov 07 2018

Growth continues at Asite

SaaS construction collaboration technology provider Asite grew its revenues and profits in the year to 30 June 2018. With AEC acquisitions happening almost monthly, is the London-based vendor the next big target?

Asite logo 2012According to its just-published annual report (here), the London, UK-headquartered company saw revenues grow 12% from 2017 to £8,004,773 – around US$10.47m or €9.17m. During the same period, operating profit increased 85% to £1,357,702 – around US$1.78m or €1.56m – from 2017’s £733,370.

The revenue growth figure represents a slight slow-down on the 2016-17 year, which saw revenues climb 18%, while the operating profits showed a bounce-back after dipping in 2017 for the first time since the global financial crisis.

construction collaboration vendor revenues to June 2018

This latest report was published less than five months after Asite’s previous results announcement, when it highlighted its investment in new offices in Hong Kong and development of its New Dawn release of Adoddle, launched in March 2018. Tony Ryan (Asite CEO)CEO Tony Ryan’s messages still focus on its growing global footprint and new releases of its Adoodle platform (the latest wheeze has been an instant messaging tool, aMessage); he describes the company’s common data environment as providing “Common Data Everywhere” (another variant on CDE – Bentley Systems has, for example, been talking about its “Connected Data Environment” for some years; post).

Global footprint

Within its “global footprint”, the mature UK market still contributes the largest proportion of Asite’s revenues: 76.9% – up slightly on 2017’s figure; revenues grew by 12%. Revenues were up in every other region apart from the Middle East, for which no figure was supplied (any revenues from that region were presumably rolled into results elsewhere – perhaps with India, where revenues jumped 60%). Elsewhere, revenues were up nearly 31% in Australasia, and 11% in Europe, while revenues grew by a comparatively sluggish 6.5% in north America – dropping it to third place in revenue terms behind the UK and Australasia.

Headcount dropped over the 12 months to June 2018, from 242 to 213 – the bulk of the reductions being born by Asite’s largely India-based technical team which shrank from 205 to 183 people. Excluding directors’ remuneration (some £614,000), the total wages and salaries bill was around £2.6m, meaning the average pay for an Asite employee is just over £12,000 – underlining the low cost-base provided by Asite’s Indian operation.

The next big deal?

Asite is in an interesting position compared to its competitors, particularly those from the UK. Following the acquisitions of BIW by Conject (then Aconex, then Oracle; post), and of 4Projects by Viewpoint (then Trimble; post), Asite is now – in revenue terms – the largest UK-based independent construction collaboration vendor. It must surely be being courted by potential acquirers (perhaps the rapid publication of its latest results and the trumpeting of its 85% profit growth is partly a marketing ploy to would-be suitors? See: the next big AEC SaaS acquisition?)

The UK market is also targeted by other US-based vendors – not just old hands like Autodesk (first Buzzsaw, now BIM 360 Docs) and Bentley (ProjectWise), but more recent arrivals such as Plangrid and Procore. The leading German players RIB and think project! might yet also enter the UK collaboration market – the latter acquired the UK’s CEMAR in May 2018 – while Belgium’s Bricsys 24/7 could be boosted following its recent acquisition by Hexagon (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/11/growth-continues-at-asite/

Oct 25 2018

Synchro buy a key step in building Bentley’s construction capabilities

Bentley’s courtship of Synchro started when the two firms collaborated during the Crossrail project in London, and the Synchro acquisition is a significant step forward in Bentley’s support for construction operations.

Bentley logo 2017This year’s Year in Infrastructure conference provided a platform for Bentley executives to talk about the June 2018 acquisition of Synchro Software, the 40-strong UK-based 4D BIM pioneer, and to explain how this broadens the Bentley ProjectWise construction offering.

Synchro logoTom Dengenis presented Synchro at the conference, highlighting how 4D construction modelling can make a critical difference to timely project delivery. In a product keynote, he showed how Synchro was used to help plan future construction work at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, and contrasted the performance of the team delivering London’s Shard versus the team delivering another – ultimately discontinued – skyscraper in the City of London).

In a building and construction press briefing, Noah Eckhouse, Bentley’s SVP of Project Delivery, told a building and construction press briefing that Synchro provided greater “situational awareness” in projects and said “Synchro is being used by construction teams instead of post-it notes, Gantt charts and thick packs of plans.” And Steve Cockerell, Bentley industry marketing director for rail, thought Synchro was ideally suited to managing rail track possessions. Greg Demchak, now Bentley technical architect, joined Synchro in 2013, and hosted a conference session showing how Synchro helped a project team from PC3 rapidly review constructability options for the Echowater treatment plant in California.

Founded in 2007, Synchro applied learning from other industry sectors to combine scheduling tools with spatial data. The Synchro Pro platform can import project schedules from Primavera, MS Project, Excel and Asta PowerProject, and then synchronise these with building information models, so that project teams can better understand how a project might be delivered, and then – once a project is underway – to monitor progress against the programme and make adjustments as necessary.

The Synchro product portfolio includes: Synchro Site, which allows users to monitor progress on an iPad or on Microsoft HoloLens; Synchro Scheduler, free software which provides traditional 2D Gantt chart project planning and scheduling software with an advanced CPM engine; and Synchro’s free open 4D model viewer.

Expanding construction support

Bentley VP for construction, Steve Jolley said: “For infrastructure projects, integrating Synchro’s 4D construction modelling completes the reach of our ProjectWise CDE.” While Bentley had been investing heavily in BIM for years, he highlighted how the company had gradually been expanding its construction-oriented toolset, citing the 2015 acquisition of EADOC and ProcureWare in 2017, and looking to expand its support for construction managers beyond BIM – “Their primary concerns are time, money, risk”. He said Bentley has formed a construction group to try and take a larger slice of the construction space.

“If you imagine construction projects as pyramids, we have good relationships with the asset owners and operators, and we have good relationships with the Tier One contractors who are managing digital construction and design integration. As we have engaged more with them and with Tier Twos we now know what we need to do.”

This may involve further acquisitions, Jolley said.

Steve Jolley“Time – 4D – was the obvious first step after 3D, and while Bentley Navigator provided some 4D capability it was nowhere detailed enough for construction project management purposes – hence the Synchro deal. We have a very good foundation in Connect, in iModel.js, but there could well be some further acquisitions along the way.”

Jolley said Bentley had a long working relationship with Synchro dating back, in his case, to work with Crossrail, where Bechtel wanted greater certainty about the project’s planning, particularly when it came to complex structures like stations and to interfaces with operational underground lines and other infrastructure. Demchak recalled some complex workflows with data needing to flow from ProjectWise, through IFC, into an access server and back again.

“At that point we decided we needed an API. We couldn’t evolve with all this crazy data exchange, so we started building an API and a mobile app – Crossrail was one of the first users of that tech – in around 2015. … This was the point when Synchro became more than just an animation tool, more than a visualisation tool.”

The integration of Synchro into Bentley’s ProjectWise CDE offers a potentially powerful differentation from other project delivery platforms that are mainly focused on managing 2D and 3D information and workflows (though other vendor applications are also addressing the 4D aspect, particularly on detailed planning – Aphex and Visilean, for example).

Announcing its ProjectWise integration with Microsoft 365 (post), Bentley stressed the importance of workflows:

“With Synchro’s digital workflows, constructors don’t need to recreate 3D construction models from scratch, which would have orphaned the BIM models created during design. ProjectWise, with Teams and Flow, will automate digital workflows for construction planning to leverage the BIM intelligence. This immersive environment for visibility into the path and sequence of construction completes the reach for project delivery. Microsoft and Bentley are working together on further HoloLens applications for ProjectWise and Synchro to be introduced later in the year.”

The company’s iTwin Services will also integrate Synchro’s 4D construction modelling into its monitoring of project timeline states. Such detailed monitoring is vital for construction projects, said Jolley, mentioning the views of Hatch’s program manager Johan Palm who had collaborated with Bentley on its open source library iModel.js developments:

iModel.js gives Hatch the ability to implement a stakeholder engagement technology that extends the iModelHub visionary technology. We can expose complex project information to a level that is accessible, consumable, and extendable via the cloud and in context to the 3D model. Most importantly we can do so in a manner that embraces change as the project progresses.”

It will be interesting to see how Bentley’s construction offerings grow over the next year or so, but the early signs are that it is growing a strong suite of solutions that take the company well beyond its design roots and into the capital-intensive project delivery phase.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/synchro-buy-a-key-step-in-building-bentleys-construction-capabilities/

Oct 24 2018

Hexagon on Bricsys 24/7: “Watch this space”

Now part of the HexagonPPM portfolio, Bricsys 24/7 has continued to extend its CDE capabilities, with an enhanced BIM viewer and support for IFC. Could it provide the basis for a revamped HxGN SMART Build offering? Announcements are planned for mid-2019.

Bricsys logoFollowing on from yesterday’s lunchtime news that Sweden’s Hexagon had acquired Belgium-based construction software developer Bricsys, the latter’s London user conference saw demonstrations of the the company’s BIM capabilities and then took a quick dive into “The Future of the CDE” [common data environment].

My BIM-embracing colleagues were impressed by Bricsys BIM, so the CDE demonstration was perhaps underwhelming by comparison. Bricsys 24/7 is “big in Benelux” (according to the company’s communications chief, Don Strimbu) and, after defining a CDE (useful for an audience with a large number of delegates from outside the UK), we learned about how the product was being deployed on a major project in Brussels: the Leopold II tunnel project.

Since October 2017, Bricsys 24/7’s viewer has been extended to incorporate full support for IFC (as 24/7 product manager Jurgen Schepers promised; Bricsys is a full member of BuildingSMART International). The viewing platform also uses 3D WebGL, and enables 3D annotations of the model.

Bricsys24/7 will be offered free to all BricsCAD v19 users next year (echoes of how Autodesk tried to expand adoption of Buzzsaw by offering it free to AutoCAD users nearly two decades ago). The roadmap now includes support for BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) and for virtual reality (VR).

CAD and BIM market

Hexagon logoAfter the main public sessions, we learned that the conversations between Hexagon and Bricsys had been going on for around 18 months. For Bricsys, which for a long time has focused most of its resources on software development and relied on resellers to undertake its marketing, CEO Erik De Keyser said a relationship with Hexagon would boost its sales and marketing activities; Hexagon’s Rick Allen said the parent company would also help boost Bricsys’s profile in north America, and Hexagon is clearly in the mood to take on Autodesk in the CAD/BIM market, criticising its aggressive pricing and subscription models, and looking to give its customers an option (“we will be leading horses to water, and a lot of them will drink”).

Eric De Keyser at Bricsys2018

De Keyser, above, also stressed that it’s not just about Autodesk. He identified that the potential global market for BIM is still under-penetrated, with – even on optimistic estimates – only around 16% of designers using BIM applications – “We are going for the 84% that don’t currently do BIM“.

Bricsys 24/7 and HxGN SMART Build

Asked about the potential ‘fit’ between Bricsys 24/7 and HxGN SMART Build, De Keyser said the Hexagon product extended across a much wider range of capabilities – estimating, planning and scheduling, for example – while 24/7 was specifically aimed at design collaboration activities, but it was recognised that the products complemented each other well. Some work is clearly already under way: “Watch this space in about nine months,” was the message.

HxGN SMART Build was launched at a time when Hexagon was looking to diversify away from its focus on oil and gas, and to use its expertise on detailed project planning and scheduling in other markets such as construction. It looked to integrate 4D and 5D project controls capabilities gained from the October 2015 acquisition of Ecosys, but making technologies designed for specialist engineering procurement construction businesses (EPCs) applicable to architecture, engineering and construction, I think, proved challenging. A collaboration with Skanska and a research project grant in Singapore are the only instances of industry engagement with HxGN SMART Build that I have been able to identify.

So perhaps Bricsys 24/7 will provide the new platform upon which Hexagon can relaunch its SMART Build ambitions?

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/hexagon-on-bricsys-24-7-watch-this-space/

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