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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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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.”

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Bentley acquires NoteVault

Bentley Systems has acquired US-based NoteVault, a provider of voice-based field automation for construction management.

Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems‘ latest acquisition (announced on 3 June 2020 – no value given) is NoteVault, a San Diego, California-based provider of voice-based field automation for construction management. According to Bentley:

“the acquisition expands Bentley’s SYNCHRO digital construction environment with industry-leading mobile field applications to track and manage labor, materials, and equipment.

“Together, these comprehensive offerings further extend the value of digital twins across construction management, enabling projects to combine immersive 4D models of the construction progress with detailed up-to-date reports on resource expenditures, enabling more effective management of cost, schedule, and risk, leading to better project outcomes.”


NoteVault system integrationNoteVault was profiled in Extranet Evolution in October 2014. It reduces the need for hand-written notes often compiled from memory. Time and date-stamped daily reports (effectively, site diary entries) can be rapidly created by voice, text, email, app (iOS and Android) or Evernote, and securely stored in NoteVault. They could then be viewed online, issued as alerts or notifications, or published as PDF reports with searchable data. Integrations then enabled data to be shared with solutions including CMiC, Trimble’s Prolog, Viewpoint, Spectrum and Autodesk’s Constructware. PDFs could also be filed to Box or Sharepoint locations.

Today NoteVault is used widely by both large and small construction companies across the ENR Top 400 Contractors. It offers natural language automated speech-to-text, augmented with automated machine learning, and human transcription to ensure accuracy.

Because it has been engineered specifically for construction site mobile field reporting, NoteVault recognises construction-specific language for accurate transcription, and enables automated translation so non-native English speakers can submit daily reports more easily using their native language.

SYNCHRO integration

With NoteVault on their mobile devices, construction professionals can help synchronize status reporting effortlessly while saving time and money, reducing the risk of contractual disputes. Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s vice president, project delivery, says:

Dustin Parkman - Bentley“Digital twins continue to transform the way projects are delivered and operated. Inherent in every digital twin is a stream of continuously updated data, and for construction, automating the semantic interpretation of field reports can now be one of the richest sources of live project information. With the addition of NoteVault’s market-leading resource tracking capabilities, the SYNCHRO 4D construction environment delivers the most comprehensive construction digital twin solution available. We are excited to continue advancing the scope of construction digital twins.”

Peter Lasensky, CEO of NoteVault, says:
NoteVault logo

“Bentley’s vision for transforming construction through digital twins is the perfect vehicle to expand the reach and impact of our innovative voice-based field automation solutions. Updating 4D construction models through insights gleaned from our software for field-captured reporting fully extends the power of voice and positioning technologies together. Combining NoteVault and SYNCHRO is a natural next step in our overall mission, with Bentley, to drive greater efficiencies in construction.”

YII2020 image

Bentley’s YII2020 goes digital

Bentley Systems has announced (9 June 2020) that its annual technology conference, Year in Infrastructure, is going digital for 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic has plainly meant the event was unsustainable in its traditional face-to-face format.

Originally set to be hosted in Vancouver, Canada, during the week starting Monday 12 October, it has now been moved online on 20-21 October. The awards programme (where I have been a judge in previous years) will now see finalist presentations online from 5 October through to 16 October. Awards winners’ presentations will be from 12.30pm EDT on Wednesday 21 October.

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Envision renamed E7

Envision-E7Envision has rebranded as E7.

The Brisbane, Australia-based, mobile-first Software-as-a-Service construction management solution provider (first profiled in Extranet Evolution in May 2011, with an update – Envision: building construction transparency – in April 2019) says the old name was not perfect for all markets in which it operated. “As we secure more and more projects across the globe, we have decided to change from Envision to E7 to make our name more accessible and universal across borders and languages.”

An email from CEO Hugh Hofmeister explains:

“E7 is distilled from Envision (E and the seven letters that follow), in a deliberate design cue reflecting our decade-long tradition of supporting major resource, energy, and infrastructure projects. This change will apply to our organisation, Ennova Consulting Pty Ltd, and our software application, Envision. Our new company name in Australia is E7 Pty Ltd. … Our new logo is inspired by our focus on the capture and analysis of data from projects.”

Hofmeister says the rebrand will be rolled out to the company website and to its mobile applications in the coming weeks.

(For Londoners, E7 is also a postal district in east London, covering the Forest Gate district.)

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GoReport/RICS survey highlights data privacy concerns

A GoReport/RICS proptech survey found industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary, with privacy and ethical use of data seen as the biggest challenge to wider adoption.

GoReport logo 2018A proptech survey carried out by Belfast-based mobile survey technology vendor GoReport has found that industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary.

The survey (conducted in partnership with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and The Survey Association) gathered responses from 476 people, 95% of whom were based in the UK and Ireland, 75%  of whom were RICS members (65% of them being building surveyors). Just over two-thirds (68%) said they were users of proptech (quite widely “defined as all aspects of innovation and how this impacts the built environment… software, hardware, materials or manufacturing”)

Variable proptech adoption

The survey showed almost universal (98%) recognition of the digitisation opportunity, but adoption of proptech varied. Ranking themselves on a 10-point scale, 20%  were at 1 (no adoption); a further 36% ranked themselves from 2 to 5; 4% ranked said they had fully adopted proptech. Just over half (53% had a digital strategy) – about the same number (52%) as said they had a good understanding of proptech; 39% of organisations had not invested heavily in proptech or relevant training, but 48% felt they had the necessary skills and expertise to fully embrace proptech.

Lack of training/knowledge topped the list of challenges to adoption of proptech. However, content with traditional methods (39%) and fear of change (33%) both figured, alongside usual industry concerns about time and costs and about the return-on-investment and potential benefits.

PropTech barriers (source: GoReport)

Asked about the major challenges facing the sector and its increased reliance on data, privacy and ethical use of data was seen as the biggest challenge (45%), followed by data ownership issues (38%). Less challenging were silo-based data (33%) and issues with access to data (37%).

COVID-19 driving technology use

GoReport executive chairman, David Bell commented:

“Since the last survey in 2018, surveyors are seeing a greater impact of technology on their business and many are actively embracing the opportunity to drive efficiency, service improvements and to make more informed decisions.

“In the current climate, now more than ever we are witnessing the true value of technology and the benefits of digitisation as surveyors look to find smarter and more flexible ways of working. A continuation on this journey will enable the profession to be more resilient to deliver services to clients. The survey highlights the importance of increased information and training required for successful integration of technology into everyday working practices and the need to adopt a customer-centric flexible approach.”

For many people, the pandemic has compelled people to make greater use of technology in their private and work lives. The next chapter will be interesting to see how surveyors use digitisation to support the profession.

GoReport - Anthony Walker, CEO of GoReport (Nov 2018)GoReport CEO since 2018 (post), Anthony Walker, Technology Survey lead, RICS UK and Ireland Board member (right) said:

“Over the last two years the pace of technological change that is powering the digitisation of the built environment has continued to increase, requiring us to think strategically about how we deploy our expertise and resource. Surveyors need to be positioned centrally to add credibility to bridge between the technology sector and the surveying profession to ensure that technology is an enabler to augment their knowledge, skills, expertise and reflective thought. Technological is no longer an optional extra – without it surveyors will struggle to compete, be productive and add maximum client value.”

The report is available to download here, and, interestingly, GoReport has also provided an interactive Business Intelligence Dashboard.

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Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365

In April 2020, Bentley Systems announced it had opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service, including waiving subscription fees until 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extranet Evolution talked to Bentley and to a US customer about how ProjectWise 365 has helped keep projects going.

Bentley logo 2017ProjectWise 365 was announced in October 2018 at Bentley Systems’ Year In Infrastructure conference in London (read: Bentley ProjectWise365 extends Microsoft integration), extending the connectivity between Bentley’s collaborative workhorse ProjectWise and Microsoft’s 365 technology and office productivity tools. A year later, Bentley announced it would be targeting small-to-medium-sized businesses with this ProjectWise 365 offering (Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs).

Projectwise 365This pre-configured “instant-on, web-based” ProjectWise 365 solution has now been made generally available. It complements the enterprise-level ProjectWise Design Integration (DI) platform used — often on-premise — for work sharing by 74 of the ENR Top 100 Design Firms, said Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s VP, project delivery. With remote project working now widely enforced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such ProjectWise DI users said the platform helped “sustain their project productivity over the forced transition to work from home,” Parkman continued.

“Now, by broadly and immediately opening up access to our new simplified ProjectWise 365 cloud service, we’re extending ProjectWise advantages in collaboration and design review to infrastructure engineering project teams at every scale. By fully ‘digitally’ enabling every infrastructure professional, we hope to support their resilience in surmounting this crisis.”

A US-based user, Gregory J. Ellwanger, a project engineer for BLA, Inc. said:

“The present work-from-home conditions and coordination with multiple parties highlight how critical it is to our business and our role as prime consultant on projects, that our project teams always stay connected and productive. ProjectWise 365 cloud services enable us to rapidly deploy a common BIM collaboration environment that avoids the data silos, coordination delays, and the other limitations we’ve experienced while using network drives, file-sharing services, and email. ProjectWise 365 allows us to coordinate designs more quickly and reduce risk in contractual exchanges, regardless of the location of project participants, adding resilience to our design practice and increasing our ability to deliver high-quality projects on schedule.”

ProjectWise 365 uptake

Dustin Parkman - BentleyParkman told me ProjectWise 365, as a purely cloud-based solution hosted by Microsoft Azure, is good for small work groups, with none of the barriers that hamper enterprise IT deployments:

“It can start at the work group level or in small projects, where there may be just 10-15 people coordinating work, managing RFIs and other deliverables, and teams can get started in hours, not days. Our web services include review tools unique to ProjectWise 365, including markups on both 2D drawings or in models via our iTwin Designer view, on any device. And particularly on linear transportation projects, having geospatial context makes it easier to coordinate and review information.”

Since ProjectWise 365 became generally available, Parkman said there had been “incredible take-up” in just two weeks, with customers signing up across Bentley’s markets in southeast Asia, Australasia, Europe and north America, plus Latin America and India.

Coping with COVID-19 – Bentley perspective

Around 500 new organisations had signed up, predominantly mid-sized engineering companies, Parkman said. Many customers were replacing generic file-sharing services such as DropBox and SharePoint with the more secure ProjectWise 365 toolset. Some existing Bentley ProjectWise DI customers were also adopting the 365 solution for new projects, or because they wanted its BIM model coordination capabilities (Utah’s Department of Transport was mentioned).

Parkman said the COVID-19 impacts on construction clients and their projects had varied across the US, but many were focused on trying to minimise the impacts on the traditional Spring-Summer construction season, creating a massive appetite for remote working. There was also a strong focus on site-based health and safety:

“We want to do same work as before without being in physical contact. By integrating with the Microsoft Teams platform, ProjectWise 365 can help with design coordination, design sharing, markups and reviews, etc. We are doing more digitally, less manually.”

ProjectWise 365 - Design Review Screenshot

Coping with COVID-19 – a contractor view

I was also able to put some questions to Blaine Buenger, technology manager at US firm Foth about the impacts of COVID on its operations. Buenger gave a detailed insight into the realities of mobilising to support remote working:

Blaine Buenger (Foth)“Foth’s infrastructure team for the most part hasn’t skipped a beat during the pandemic. We are fortunate that infrastructure and IT leadership teams have designed and implemented a versatile and robust technology solution to support our geographically diverse workforce. Mobile CAD workstations, cloud technology, VPN and RDP solutions, mobile Riverbed WAN optimization, Microsoft Teams and Skype collaboration solutions, and various document management solutions all play key roles in keeping everyone securely connected to each other and to their work, all while staying efficient and productive.

“Our office workers have taken docking stations and monitors home to pair with their laptops and try their best to recreate their office environments at home.  Of course we still have to deal with a few challenges with home environments like kid’s schedules, home internet speeds, and supporting ergonomic home office setups, but we are doing our best to be flexible and keep the same level of support.

“Our field workers are basically business as usual, with the exception of new social distancing best practices.  Construction and geospatial activities for our infrastructure teams have seen little disruption in day-to-day work….

“Project delivery hasn’t been disrupted other than changing priorities from our clients.  Some clients are choosing to replace construction projects with design projects in order to prepare for a pending influx of federal funds.  Other clients are doing the opposite and ramping up construction while travel is down to work quicker and safer.  Aviation clients are taking advantage of historically low passenger air travel and choosing to divert projects to heavy traffic areas in their terminals.”

How did Bentley help Foth mitigate the impacts?

Foth logo“Bentley solutions have helped our successful transition to a primarily work from home environment. We owe a lot of that success to ProjectWise. Foth runs a hybrid on-premise and cloud ProjectWise setup.  The top three advantages that ProjectWise provides Foth in a distributed environment are:

      • Data integrity – all of our members are connected to the same project documents. We are not wasting our time uploading files to FTPs, emailing or transferring files, or operating at risk working in isolation on local drives.  All of these operations waste time and introduce risks of overwriting files and creating rework.
      • Efficient speed – a perfect combination of delta file transfer technology, ProjectWise’s ability to coexist and excel working with Riverbed WAN optimization, and most importantly – delivery of multiple sets of CAD standards efficiently by using ProjectWise managed workspaces, are the recipe for speed and successful project delivery.
      • Security – ProjectWise is kept secure using industry standard solutions such as Cisco AnyConnect VPN client and Microsoft Azure.”

And on what kinds of projects is ProjectWise 365 being used?

“Foth’s infrastructure team got its start using ProjectWise 365 services for construction activities on one of the largest site development projects in the U.S. – Foxconn’s new industrial facilities in SE Wisconsin.  We chose Forms as the first tool to setup and start using.  We are thankful we did, as it’s helped tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.  Construction staff can collect data and fill out forms in real time on their iPads, then publish data to the ProjectWise cloud project, thus allowing project managers and clients access to review progress, monitor issues, and submit regulatory forms all while working remotely.  We have effectively eliminated the need for exchanging paper for several types of forms using ProjectWise 365 Forms services.”

Bentley’s collaborative portfolio

GroupBCFinally, following Bentley’s acquisition of SYNCHRO (Bentley goes 4D, buys SYNCHRO), Parkman said the ProjectWise range will be expanded to include more construction-related capability, and he also briefly mentioned the March 2020 acquisition of another UK vendor GroupBC (Bentley buys GroupBC):

“ProjectWise is a powerful tool for design engineering team information management; the GroupBC platform gives strong owner-focused programme management, and both are complemented by SYNCHRO’s contractor-oriented construction operations capabilities. We now powerfully support the whole planning to design to execution to owner to digital estate data capture cycle.”

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