RIB revenue up 42% so far in 2020

RIB software logoStuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software has been expanding its international footprint in the architecture, engineering and construction Software-as-a-Service space in recent years; Australia’s Projectcentre and Denmark’s Docia were among the group’s early SaaS acquisitions, and it has accelerated its M&A activities in recent years. Now 2,700-strong, it has enjoyed a strong first half of 2020 despite the global economic  impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a strong 2019 (RIB Software grew 57%…), the company has grown revenue 42.6% to €131.9 million (c. £119.3m or US$156.9m) from €92.5m in the first half of 2019. EBITDA more than doubled: up 117% from €21.5 million to €46.7m (c. £42.2m or US$55.5m).

Schneider Electric takeover completed

Schneider Electric logoIn February 2020, French multinational Schneider Electric (a specialist in electrical equipment and ‘Internet of Things’ and  owner of the UK’s AVEVA software group) made a €1.4bn bid for RIB Software (post). This was commended to shareholders by RIB’s management and the majority of shareholders approved the takeover by the April 2020 deadline. On 10 July 2020, Schneider Electric announced the successful completion of its offer for all outstanding shares in RIB Software. RIB says all closing conditions have been fulfilled in the meantime, including CFIUS approval (received on 2 July 2020).

RIB Software 2020 outlook

RIB’s half-year announcement confirms that, due to COVID-19 uncertainties, the previously acquisitive company has limited its M&A activities (in June 2020, it announced it had bought a controlling stake in a Chinese technology developer, Bochaosoft, a 350-strong China-based electric power and engineering BIM design software company). This slowdown will impact on planned revenue and EBITDA contributions from its deal pipeline. As previously announced, RIB is focusing on expansion of its iMTWO segment, while looking to sell its xYTWO e-commerce business. The company’s guidance for 2020 envisages revenues of between €240 million and €270 million (c. £217-244m or US$285m-321m) – up from 2019’s €214m – and an operating EBITDA of between €55 million and €75 million (c. £50m-68m or US$65m-89m) – compared to 2019’s €51.2m.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/08/rib-revenue-growth/

Autodesk criticised by 35 named architects

Architectural unrest about Autodesk and its support for the industry’s design businesses is growing. Discontent has been simmering for a decade or more, and has led to calls for EU action.

autodesk logoThe recent open letter to Autodesk from 17 named members of a 25-strong group of leading architects (28 July 2020: Design firms demand change at Autodesk) has been supported by more firms. They extend the geographical reach of those prepared to publicly criticise the US AEC software vendor over its support for architectural design businesses – many of them heavily reliant upon Autodesk’s Revit design software. An additional 18 practices now stand alongside the original letter’s signatories, bringing the total to 35. A further 10 practices are supportive, but have not gone public. In total, more than 50 firms have therefore backed the group’s grievances.

Autodesk Revit_2014_brandingThe new signatories are: BC Architects and SAOTA (both from South Africa); Cooper Carry, Portman Architects, Idesign-solutions, Studio 3 Architecture, Goody Clancy, SGA, Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson, and Workshop Collaborative (all from the US), Atelier Tisso (France), CGL, Shepheard Epstein Hunter, and PDPLondon (all from the UK); Vibes (Netherlands); MIZA (Canada); Oslo works (Norway); and Mochly-Eldar Architects (Israel).

It is clear that Iain Godwin has tapped into a growing sense of unease, though, to be fair, rumblings of discontent have been heard many times over the past decade or so from a variety of software commentators and end-users. For example:

Concerns about some software vendors’ monopolistic positions have also been raised internationally by industry organisations, including the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC).

FIEC position paper

FIEC logoOn 24 February 2020, the FIEC published a position paper on the relationship between users and software companies/ editors/ service providers (download). No vendors are named, but, from the similarity of the claims, Autodesk is clearly one of the software providers that FIEC is sufficiently concerned about to urge the European Commission to review competition and data management regulations. Its paper discusses challenges and makes recommendations under four headings:

  1. The dominant position of a few software companies/editors/providers raises major concerns. – The FIEC urges the European Commission to target competition issues relating to software user contracts
  2. The non-EU origin of these suppliers and their infrastructure is exacerbating the lack of autonomy in software capability in the EU. – The FIEC says EU software users should be allowed to decide where their data is stored (“EU companies should be able to have their data hosted on EU territory, by EU servers/companies, under EU legislation”), calls for the creation of a secure European Cloud, and says software services “should be required to meet EU standards for interoperability and open access”.
  3. Contracting authorities must remain software-neutral and promote open standards. – The FIEC calls for enforcement of EU public procurement rules, and urges promotion of open standards for data, protocols and file formats in public procurement.
  4. Rules need to be established for multiple-user-access platforms such as BIM models. – Similarly, the FIEC urges EU measures aimed at protecting the data owner while ensuring appropriate data access rights for other users.

Autodesk not alone in hosting, US dominance, interoperability issues

Some of these issues are already familiar. Where project data is hosted has been a concern ever since Software-as-a-Service applications began to be deployed in the 1990s, and as use of construction collaboration platforms expanded in the early 2000s, most leading vendors have responded by creating localised hosting centres to serve different operational regions. Hosting  project data in the United States, for example, has been resisted by most clients based in Europe and other parts of the world (eg: the Middle East, southeast Asia, etc; read EE August 2014 post No SaaS ‘Safe Harbor’).

Concentration of large portions of the construction software industry through merger and acquisition activity has resulted in an increasingly dominant position for US software giants. By gobbling up strong players in Europe, Australasia and elsewhere, Autodesk, Bentley, Oracle and Trimble have assembled strong AEC software portfolios, while some of the more generic US software providers such as Microsoft and IBM have also developed applications, services and relationships that give them an increasingly strong foothold in the AEC space.

And software interoperability has been a perennial issue that EE has covered since it started in 2005 (eg: New ROI: Return on Interoperability, September 2005). BuildingSmart (formerly the International Alliance for Interoperability) started out as an Autodesk initiative in the mid-1990s, but, over 25 years later, global shifts towards open standards are still proceeding almost glacially slowly, with Autodesk’s leading BIM authoring product “widely ridiculed” for its IFC import/export capabilities.

Autodesk responds on key themes

Autodesk replyAutodesk’s initial response (see update to earlier EE post) to the Godwin group’s open letter did not mention interoperability at all. However, a follow-up blog post by Amy Bunzsel published today (31 July 2020) addresses the main themes, and on openness and interoperability says: “We continue to invest in supporting IFC and based on customer feedback we’ve recently increased development for new industry requirements, focusing on IFCv4 certification.”

Bunzsel continues:

“Looking to the future, we believe that ways of working will evolve, from the direct modeling of today to outcome-based design driven by analysis…, to the convergence of manufacturing and construction, and that data needs to be unlocked from native formats and flow more readily throughout Autodesk and non-Autodesk products.”

No more software silos

Jozef Dobos is CEO and founder of London, UK-based technology vendor, 3DRepo (which has been a supporter of Open BIM since 2017), and recently argued The case for fair competition in software use, in a BIM+ article. He writes:

Jozef DobosAll the issues raised by the FIEC must be addressed to enable the genuine digitisation of the construction industry.

3D Repo was created to enable the construction industry to work better together and to create better buildings. This is why projects like the AEC Delta Mobility [open-source] initiative in collaboration with BuroHappold Engineering and Speckle Systems are so important, creating a new standard for designers, integrators and fabricators to improve the flow of data.

The current method of sharing information as files of entire 3D models can hinder collaboration. Tracking changes can also be problematic and inefficient for design communication. AEC Delta Mobility breaks down the file barriers to enable small design changes, known as ‘Deltas’, to be shared faster, more openly and more efficiently.

This is how the software industry should be working with the construction industry. Real solutions that involve working with customers and providing them with tools they will not want to walk away from, based on commercial terms that actually promote the collaborative behaviours we want to see, not divide us into software silos.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/07/autodesk-criticism-extends/

Buildots raises £12m to fund expansion

buildots-logoField image capture technology provider Buildots has raised £12m in funding to fuel its expansion plan.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based startup Buildots has raised £12m (US$16m) in venture capital backing to fund its expansion plans (reports The Construction Index and TechCrunch).

Buildots imageAs described in Extranet Evolution in December 2019, Buildots’ solution combines 360-degree body-worn cameras with artificial intelligence for automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies. It aims to help contractors more effectively manage the plan, execute, measure and optimise cycle – especially the measure and optimise steps. The  toolset compares captured visual data with what is scheduled in the project programme and what has been designed.

The new funding includes a previously unreported $3 million seed round and a $13 million Series A round, both led by TLV Partners. Other investors include Innogy Ventures, Tidhar Construction Group, Ziv Aviram (co-founder of Mobileye & OrCam), Magma Ventures head Zvika Limon, serial entrepreneurs Benny Schnaider and  Avigdor Willenz, and Tidhar chairman Gil Geva.

CEO Roy Danon said:

“Since founding the company, we have managed to prove both technical feasibility and product-market fit, by deploying the product on large-scale construction projects and showing huge returns for our customers. This new funding round is a great sign of confidence by existing and new investors, and will be used to scale and improve our product, and expand to new regions.”

Gil Geva said:

“Buildots have been able to solve a challenge that for many seemed unconquerable, delivering huge potential for changing the way we complete our projects. The combination of an ambitious vision, great team and strong execution abilities quickly led us from being a customer to joining as an investor to take part in their journey.”

Buildots grows in UK

The company has been growing its UK workforce in 2020, recruiting former CBRE project manager Patrick Scannell and – according to industry sources – at least one former Viewpoint employee (Viewpoint’s Newcastle, UK-based team has been a rich recruiting ground for other AEC technology vendors; former employees are now at Asite, Bentley Systems, Dalux, eviFile, Glider and Procore, among others). Buildots has also joined the UK BIM Alliance as a patron and as a member of its technology group. Outside Israel and the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped Buildots push into other geographies. TechCrunch says the company has projects in Poland and Japan.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/07/buildots-expansion/

Design firms demand change at Autodesk

A group of leading design practices have written an open letter to Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO of Autodesk to express concern at the increasing cost of ownership of Autodesk’s Revit software, its lack of development, and its poor support for interoperability.

autodesk logoSeventeen well-known firms, including AHMM, Allies and Morrison, Aukett Swanke, Glenn Howells Architects, Grimshaw, PRP, Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners, Scott Brownrigg, Sheppard Robson, Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Zaha Hadid Architects, have put their name to the letter. (I understand a further eight requested anonymity for fear of Autodesk retaliation.) Together, they represent 1000s of users and a revenue stream for Autodesk of over $22m over the last five years. They responded to a June 2020 survey, coordinated by architectural IT veteran Iain Godwin, which found software costs had increased up to 70% between 2015 and 2019, with practices subject to several software licensing models (moving from individual product licences, to suites, through to collections and in 2020 to individual user licences). Godwin is involved with the Architectural Technology Group, a forum for practices to share experiences. The firms’ letter says:

“Practices would be less worried by these cost increases if they were mirrored by productivity improvements and a progressive software development program. Where once Autodesk Revit was the industry enabler to smarter working, it increasingly finds itself a constraint and bottleneck. Practices find that they are paying more but using Revit less because of its constraints.

“Every day digital design leaders around the world wrestle with software which at its core is twenty years old and incapable of the potential of multi core computing and graphics power designed to process within today’s real and virtual workstations. Project productivity in architectural and engineering practices is hit daily because of the lack of scalability and product performance, which then requires sophisticated and practice specific ‘work arounds’.”

Better interoperability is “essential”

The letter also highlights firms’ concerns about interoperability. A survey question asked respondents if they agreed “Autodesk’s proactive support of International ISO standards and industry interoperability standards such as IFC is competitive and innovative and opens access to projects by complimentary [sic] technologies.” On a scale from 1: strongly disagree to 10: strongly agree, Autodesk was rated less than 3 (2.77 to be accurate). The letter said:

“Project design outcomes thrive on ever‐increasing collaboration between different design disciplines
requiring many forms of data interoperability between software platforms as well as compliance to
international data standards.

“Greater collaboration on interoperability between software platforms and providers could lead to a
larger market for all, given the industry is on the cusp of a ‘design for manufacturing’ revolution. …
Designers are in a continuous mode of innovation and improvement as they recycle and evolve data
between an ever‐expanding portfolio of applications. It is essential to effect better interoperability
between Autodesk products as well as with the rest of the industry.

Collaboration and CDEs

Autodesk Construction CloudMost firms cite a positive relationship with Autodesk’s technical and product support teams. However, there has also been an erosion of trust regarding the use of Autodesk’s cloud services and common data environments (CDEs). While Autodesk has invested heavily in acquisitions (Plangrid, BuildingConnected, Assemble, and [update; 29 July 2020] AI solution Pype – news release) to merge into BIM 360 and build the Autodesk Construction Cloud (January 2020: Autodesk converges its Construction Cloud), there is clearly some anxiety:

“Cloud services must be an area of potential future expansion for design businesses as well as for Autodesk as a provider. However, trust, empathy and respect need to be at the core of any such future business relationship.

“The protection of intellectual property will be at the centre of the debate for cloud based common data environments. Users want to know what any data that resides in the Autodesk cloud is going to be used for beyond individual project collaboration. Further the robustness and performance of the Autodesk cloud platform remain a cause for concern.”

From Autodesk, the firms seek “a transparent action plan that is customer-centric, non‐adversarial, innovative, progressive, and deliverable”. In a five-point plan, the group seeks, among other things:

  • the “replacement of Revit from the ground up to reflect the functionality needed for a 21st century digital industry“, and
  • a “commitment to continuously improving application, and industry interoperability (including IFC) as well as expanding geometry support and alignment to international data standards.

The Extranet Evolution perspective

The views should come as no surprise to Autodesk, though they may be surprised that so many well-known names were prepared to openly express them. Rival software vendors have long sought to take advantage of the rising costs of ownership of its flagship Revit and AutoCAD authoring tools. In April 2017, and again six months later, for example, Bricsys was pitching its BIM solution to users dismayed by Autodesk’s new commercial terms, and talking repeatedly about its ‘open BIM’ philosophy. Nemetschek brands such as Graphisoft and Vectorworks are strong advocates of open BIM too.

The financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also focused attention on Autodesk software costs. Three months ago, in April 2020, in a post about vendor concessions, I mentioned AEC Magazine‘s feature The subscription yoke; this survey is covered in-depth in AEC Magazine‘s latest issue, and looks like the next salvo in an industry campaign to bring about change at Autodesk (read Autodesk AEC customers demand better value). Martyn Day provides a detailed history of the industry disquiet over Revit, also noting in relation to open data interchange that “Revit’s coherence in IFC import/export is widely ridiculed“.

Hackitt recommendation 8.1Interoperability is an increasingly important battleground. The Open BIM movement has been pushing forward since 2012 (Open BIM, 4BIM … and potential ‘BIM-wash’). In January 2020 I wrote about Software-as-a-Service vendors looking to promote improved data exchange between CDEs (Towards connected data environments), and I continued my conversations in March 2020 after speaking to John Egan at BIMLauncher (Open CDEs and BIMLauncher). And more recently, Asite CEO Nathan Doughty said his firm’s product strategy was all about openness and interoperability (June 2020: Nathan Doughty’s new Asite era); in February 2020, Asite became a gold patron of the UK BIM Alliance. And, in the UK at least, government pressure to focus on whole life value and – only last week – to publish a Building Safety Bill that will deliver Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Golden Thread’ recommendation of a digital approach to whole life information management, shows proprietary software is increasingly incompatible with 21st century asset owner-operator requirements.

BIEG coverI should declare an interest in the interoperability debate. As chair of the Technology Group of the UK BIM Alliance and a member of the Alliance’s executive team, I have been both following and participating in discussions focused on long-term use and re-use of data. Members of the Technology Group (Autodesk is a member) also gave evidence to the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s BIM Interoperability Expert Group (BIEG), and the BIEG’s recommendations received widespread approval following consultation across the sector (read 14 June 2020 BIM+ report: BIM interoperability suggestions hailed by sector: read the BIEG final report here).

Through its involvement in the Alliance’s Technology Group, its wider inputs to the Alliance and to BuildingSmart International, and as a supplier of software to industry and government, Autodesk will undoubtedly play a key role in these conversations. The publication of this open letter is a timely indication of the need for vendor flexibility and change if the industry is to make BIM business as usual, and support the long-term information needs of all stakeholders in the built environment.

* Update (28 July 2020: 5.15pm BST) – Five BIEG workstreams have been instigated by CDBB to implement the BEIG report recommendations. These cover: classification schema alignment, IFC and COBie, education and skills, standards, and AIM CDE. Representing the Alliance’s Technology Group, I am supporting a workstream led by Graeme Tappenden looking at the AIM CDE. An initial focus is on reviewing a document: Asset Information Management – Common Data Environment: Functional Requirements,* published by the UK Government BIM Working Group in early 2018. This predates the publication of the first parts of ISO 19650 (and the imminent ISO 19650 Part 3 covering information management in the operational phase of assets), but is a useful snapshot of government client requirements as they were previously understood.
* Anyone with views on the AIM CDE document or future guidance in this area, please email me at TechnologyGroup@UKBIMAlliance.org.

Update (30 July 2020) –

Autodesk response

autodesk logo“Engaging, listening to and addressing the concerns of our customers is a top priority for Autodesk, and we appreciate the feedback we received in the open letter. While there are points it raised that we disagree with, there are also issues raised that we must take to heart, which highlight areas where we’ve fallen short.

“Over the past several years, we increased our product development to serve engineering and construction customers, because we believe having a multi-disciplinary BIM model connected to construction enables better collaboration among all project team members. As with any business, there is the need to prioritize resources. We do recognize the need to balance and have recently increased our development on the architectural capabilities of Revit. Expect to see progress here in the future. Our current roadmap for Revit is publicly available at: http://www.autodesk.com/revitroadmap.

“We also empathize with customers that have gone through different license models in the last few years as we’ve transformed Autodesk to become a subscription-based company that can serve our customers better. We’ve done our best to balance these changes with a more valuable experience and trade-in offers that give long-time customers a path to experience these benefits at a cost consistent with what they pay today. But we must always be open to customer feedback. We’re planning to continue engaging with these customers directly, to have an open and honest dialogue, helping us further understand their needs. We have more to say, but first we will listen.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/07/design-firms-demand-change-at-autodesk/

thinkproject wins Fehmarn Belt megaproject

The thinkproject BIM common data environment (CDE) software is to be used during construction of the 18km €6.9bn Fehmarn Belt fixed link between Germany and Denmark.

Munich, Germany-based thinkproject‘s BIM ‘common data environment’ (CDE) software is to be used during construction of the €6.9bn (c US$7.74bn or £6.24bn) Fehmarn Belt fixed link. At 18km long, the world’s longest road and rail tunnel project, and one of Europe’s largest megaprojects, will be constructed between Germany and Denmark at the western end of the Baltic Sea.  It is scheduled to open in 2028.

Fehmarn Belt fixed link

Fehmarnbelt mapA connection has been discussed since the 1990s and initial work focused on a fixed bridge link carrying a four-lane highway and two electrified rail tracks. However, in late 2010, after further feasibility studies, it was decided that an immersed (not bored) tunnel posed fewer construction risks and would cost about the same. The Baltic Sea in the Fehmarn strait is sufficiently shallow (35m at the deepest) to allow dredging and immersed tunnel construction. It will be the longest such tunnel in the world (surpassing a 13.5km  tunnel in Turkey), the world’s longest combined road and rail tunnel, the world’s longest underwater tunnel for road, and the second deepest concrete immersed tunnel.

The tunnel will provide a faster connection between Copenhagen and Hamburg – reducing travel time by 1-2 hours. The improved connection between Germany and Denmark will boost freight transport, increase cross-border integration of the labour market, and improve general travel between Scandinavia and central Europe.

Fehmarnbelt tunnel cross-section

thinkproject BIM contract

thinkproject was awarded the project’s BIM software contract by Femern A/S (a Danish state-owned company whose subsidiaries already operate the Great Belt Fixed Link and the Øresund Fixed Link). In its news release, thinkproject says it secured the contract thanks to its complete solution offering and its ability to improve collaboration between project participants by providing simple access to model information. It says its BIM platform provides a highly sophisticated and secure SaaS solution to meet the project’s requirements, supporting BIM and CAD management, workflow and audit trails.

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)The thinkproject product portfolio includes three CDE products: tpCDE and CONCLUDE CDE (acquired November 2019) for construction projects, and EPLASS CDE (acquired 2011) specifically for rail, road and infrastructure projects. For the Fehmarn Belt project, tpCDE will be used.* With two international consortia (FBC and FLC) delivering one and three main project contracts respectively, Extranet Evolution asked how tpCDE would be adopted. “All project partners have to upload all information to our system. FLC is using it for internal coordination and collaboration. At the end all collaboration and information exchange between all contractors and Femern will be via tp.”

Just over a year after taking over as CEO, thinkproject’s Gareth Burton, right, says, “We’re excited to bring our expertise as the global leader in construction intelligence and our 20 years’ worth of digital solutions experience to such a significant infrastructure project in the European transport network.”

Kim Smedegaard Andersen, deputy technical director of Femern A/S adds, “BIM collaboration is an essential part for managing a major project such as the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel, and we’re very much looking forward to working with thinkproject to realise the benefits of this megaproject”.

* Update – thinkproject’s Michel Kraaijeveld says that the complete solution for the Femernbelt project team will consist of tpCDE and the group’s BIM management solution DESITE BIM (which it acquired in March 2019). DESITE provides thinkproject’s CDEs with additional BIM functionality such as collision (clash) and model checking, and 4D simulation and analysis for users.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/thinkproject-wins-fehmarn-belt-megaproject/

xbim Flex – targeting AEC’s continued reliance on email

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK-based xbim is facilitating BIM conversations with its new xbim Flex platform.

xbim logoA recent Extranet Evolution post (15 June 2020: AEC reliance on email remains high, Mail Manager research shows) highlighted the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector’s continued reliance on email for communication. This struck a chord with Steve Lockley of Newcastle, UK-based software developer xbim, and we began a conversation – by, of course, email!

xbim and Flex

Professor Steve Lockley, to give him his academic title, was professor of architectural informatics at Newcastle University in the late 1990s/early 2000s. From 2002, he was executive director of R&D at RIBA Enterprises (today NBS), and later research director at BIM Academy and emeritus professor of building modelling at Northumbria University. Since 2017, he also been a director of xbim – a business he co-founded with Andy Ward (one of the founders and a later CTO of 4Projects, acquired by Viewpoint in 2013) and Martin Cerny.

xbim toolkitThe company has developed the open source xbim Toolkit, helping industry to overcome problems with information management and data exchange for buildings. The toolkit has been used by 1000s of companies to provide core functionality to solutions from tech firms including Bentley Systems, Viewpoint, BIM Academy, NBS, BIMTrack and Permasteelisa.

xbim’s latest product – xbim Flex – is a “platform for making digital information flow between people who design, construct and operate built assets”. It claims “all the power of email – greater reliability and none of the pain,” and “Flex gives your email super-powers by fully integrating your BIM designs into your e-mail messages.”

EE: What is wrong with the ‘single source of the truth’ vision?

Steve Lockley (xbim)SL: There are three aspects of truth to consider here. First, truth is transient: what’s true today isn’t always true tomorrow. Knowledge and innovation change truth. This is the big error of the strapline ‘a single source of the truth’.

Second, truth is temporal: what the ‘common data environment’ (CDE) vendors are really offering is a snapshot of truth at a moment in time. A record of the state of a design at a given moment whose main use is often defending litigation.

Third, truth is subjective: it is dependent on interpretation and context. Unless you can recreate the context that a set of decisions is embedded within then you cannot determine if they are true or correct.

This is why we now have an ecosystem of multiple potential sources of truth, it’s the fundamental way that design and construction processes work.

EE: Where does email fit into project communications?

SL: The traditional AEC industry process creates largely one-off individual projects. Whether the construction project is large or small, we have to accept that the process is evolutionary and non-linear and encompasses many sources of truth. Also, as we near the end of the process many of the previous truths are now false, or redundant, and must be discarded.  But this often does not happen, and we are left with handover models that contain irrelevant or inaccurate data that is no longer true. The volume of outdated data can often exceed the volume of correct and accurate data.

This is where simple information communication based on data exchanges via e-mail falls down. The e-mail process does not dispose of easily identified but redundant truths. And it doesn’t properly retain the context that surrounds those truths. It is merely a ‘bin’ containing many truths and uncoordinated, often random documents, that have been attached for support. Tools like Mail Manager do a fantastic job of filing and indexing this information. However, they provide little control over how the information and its context are authored and published.

EE: Is this where xbim Flex fits in?

xbimflex logoSL: Yes. xbim’s Flex Communications really helps out here. We carried out studies with small and large architectural and engineering practices to determine why communication around BIM was so difficult. The main problem related to extracting and publishing information (mostly to send to CDEs or to generic file storage systems). We have focused Flex on facilitating collaborative exchanges of coherent information within a common data environment.

Flex Communications lets you extract a set of coherent and coordinated 3D views, drawings, sections and schedules from your BIM model in one click. These are then automatically constructed into a Flex Conversation, which is also an e-mail. (I appreciate the irony here but it’s a proven way of communicating and we’re not trying to replace it.) The key thing to remember is that conversation recipients don’t need access to BIM authoring tools. This allows wider engagement and consultation and improves the likelihood that more of the project participants have a consensus and awareness of what is true.

A Flex Conversation email provides a potential truth, in a correct context at a moment in time. It allows decisions to be made and captured in the conversation – all of which you can easily find again at a future date. The most important thing, though, is that this conversation is building-centric not document-centric; it provides the basis for the built asset to be the index for its documentation – effectively, another kind of digital twin.

EE: Where is xbim Flex used, and what do users think of it?

Flex screengrabSL: Flex has just been launched and is completely free for people to create a personal account where they can send messages with views of their BIM models and associated documents to the people they collaborate with – using our freely available Revit Add-in.  You can also use our Flex demo if you’re not a Revit user and want to look at an example conversation about models, drawings and schedules.

In this first release we’re keen to engage with Revit users who create and send messages, as well as their intended recipients, so we can understand how Flex is being used.  The potential for a real mix of people taking part in construction conversations using Flex is huge. It can be used by architects, engineers, clients, facilities managers, main contractors, sub-contractors and more. However, we’d love people to find uses for it that we haven’t anticipated.  We think it’s useful for talking to clients, carrying out design reviews, requesting product information, resolving snagging issues, doing project handover, etc.

Existing users say they love the simplicity and coherency of using Flex to understand how models, drawings and data can all come together in a collaborative conversation.

As well as providing a self-service communications application, we’re also working with several software vendors who are using our underlying cloud-based BIM platform to build and integrate their own BIM services. Behind Flex is a powerful ‘OpenBIM as a Service’ technology platform that accelerates and simplifies application development and workflows. We’ve just signed a significant deal with an ISV providing BIM asset management and communication services to high-tech data-centre and medical clients.

EE: Will there ever be a time when we don’t need email?

SL: I think we’re already in a time when we don’t particularly want email, but whether we’ll ever be able to do without it I don’t know.  The problem with email for most is that we abuse it. We don’t consider how the recipients use it and how we are consuming their time and resources. Social media has greatly reduced personal email; many younger people don’t even have email addresses. However, as soon as they enter employment they get work addresses. Businesses have a perception that email is easy, cheap and largely under their control; they don’t have to subscribe to a third party data manager if they don’t want to. In design terms email is long life – loose fit. I think it will be here for a while.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/xbim-flex-targeting-aecs-continued-reliance-on-email/

Nathan Doughty’s new Asite era

Asite CEO Nathan Doughty talks to Extranet Evolution about COVID-19, industry mergers and future prospects for the UK-based SaaS technology business.

Asite logo 20122020 started on a tragic note at Asite. On 2 January, the independent London-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology vendor announced that Tony Ryan, Asite CEO, had died suddenly, aged 48. Chief operating officer, Nathan Doughty, was immediately appointed Ryan’s successor. Extranet Evolution talked to Doughty about his new role and about the prospects for the business he joined in 2002.

Doughty had previously worked with Tom Dengenis (until 2018, CEO of Synchro – acquired by Bentley in June 2018 – and Ryan’s predecessor as CEO of Asite) at the UK arm of Bidcom. He then joined Asite to lead its technology initiatives. He was also involved with BSI, the International Alliance for Interoperability / BuildingSMART, and the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers, championing open BIM.

Taking over from Tony Ryan

Doughty reflected on taking offices in such tragic circumstances.

Tony Ryan (past Asite CEO)“Losing Tony [right] was a major personal blow. He was a close friend to me and to many people in the business, and we worked together for many years. It was also very unexpected, of course, so the Asite team has had a period of introspection and mourning, and we’ve all pulled together. We were very fortunate that Tony left the business in a very healthy position.”

What will be different?

“That’s difficult to say. I am a different type of leader to Tony, but we shared the same vision and goals for the business. My role has always been as a product or technology-led individual, while Tony had a strong sales-led approach. Going forward, I think Asite will be more open, both in communications – both internally with colleagues, and externally with customers, analysts and journalists – and in terms of our technology. I have always been a strong believer in openness at a platform level.”

Asite today

Asite has long been one of the most transparent vendors when it comes to its financial and operational performance. This culture of openness started in the early 2000s when Asite was an AIM-listed company, and continued even after Asite delisted in April 2009. Revenue topped £2m in 2010, when the business also declared its first profit. There was a plateau following the Global Financial Crisis but Asite has since enjoyed consistent double-digit revenue growth, up 10% in 2013, for example, 18% in 2017 and, most recently, 20% in 2019.

Turnover in the year to 30 June 2019 was £9.638m (c. US$12.6m or €11.43m), while operating profits were up 83% to £2.484m (c. US$3.25m or €2.95m), and Doughty was bullish about 200-strong Asite strengthening its global footprint. While still heavily reliant on the UK market, which generates nearly three quarters of Asite’s revenues, the company saw some sharp growth in its APAC and North American regions – despite healthy competition from indigenous competitors.

“We are competing product-wise with Oracle Aconex, Autodesk [BIM 360] and Bentley [ProjectWise], but we don’t have their marketing clout,” reflects Doughty. “However, we have some strong customer relationships at the top end of the market – particularly among owner-operators, large government clients particularly in infrastructure (the Environment Agency, Transport for London), and EPCs such as Laing O’Rourke. And we have some significant relationships in the United States (Goldman Sachs, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and New York City MTA [news]) and are developing similar ones in Australia and Hong Kong.”

Doughty has reorganised the business to give it a stronger regional focus (news), Doughty says. The Asite product is managed via a global shared services organisation, serving four regions: North America, India/MENA, APAC, and the UK and Europe. “We are the market leader in the UK; the European Union is a key target, and we’ve started to grow in Belgium and Holland.” In May 2020, for example, Asite announced a deal with Lantis to support its work on Belgian transport infrastructure.

Pandemic impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, created some uncertainty about future prospects for the global construction industry. And the sector’s technology providers may suffer a knock-on effect. Doughty says:

Nathan Doughty“We were understandably concerned about the potential impact of the UK lockdown. But, so far, our customers are continuing to build – albeit with some slowdowns – so Asite has been sheltered from it. Internationally, our key customers tend to be active in infrastructure and long-term government work. We expect these sectors to remain active as governments emerge from lockdown.”

There is bound to be an ongoing impact on how we operate sites, health and safety, and social distancing while maintaining the health of our contracting sector (which still operates on thin margins). Going forward, government infrastructure spending will continue and grow. Health will be a major focus. We also support transportation industries which will need to operate differently post-COVID, so demand may grow as we figure whether and how extensively or frequently we travel to work.”

Competitive landscape

The earlier mentions of Autodesk, Oracle Aconex, and Bentley lead to a discussion of the industry appetite for mergers and acquisitions, particularly topical given Bentley’s March 2020 acquisition of another UK SaaS collaboration vendor, GroupBC. Doughty believes:

“The GroupBC acquisition is a good buy for Bentley. The rationale makes sense. Bentley needs a stronger SaaS / cloud presence, as fundamentally their business is about older-school on-premise software. Equally, they are strong in design, and less so in construction and asset life cycle, so GroupBC will help them there and especially in the UK market.”

[Doughty was speaking to EE prior to the recent expansion of Bentley’s ProjectWise365 offering – read May 2020’s Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365.] He continued:

“We are in an interesting situation regarding serial acquisitions. As well as Bentley’s move, Oracle acquired Aconex, Trimble moved on eBuilder and then Viewpoint, InEight took out TeamBinder, and Autodesk bought Plangrid. They are all focused on a similar space to Asite, but all of these deals have created a lot of opportunity for us. We are talking to customers who find such large-scale organisations are less able to react, less responsive. Where customers want flexibility, I think we have lots of room to grow, particularly in APAC and the US.”

M&A appetite

Has Asite been approached about possible deals? Doughty says:

“We’ve regularly talked to everyone. We’ve had many approaches and spoken to most of the players in the space, and some talks got quite advanced. My view and that of Robert [chairman and majority shareholder Robert Tchenguiz,] is that we can build this business and compete with those guys. Our chosen strategy is to go to the capital markets to fund a sales and marketing-led growth strategy. We see a lot more future value in the business. Our focus is on organic growth, but we also want to build through mergers or acquisition. We are looking at buying businesses to help Asite grow into regions and build its market share.”

Having spent some time growing Asite’s business in North America, Doughty also talked about US-based Procore (which launched into Australasia in 2017 and is now active in the UK market).

“It’s an interesting, newer business, and has been very successful with mid-market regional builders and contractors. However, its product has less depth, little BIM, and little penetration at the top of the market or outside the US. It’s following a very different model to us in its fund-raising strategy and its recent IPO announcement. Our model has been based on slower sustainable growth and delivering profits which are reinvested in product, focused on more secure clients with longer-term infrastructure interests.”

Asite product strategy

Asite cBIM_Model CompareAsite has been among the AEC SaaS pioneers embracing building information modelling (BIM). Doughty’s work at Asite on BIM dates back to around 2006 (Asite BIM, March 2007), and it has benefitted from the UK’s world-leading position in this field, but he sees the future as about digital engineering and building new capabilities in areas such as offsite construction. “With MMC [Modern Methods of Construction], we are very fortunate to have Laing O’Rourke as a customer at the forefront of offsite construction. We’ve been exposed to it, and are taking the manufacturing approach and bringing it into our approach. I am also seeing similar strategies in the Middle East too.”

Where will he be investing in the Asite product set?

“To me, it’s about openness and interoperability. When I was the Asite CTO, our idea was for Asite to be the ‘service bus’ for the industry. We talked about developing open connectors for BIM, for electronic data interchange, for real-time data from asset sensors. Today, our strategy is about digital engineering; about providing a common data environment during project delivery, and then being able to connect to operating environments for asset management to help the world build better.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/nathan-doughtys-new-asite-era/

RIB Software invests in Chinese tech developer

Germany’s RIB Software takes a controlling interest in China’s Bochaosoft, adding strong Asian power engineering industry player to its portfolio of products.

Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software has invested US$28.57M to buy 51% of Bochaosoft, a 350-strong China-based electric power and engineering BIM design software company.

RIB software logoRIB was the subject of a €1.4bn bid from France-based multinational Schneider Electric (read: Schneider Electric makes €1.4 bn bid for RIB Software) in February 2020 – approved by shareholders in April 2020 (read: RIB Software grew 57% in 2019), and now awaiting clearance by competition authorities. The business has been very acquisitive in recent years, looking to extend the reach of its iTWO 4.0 cloud-based platform (“the world’s first enterprise cloud technology based on 5D BIM with AI integration“).

In 2019 alone, for example, RIB invested in the UK AEC software reseller Cadline (April), acquired 60% of the Atlanta, USA-based building specification software vendor, BSD (June),  acquired 70% of South Africa’s CCS, a provider of cost estimation and project control software (July), and took a strategic 15% stake in India’s company, Winjit, an Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain developer (August). It then invested in another India-based software business, SoftTech, bought a German business intelligence specialist, Datapine, and acquired an Australian reseller, Redstack (November). The latest deal is described by RIB as “a milestone in its mid-term M&A strategy”.


Bochaosoft portfolioThe target, Bochaosoft, founded in 1993, has its origin in BIM-based and GIS-based design software, quantity take-off and estimating, and is now an established digitalisation solutions provider in engineering and construction, covering design, build and maintenance stages. It is also further extending its technology into Smart City work, integrating Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

Headquartered in Beijing, China, with over 350 employees, Bochao serves 90% of China’s mega engineering design institutes and 60% of China’s major state-owned enterprises in the construction industry. In particular, Bochaosoft has been working with China State Grid for more than 10 years and is one of the most important partners in its digital transformation.

Its focus industries are electric power (thermal, nuclear, hydropower, new energy, smart grid), railway, petrochemical, metallurgical mining, rail, hydraulic engineering, municipal construction and oil & gas.

According to RIB’s news release, RIB and Bochaosoft share a joint vision regarding  digital transformation of the engineering and construction industry. Bochaosoft has a strong R&D competence with more than 120 people in Beijing. Its more than 15 years’ of experience and practical knowledge in BIM and GIS design technologies fits with RIB’s iTWO 4.0 technology, and its ambition to bring to the market a fully integrated competitive, end-to-end, enterprise solution for the Architecture, Engineering and Design (AEC) industry. Joining forces, RIB and Bochaosoft will benefit from their joint Chinese R&D capacity, which will further solidify Bochaosoft’s competitive edge in the EPC market and will help drive iTWO 4.0’s penetration of the Chinese market. Furthermore, leveraging RIB’s global capacity, Bochaosoft can continue to grow its overseas market share under the One Belt, One Road initiative.


Thomas Wolf, Chairman and CEO of RIB Software, right, commented:

Thomas Wolf“I’m very excited to welcome the Bochaosoft team. Bochaosoft is a leading and very successful engineering software company in China. They have a strong position in the power and electric segment and the state-owned enterprise segment. Together we will become one of the best software companies in the Chinese construction and engineering industry. In the meantime, RIB with its strong international knowhow, will support Bochaosoft in its Belt and Road strategy to win deals from overseas operations of the top 100 Chinese state-owned enterprises.”

Fei Lin, founder of Bochaosoft, commented:

“The cooperation between RIB and Bochaosoft is both technical and market-oriented. It is of great significance for RIB to open up the Chinese market by combining RIB’s leading technologies with the Chinese market. In the meantime, through the RIB global ecosystem, Bochaosoft’s distinctive products and technical service capabilities can also be extended to the international market. I believe that the cooperation will become a model of mutual benefits. Let’s work together to realize our shared vision of digitally transforming the industry into the most advanced industry and jointly building the future of living.”

Yonghe Li, CEO of Bochaosoft, commented:

“RIB is a respectable company in the industry. Bochaosoft has been focusing on the field of engineering digitalization for more than 20 years. We firmly believe that the two parties will have greater breakthroughs and development in the Chinese market as well as the international market on the basis of strong capital bonds and the complementarity of our respective industry expertise. Congratulations on the successful cooperation between both parties, I wish RIB greater achievements!”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/rib-software-invests-chinese-tech-developer/

Procore: Lockdown accelerates demand for digital transformation

Independent research commissioned by SaaS vendor Procore shows a UK construction shift in technology adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Procore logo
Procore, the US-based provider of construction management software which has been expanding in the UK, says the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in attitudes to technology in the construction industry. In March 2020 (read: Coronavirus, construction and software); also Coronavirus construction impacts, and software offers, continue), Procore was one of several vendors to offer its platform for use in COVID-19 situations. Findings from a May 2020 survey of 250 UK construction middle and senior managers working in companies with 100 or more employees show platform technology is playing a particularly pivotal role, Procore says.

Platform-based working

Amid challenges in keeping job sites operational during COVID-19, well over half (66%) of construction companies surveyed rolled out some sort of new technology during lockdown. As a result, a majority (94%) saw an improvement in the way their teams worked.

Looking forward, businesses recognise they will likely need to build on a singular, integrated system. The research showed 80% believe that platform technology will play a role in the future of construction work. And almost half (38%) said they could not do their jobs as effectively without it.

The independent research (conducted online by Sapio Research) defined platform technology as that which “connects business applications and stores relevant information all in one place, allowing applications and tech tools to talk to each other. A platform might be used to enable visibility over data or to standardise operations.

Procore: The future is “one platform”

Where the gaps between traditional ways of working and remote working have been most apparent, technology has come to the fore to increase efficiency and connect teams. 52% of the respondents said they feel empowered to change and apply positive learning to the future of work. Almost 9 in 10 (86%) construction managers said they would use “one platform” if they could.

Brandon Olivieri O’Connor, director of UK and Ireland at Procore UK&I’s London office, said:

“With much around construction being disrupted, technology has proved the one constant and this is being increasingly realised by businesses. We’ve seen contractors proactively making the move away from manual methods and Excel towards platform technology. Construction won’t be the same as it was before, with connectivity and mobility driving a new way of working.

“The emphasis will remain on the ability to connect people wherever they are – on one platform – so they can be productive and safe. Procore is one construction platform that connects the entire project team, from the office to the field and across companies, providing one place to work together to do what they do best – build. The result is a team that can run projects from anywhere, enabling them to do more and do it faster.”

Lockdown has accelerated the demand for digital transformation

Of the construction companies surveyed, 58% reported a higher demand from workers for a way to stay connected and work more efficiently. Procore connects project teams, from the office to the field and across companies, providing one place to work together. It is used by over 8,500 construction companies globally.  According to most (56%) research respondents, it will help the construction industry excel after COVID-19 compared to traditional systems or bespoke software tools.

The research found that the ability to work remotely is one of the top three reasons construction managers implement online technology tools. Having the option to reduce the number of staff onsite and social distance has allowed construction companies to comply with health and safety regulations.  Most construction managers (52%) who rolled-out online collaboration and productivity technology solutions since lockdown said the safety for their teams had improved.

Read more about Construction’s Future of Work; Procore is also hosting a webinar at 2pm BST on 2 July 2020 – details.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/lockdown-accelerates-demand-digital-transformation-procore/

AEC reliance on email remains high, Mail Manager research shows

Despite adoption of online collaboration platforms, continued parallel use of email can cause problems for projects if a dispute arises, says Mail Manager

Over two decades ago, the first Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms were launched, holding out the promises of a “paperless office”, “access anywhere anytime and on any device”, and “a single source of the truth”. In 2020, none of these have been completely delivered. For now, we often simply have less paper, access so long as the telecomms hold up and information is in the right format, and an ecosystem of multiple potential sources of truth.

In 2000, when I started working for BIW Technologies (later Conject, now subsumed into Oracle following completion of its acquisition of Aconex in 2018), the transition from traditional paper-based correspondence to email was well under way. Many architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) users were increasingly comfortable using electronic communication systems – particularly when these systems were largely dependent on hardware that was physically hosted in their offices or in a corporate data centre.

Entrusting communications to “the cloud” was another matter, however. As a result, even where centralised web-based systems are established to host construction documents, drawings, photographs and forms, many users will circumvent the systems and communicate via email. In February 2006, I wrote my first “email argument” post (followed by others in 2007 and in 2009). By this time, AEC SaaS vendors were building strong integrations between their collaboration platforms and email tools such as Microsoft Outlook. But, even today, over 20 years after the first extranet adoptions, the first instinct of many construction professionals is to use email as their communication platform for project-related correspondence. And many mobile solutions also push email notifications by default.

Mail Manager graphic


Mail Manager

Mail Manager logoIt is hardly surprising, therefore, that applications have been created to manage project-related emails. The appeal, for example, of Newforma to many AEC businesses was that it sat inside their firewall and had a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook that allowed emails to be quickly saved with their respective projects (July 2007 post). The same could be said for intranets and for other tools that were tightly integrated with Microsoft Office and/or its Sharepoint solution (for instance, Cadac Organice – October 2011 post). International construction consultancy Arup has also worked in this field, developing a tool called Mail Manager. Today around 70,000 people across some 2,000 companies deploy the UK-based solution.

Earlier this year (April 2020), Mail Manager published a report (news) highlighting the construction sector’s continued reliance on email (based on a survey of 450 users in AEC firms across the US [33%], UK [47%], APAC and South Africa). It also looked at what happens when a project goes wrong and firms need to retrieve information relating to their projects.


It is sobering reading for those thinking that most interactions might be in their collaboration platform aka extranet or in a common data environment (CDE) system. However, Mail Manager might well form part of a CDE: the latest UK guidance on the ISO 19650-2 BIM process says: “the CDE is a combination of technical solutions and process workflows” (p.28). It continues:

“… many solutions exist to deal with different types of project information. There may, for example, be document management tools for design files, contract management tools that manage commercial information, email management tools for correspondences and mobile based tools for site quality data. Each solution may have multiple and different workflows ensuring that information is carefully planned, shared, stored, managed and retrieved and that it is timely, correct, complete, and consistent.” (emphasis added)

According to Mail Manager’s survey, email is still, despite the predictions of its downfall, the letter of today when it comes to projects. Indeed, 55% of respondents reveal over 80% of their project correspondence is via email, while a further 24% answered 71-80% of their project correspondence is via email. Additionally, 88% of respondents are concerned about project information not being readily available, and not being visible. That’s particularly worrying given 99% have had to retrieve emails from a past project.

Survey findings

  • The ability to retrieve information 
    • 1 in 5 (18%) respondents ‘need to reproduce information’ when chasing payments
    • 1 in 5 respondents say scope disagreements are the biggest problem they face
  • Where is your evidence of the things that you’ve agreed to on a project?
    • In a legal dispute, half of the respondents (48%) need to retrieve correspondence relating to scope/agreements on the project, and a further 23% need to retrieve contracts
    • The AEC industries are good at documenting information, but not retrieving it. 0% say their information is not documented
  • The day file of years gone by is not anymore. It all lies in email
    • Email is king. 50% of respondents say the majority of information relating to scope changes reside in email
  • Businesses are concerned about their ability to find project information
    • Only 1 in 10 respondents are confident and comfortable with finding project information
  • Retrieval of project information key
    • 99% of respondents have had to retrieve emails from a past project
    • 60% of respondents have had to retrieve emails regularly from a past project
  • Businesses are looking more at how to make them more efficient and productive
    • Despite the buzz around Digital Twins, BIM and cybersecurity, 1 in 5 respondents (19%) list streamlining processes as their key initiative, while 14% are focusing on cloud adoption

Online data capture

Issues about accessing the audit trail of a project in the event of a dispute were recently highlighted by claims consultant HKA (read 2 June 2020 Construction Enquirer article “Contractors face data danger fighting covid contract disputes“). With construction businesses starting to make staff redundant due to uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the consultant warned contractors to protect project data or risk vital information walking out the door with redundant staff. HKA director Lori Noeth said:

“Dealing with claims is a lot more difficult where project staff are no longer available, and their collective knowledge is lost. Information needs to be carefully collated now prior to the departure of key staff so their project knowledge is captured in records rather than just committed to memory.”

Loeth recommends documenting everything electronically and using indexing software to make searches easier. She said: “Contractors need to keep a tight hold on their project data to give themselves the best chance of success with future claims.”

Finalcad: “digitalisation has been patchy to date”

finalcad logo 2020Update (26 June 2020) – French SaaS technology firm FinalCAD undertook similar, but more international, research looking at construction work practices in France, Spain, Singapore and Japan. Its survey (report here) found email was the most common tool used for assigning work, for documenting safety issues or incidents, and for sharing information about those issues with colleagues. Purpose-developed software tools tended to be used less often by the survey’s 400 respondents. According to FinalCAD, this lack of digitalisation “means that essential tasks … are inefficient and inaccurate [and] is compounding the problem of low margins in the industry.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/aec-reliance-email-remains-high-mail-manager-research/

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