RIB buys into US building spec vendor BSD

RIB Software invests US$42m to acquire 60% of USA-based BSD (Building Systems Design), strengthens its estimating and product data technologies, and gets a bridgehead in north America.

RIB software logoRIB Software, the Stuttgart, Germany-based provider of cloud-based technologies for the construction and real estate industries has invested US$42m to acquire 60% of the Atlanta, USA-based BSD (Building Systems Design) – a cloud software platform for building specifications together with data and analytics solutions for North American building product manufacturers. The deal strengthens RIB’s kernel of estimating and product data technologies, while also giving the company a strong bridgehead for expansion in the north American market.

BSD

The remaining 40% of the company is held by the BSD executive management team consisting of CEO Christopher Anderson (below centre), executive chairman Iain Melville (left), and chief innovation officer Arol Wolford (right), together with the Construction Specification Institute (CSI), whose mission it is to advance building information management. Prior to joining BSD, Anderson served in executive roles in the Gordian Group and RS Means; Melville was CEO for Construction Market Data (CMD) and RS Means. Wolford is the founder of CMD and a board member of Revit Technology Corporation.

Melville, Anderson, WolfordThe company was founded in 1983 to develop commercial software for the US federal government (some of its construction cost estimating software is still used by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Defense). The CSI had a majority stake in BSD from 2010 to 2017, at which point the current management team, and an investment from Caltius Structured Capital, set the company on a new course.

BSD provides thousands of American architects, engineers, project developers, investors, and building materials suppliers with a cloud data platform for the development of technical building specifications and the definition of products and construction services. Manufacturers can add their products to the building catalogue in the cloud. Approximately 4,000 new American construction projects are listed on the platform each month. Manufacturers can thus position their products directly at the point of sale. Currently more than 10,000 tendering engineers work within the platform and the cancellation rate of the annual users is far below 10%.

RIB-BSD integration

The two flagship products SpecLink and SpecLive will be integrated on the MTWO cloud platform and expanded via Managed Services (MSP) for enterprise customers. The BSD products will be supplemented with the virtual assistant McTWO, the artificial intelligence (AI), with smart Analytics. The 100 RIB Software iTWO 4.0 modules such as CX (Collaboration Platform), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Predictive Pricing, Modular Construction, Cost Estimation, and Value Engineering will be optimally connected with SpecLink and SpecLive. In the medium term, new business models based on xTWO technology are also planned.

According to RIB, BSD’s annual recurring revenue (ARR) is forecasted to exceed US$14m in 2019 with organic growth of approximately 25%. The addressable market for BSD products in the USA and Canada is over US$3 billion. Through BSD, up to 500,000 users for the MTWO cloud platform, driven by BIM and digital transformation, can be converted in the medium term from 8,000 construction suppliers, 80,000 architecture and engineering firms with over 10 employees, 150,000 construction companies, and 270,000 owners.

The addressable market in the 26 countries covered by the RIB Group is over US$10 billion (ARR) and over 1 million MTWO platform users. The RIB total investment, including expansion funds, is US$42m (€37.6 million) and represents the largest single investment in the RIB Group’s 50+ year history. This latest deal also comes just over a month after a strategic investment in the UK’s CADline.

Tom Wolf, CEO of RIB Group says:

“The investment in BSD demonstrates RIB Group’s strong commitment to the U.S. market. McTWO welcomes with Arol, Iain and Chris some of the strongest Executives and investors in the global AEC industry. The integration of 100 software modules connected to millions of BSD content data in the MTWO cloud platform super charged with McTWO our virtual AI assistant and managed data services has the potential now to digital transform the building and infrastructure industry to one of the most advanced industries. Re-platforming concepts like MTWO, combined with BSD data services, will enable developers and owners to build modern cities and infrastructure tailored for Gen Z and following generations.”

Chris Anderson, BSD president and CEO, says:

“At BSD, our goal is to create advanced technology designed to make collaboration easier, including seamless BIM integration and revolutionary cloud technology. RIB’s focus on MTWO and McTWO, cloud and AI based platforms for the construction industry perfectly aligns with BSD’s strategy. We are looking forward to working with RIB in this expanding area to push the digitization and transformation of a whole industry.”

Mads BordingThis deal fulfils predictions made in 2018 by RIB COO Mads Bording, right, about RIB’s continued cloud expansion (post). He told Extranet Evolution the technology market was evolving towards support for more collaborative and value-adding work which demands “a more democratised end-to-end process leveraging data in the model, helping companies make money from the data in BIM”. Overcoming the inertia or resistance of 55-year-old cost estimators or engineers was vital, he said.

RIB Group grew 26% in 2018, boosted by its SaaS operations, with its Microsoft partnership expected to grow its SaaS user base ten-fold in 2019 (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/06/rib-buys-into-us-building-spec-vendor-bsd/

Script&Go’s Site Diary revamped

Script&Go logo 2018A mobile application acquired from Appear Networks by France’s Script&Go in 2016, Site Diary has been revamped and given a new brand identity as it seeks to expand UK adoption of the solution. The French company announced its plans to grow a UK presence in early 2018, and 10 months later had offices in London and Birmingham and was planning a major upgrade to Site Diary, adding new features, a new user interface, support for UK currency, and hosting by Microsoft Azure.

The revamped Site Diary solution (available in both Android and Apple iOS versions, plus a web-browser accessed edition) incorporates:

  • a weather feed which automatically captures weather information for the mobile device’s location and associates it with the day’s reporting
  • task management enabling site managers to create and allocate tasks to team members, while retaining a record in the Site Diary, and
  • progress reporting including approvals management, with export to PDF, CSV or Excel.

The developers claim an average daily saving of 45 minutes compared to maintaining a traditional paper-based diary, with further savings in the event of disputes through more systematic and detailed time- and date-stamped data capture. One customer had switched to Site Diary having lost a previous dispute because their record-keeping had been inadequate.

Site DiaryUK customers include Alun Griffiths, Grosvenor Construction and Torsion Group, along with customers in Australia and the US. In total, Site Diary has over 8,000 users, and has  over 140 paying customers in 34 countries, currently creating an average 14,000 diary entries a month. The company does not reveal revenues, but the product’s standard price is £10 per month per user when paying monthly or £96/year/user with annual billing (by negotiation, deals can done for project-wide or enterprise use).

The company says Site Diary is currently a point solution, but the development roadmap envisages integration with other solutions.  This is vital, given that is competing with site diary capabilities incorporated into wider toolsets on some existing platforms in all its current English-speaking customer markets. For example, Trimble’s Viewpoint recently added a site diary to its Viewpoint Team solution (post); Australia’s Wiseworking  (post), Tenderfield (post) and HammerTech (post) all offer site diary options; and in the US, Note Vault is an established competitor in the daily reporting field with strong integration with other solutions (post). US-based, but now growing its Australian and UK presences, Procore also offers a Site Diary feature as part of its Quality and Safety module.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/scriptgos-site-diary-revamped/

TonicDM competes in PIM space

AECbytes‘ Lachmi Khemlani has written an interesting and detailed review of a US-developed Software-as-a-Service project information management solution (PIM) called TonicDM. (She distinguishes between PIM and project management solutions, such as Oracle Aconex, Procore, etc: “The basic difference is that PIM manages the large volumes of information associated with a project, whereas PM manages the actual project—its design and construction—itself.”)

Based in Los Angeles, California, TonicDM was founded TonicDM logoin 2016 by a former Gehry and Gensler executive Reg Prentice (now CEO) and a technologist, now CTO, Chris Pinckney (whose recent history includes spells at Riverbed and RedSky – the latter is now part of Presidio, and not to be confused with UK-based construction software vendor RedSky IT). The TonicDM solution – the DM comes from ‘document management’ – was born out of Prentice’s experiences with Newforma’s PIM product Project Center while at Gensler (the Newforma application started as an on-premise solution, and only later added cloud connectivity to its capabilities – post).

TonicDM aims to be “simple and easy”, and is tightly integrated with Microsoft’s Outlook email application (and the rest of the Office 365 ecosystem). It manages and tracks transmittals of large files, and has an RFI and submittal management system customised to the needs of design teams (with Procore and email integrations to manage contractor communications). Prices start from US$15 per user per month; the RFI and submittal management comes in a contract administration (Standard + CA) package costing US$30 per user per month. According to Khemlani, TonicDM is also beta-testing a NLP (natural language processing) capability to undertake sentiment analysis on emails and gain deeper insights into projects (the second time in a week I’ve heard NLP mentioned; it is also something being explored by Viewpoint – post).

How simple and easy TonicDM remains is open to question. Once solutions start to become embedded in users’ organisations, demands for new features start to grow, as do calls for wider integrations with other platforms used either by the users or by other organisations their firms are working with. And, as with other solutions that are document-centric, I also wonder about their long-term applicability when projects involve building information modelling and wider digital collaboration.

Update (2 June 2019) – The team at TonicDM has responded to this blog post with a post of their own.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/tonicdm-competes-pim-space/

Atmotube: air pollution monitoring for construction?

The British Safety Council’s Canairy app uses data from the London Air Quality Network, but its use is restricted to affiliated construction companies, and to London. Devices such as Atmotube could extend the reach while providing more localised and accurate data, both outdoors and indoors.

Last week (20 May 2019), the British Safety Council launched a report ‘Impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers’ which highlighted ambient air pollution as an occupational health hazard in Britain. The charity is campaigning to limit the dangers of air pollution to the health of outdoor workers – many of whom work in the construction sector.

Air pollution, linked with up to 36,000 early deaths a year in the UK, is considered the biggest environmental risk to public health. Research from King’s College London suggests that more than 9,400 people die prematurely due to poor air quality in London alone. Ambient air pollution is linked to cancer, lung and heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infertility and early dementia.

Several pilot schemes are beginning to monitor and measure the levels of air pollution experienced by people working and living in London. Their findings will be instrumental in developing recommendations for reducing people’s exposure to air pollution in the capital.

However, at the same time, the government and regulatory bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), continue to demonstrate a lack of interest in relation to regulation and guidance on air pollution.

Caged Canairy

British Safety CouncilIn March 2019, the British Safety Council launched its Time to Breathe campaign, which is focused on the protection of outdoor workers from air pollution. The cornerstone of the campaign is Canairya mobile app that gives outdoor workers and their employers insights into pollution and how to reduce staff exposure to it. It has been created in co-operation with King’s College London. Canairy draws on the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) pollution map at King’s and the worker’s GPS to calculate an individual’s exposure to pollution on an hourly basis.

However, judging from user comments on the Google Play Store, some users feel the Canairy app should be freely available:

  • “Restricted access. Why?”
  • “Waste of time. You need an access code. You can only use if you are a construction worker.”
  • “… this shouldn’t just be locked down to construction workers – breathing fresh air is something everyone should be able to do.”

Other air quality apps have been created by King’s College – Londonair, City Air – but are focused just on London, and get mixed reviews from users.

Improvements needed

The British Safety Council’s latest report presents evidence about the causes and consequences of air pollution in Britain, and reviews international examples of initiatives set up to measure air pollution in different locations and their recommendations for risk reduction. It calls for:

  1. The UK to adopt the World Health Organisation’s exposure limits for the main pollutants;
  2. Government action to ensure ambient air pollution is treated as an occupational health issue and adopt a Workplace Exposure Limit for Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEE);
  3. Improvements to pollution monitoring across the UK, so that all regions can have the same accuracy in emissions data as London;
  4. Recognition that protection from the dangers of air pollution should be enshrined in law as a human right.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said:

The impact of air pollution on people working in large cities is starting to be recognised as a major public health risk. However, we are yet to see any true commitment to addressing this issue by the government and the regulators.

The Time to Breathe campaign, together with our recent report, is a call to action for policymakers, regulators and industry leaders. The social and economic implications of ambient air pollution are clear. It must be recognised as an occupational health hazard, much like some toxic substances such as asbestos. Breathing clean air is not a privilege but a basic human right for the thousands of people who are undertaking vital work outdoors.”

There is also a need to monitor air quality inside buildings. The British Lung Foundation says we spend about 90% of our time indoors – at home, at work, at school, or when we go to shops or restaurants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer.

New generation Atmotube

Of course, air quality can vary substantially even within very localised areas, so as well as accessing data hourly from official fixed sources, it can be useful to monitor air quality on individual sites or even in the immediate surroundings of an individual worker – recognising that some workers will also be highly mobile, sometimes moving between individual sites, or working on linear infrastructure projects spread over long distances.

In September 2016, I wrote about a portable wireless air quality monitoring device, Atmotube, that shares environmental data to a user’s mobile phone. I contributed to a Kickstarter campaign to fund the initial development of these devices by a US-based company, and I have remained a supporter, taking delivery in recent months of both the updated Atmotube Plus, and the higher-end Atmotube Pro.

Atmotube crackedThe latter device monitors a wider range of particles, and is also a real-time weather station, providing me with a personalised record of the air temperature and humidity around me, indoors and outdoors (and on trains, planes and other transport), as I walk, travel or work. I can also view a personalised historical map showing the air quality of the places I’ve been to, all managed by combining the device with my smartphone’s GPS.

This proved useful when I recently found I’d lost my Atmotube Plus, which had been dangled from my rucksack via a (still intact) carabiner clip. I opened up my Atmotube app and was able to review the most recently captured data, and identify exactly where and when the last reading had been captured (I had been attending a meeting at a London office building). I contacted my meeting host, the device was found and I was able to collect it (the metal casing to which the carabiner had attached had cracked, possibly after the clip got badly twisted – see right – so the device then fell off). I now have my Atmotube Pro secured by a carabiner but additionally semi-protected in a mesh pocket on my rucksack so that it can’t dangle and potentially get snagged.

Both the new devices have much longer battery lives, take readings every few seconds (not just hourly like the LAQN), and can be set to provide warning levels if air quality or humidity drops below particular levels.

I talked about the original Atmotube device at a COMIT event in 2016, and said that I felt such devices had the potential to alert us to malfunctioning air conditioning or heating, or to leaks of gases, etc. It could also provide facilities, HR or Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) managers with constant updates from employee users about their working conditions, offering more location-specific data – and also data from internal spaces – than is often captured from conventional weather monitoring services. The addition of particulate matter measurement makes the Atmotube Pro additionally useful as it will detect pollutants from vehicle, plant and generator exhausts, potentially providing highly site-specific measurements as workers move around a live site.

Update (29 May 2019) – A follow up news release from the British Safety Council shares some data from #AirWeShare research undertaken by the environmental charity Hubbub in cooperation with King’s College London and The Times. This involved subjects wearing portable monitors to track their air pollution exposure levels for a week:

  • The site engineer at a construction site had air pollution exposure levels six times higher than that of the office worker.
  • Of all the trial participants, the lorry driver had the highest overall exposure.
  • Air pollution on the tube [London Underground] is high. The deeper lines are much more polluted than those closer to the surface, with overground lines being ten times cleaner.

Andrew Grieve, a senior air quality analyst at King’s College London, who conducted the air quality monitoring for the Hubbub trial, said: “In the Hubbub study, the second highest exposed person after the lorry driver was the construction worker. Outdoor workers have been overlooked in the air quality debate, but this data shows that they are one of the most exposed groups, often spending their working lives near traffic and machinery.”

This seems to confirm my point that personal monitors provide much more detailed – and alarming – data about exposure to pollution and poor air quality.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/atmotube-air-pollution-monitoring-construction/

Snaffle launches online marketplace for builders

Snaffle logoUK-based Snaffle Solutions has created an online marketplace, Snaffle, aimed at making it easier for SME builders to buy tools and materials, while creating extra online sales for traditional suppliers in the industry.

Incorporated in 2016, the company was founded by Luke Robertson, formerly a contracts manager in an office fit-out business, and Daniel Reiner, managing director of the Coulsdon, Surrey-based building products supplier, Bryson. With a combined 25 years’ worth of experience in supplying construction companies big and small, they believe there is a growing appetite for builders to purchase building products online, particularly if the seller guarantees fast delivery, meaning no downtime collecting materials. A Snaffle study showed that, on average, a builder or tradesperson can spend 2.8 hours a day driving to and from merchants.

Snaffle it

Snaffle screensFirst-time buyers will be able to search the Snaffle website (no mobile apps, but the site renders will in a smartphone browser – important for the tradespeople market) for everything they require for their project and compare costs from multiple suppliers. Depending on what is more important to buyers, the site will find the best price or closest supplier, anywhere in the UK.

Suppliers of building materials can upload their entire product range onto the e-commerce platform (at no cost) allowing customers to compare prices, browse an unlimited range and place orders to be fulfilled directly through suppliers’ own warehousing and logistics.

Robertson said:

“It’s brilliant to see how this is benefiting everyone in the industry – both customers and sellers. On one hand we are giving many well-established more traditional businesses in the market extra sales with an online presence, and on the other we are making the builders lives easier by getting goods to site more efficiently.”

The dual targetting of both tradespeople and sellers is also a strategy pursued by London-based Buildiro, which launched its mobile solution in March 2019 (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/snaffle-launches-online-marketplace-for-builders/

Oracle launches Aconex Model Coordination

Oracle has launched a new BIM coordination tool to expand its Aconex platform, now being assimilated into the Oracle portfolio

Oracle Aconex 'logo'It is just over a year since Oracle‘s 2017 US$1.2bn acquisition of the Australian Software-as-a-Service collaboration vendor Aconex was approved by shareholders, and since then the US giant has been relatively quiet about its new business/product (now branded as an Oracle Construction and Engineering product offering, alongside Primavera and Textura, acquired in 2016 – post). Recently, however, it launched a new building information modelling (BIM) coordination capability: the Oracle Aconex Model Coordination Cloud Service.

Oracle says (news release) this will help resolve common BIM issues – a lack of collaboration, reliance on multiple applications, and missing integrations – by enabling construction design and project professionals to collaboratively manage BIM models across the entire project team in a true common data environment (CDE). As such, organisations can reduce the risk of errors and accelerate project success by ensuring each team member has access to accurate, up-to-date models.

“Issues with model management means projects go over budget, run over schedule, and end up with a higher total cost of ownership for the client. As part of the early access program for Oracle Aconex Model Coordination, it was great to experience how Oracle has solved these challenges,” said Davide Gatti, digital manager, Multiplex.

Single source of truth

With Oracle Aconex Model Coordination, organisations can eliminate the need for various point solutions in favor of project-wide BIM participation that drives productivity with faster processes and cycle times, enables a single source of truth for project information, and delivers a fully connected data set at handover for asset operation.

The Model Coordination solution enhances Oracle Aconex’s existing CDE capabilities, which are built around Open BIM standards (IFC 4 and BCF 2.1) and leverage a cloud-based, full model server to enable efficient, secure, and comprehensive model management at all stages of the project lifecycle.

The Oracle Aconex CDE, which is based on ISO 19650 and DIN SPEC 91391 definitions, provides industry-leading neutrality, security, and data interoperability. By enabling model management in this environment, Oracle Aconex unlocks new levels of visibility, coordination, and productivity across people and processes, including enabling comprehensive model-based issue and clash management.

Key features of the new solution include:

  • Seamless clash and design issue management and resolution
  • Dashboard overview and reporting
  • Creation of viewpoints – e.g. personal “bookmarks” within models and the linking of documents to objects
  • Integrated measurements
  • Process support and a full audit trail with the supply chain

Frank Weiss, director of new products, BIM and innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering, says:

“With Oracle Aconex Model Coordination, we’re making the whole model management process as seamless and easy as possible. By integrating authoring and validation applications to the cloud, users don’t need to upload and download their issues and clashes anymore.

“There’s so much noise and confusion around BIM and CDEs, much of it driven by misinformation in the market about what each term means. We believe everybody on a BIM project should work with the best available tool for their discipline. Therefore, open formats are critical for interoperability, and the use of a true CDE is key to efficient and effective model management.”

Oracle Aconex people and technologies update

Almost inevitably following the acquisition, there have been a number of personnel changes in the Aconex business. Founder and former Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper became Oracle VP, strategy and operations; fellow co-founder Rob Phillpot is global VP, product strategy (both recently invested in an Australian legal technology startup called Plexus; see also this SMH interview with Phillpot).

Chief marketing officer Gabriele Famous joined Trustpilot in April 2019, and Aconex’s ConnectedCost guru Guy Barlow moved (briefly) to Ineight. From the UK team, one-time VP, International Henry Jones left in January, along with Aconex’s longest-serving UK-based colleague Yuval Attias; both are now with a London-based online mental health business called Big White Wall.

Steve CooperUK-based sales director Steve Cooper, left, and colleague Duncan Kneller (who were both part of the BIW Technologies business back in 2000, before it was acquired by Conject in 2010, and before it was in turn acquired by Aconex in 2016),* are now part of the Aconex product team at Oracle – Cooper is VP of Europe while Kneller is sales director, UK & Ireland; another veteran BIW/Conject consultant, Nick Sansome, is EMEA practice director, professional services. The above-mentioned Frank Weiss is another veteran of the business, a co-founder of Conject.

Oracle Aconex screengrabAssimilation of Aconex into Oracle has not been without some hiccups.  Industry sources say there have been outages and periods of poor application performance, though I understand from company sources this is a reflection of ongoing work to update Aconex’s software architecture so that it is more compatible with Oracle’s standards (not dissimilar to what I heard this week about competitor Viewpoint’s technology stack needing to be updated). I also understand that plans are in place to transfer Aconex to Oracle hosting (meanwhile Viewpoint is shifting from Rackspace to AWS).

I have also heard industry gossip suggesting Oracle may have lost some deals due to poor flexibility on licensing Aconex. Project deals in this space in particular have generally been subscription-based, often paid by the month or quarter, allowing customers to curtail or extend usage if projects either finish early (rare) or overrun (more common). This, presumably, is challenging to an organisation like Oracle, culturally used to agreeing standard or fixed-term enterprise deals; construction and engineering is also just one of 23 industry segments served by Oracle, and while Primavera is a long-established part of its portfolio, it is an on-premise construction scheduling application, not a cloud-based solution.

(* I was head of communications at BIW Technologies from 2000 to 2009.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/oracle-launches-aconex-model-coordination/

Viewpoint launches ViewpointOne strategy

At the Viewpoint UK customer summit in London this week, the Trimble-owned business announced its ViewpointOne platform strategy.

Viewpoint - a Trimble companySome clarity on the future of the various solutions in the Viewpoint collaboration portfolio emerged at the Royal Institution of British Architects in London this week (22-23 May 2019), where the now-Trimble-owned business unveiled its intentions to gradually migrate its solutions to a new “Fourth Generation” platform, ViewpointOne.

Viewpoint, best known in the UK as the provider of the former 4Projects Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration solution (acquired in February 2013), was itself acquired by US-based Trimble in April 2018 for US$1.2m. As Trimble already had Meridian, GTeam and e-Builder applications in its portfolio, there has understandably been some debate about whether or how the Viewpoint collaboration tools might evolve, while Viewpoint also launched a new collaboration product, Viewpoint Team (in the US in 2017 and in the UK in 2018).

Viewpoint growth in 2018

Steve Attwell announces ViewpointOne developmentViewpoint EMEA CEO Steve Attwell, who joined the business following the Trimble deal and after the September 2018 departure of Viewpoint veteran Steve Spark, gave a rundown on the UK business’s progress since the 2018 user conference, which took place while the Trimble news was still being absorbed (post). Industry confidence had, Attwell said, been dented by the lower-than-expected sector growth, continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the January 2018 collapse of UK contractor Carillion (a long-standing Viewpoint customer). No financial figures were given, but he said adoption of Viewpoint solutions had continued to grow.

slide showing VFP usage 2018-19Viewpoint for Projects (VfP) user base growth was up 19% year on year to over 380,000, while the user base of Viewpoint’s mobile Field View application up 30% to 72,000. The 2018 UK launch of Viewpoint Team – targeted at businesses not needing the “full fat” capability of VfP – had seen growing adoption, and the global user base was now approaching 10,000, with over 600 paying customers.

ViewpointOne

Technology-wise, Viewpoint was on the cusp of the next major iteration of its technology, Attwell said. The “fourth generation” solution was in development, centred around a core platform branded ViewpointOne. VP of Product Jeremy Larsen gave more details in the following presentation, while later ‘deep dives’ into Viewpoint Team and VfP fleshed out the direction of travel.

ViewpointOne and VfP product evolutionDevelopment of the current three products – in order of maturity, VfP, Field View and Team – is now being managed so that a growing proportion of their functionality is supported on ViewpointOne. There is no danger of VfP being discontinued in the near future – the transition will take place over “several years” – but the software architectures of the former 4Projects and PriorityOne tools needed to be updated, Larsen said.

Viewpoint Team

Viewpoint Team has been developed on the ViewpointOne platform (described as “a suite, a wrapper for Viewpoint applications” and built on Microsoft Azure) to offer capability for smaller or less “needy” projects. Launched in the US in 2017 and in the UK in 2018, the currently somewhat basic solution developed to date offers some features already delivered by VfP (“Viewpoint Team does many things that VfP does but in an easier-to-use, more mobile version“), but the development roadmap will see gaps filled in. During 2018, Site Diary and Drawing Management features had been added, and Larsen showed several features currently at various stages of development including:

  • building information model (BIM) collaboration incorporating the Trimble World Viewer (currently at proof of concept stage)
  • Viewpoint Analytics reporting tools (predictive analytics, are “right around the corner”)
  • use of Slack text bots (deploying ‘natural language processing’, a form of AI) to interrogate Viewpoint databases, enabling users to search for specific information, and
  • a voice-to-text feature (using Microsoft LUIS Framework) in Viewpoint Team mobile for daily logs, currently in development.

Roadmap imageDefects reporting, correspondence management and contract change management are planned as future developments for Viewpoint Team. Of course some of these are already features in the company’s VfP or Field View solutions but their addition to Viewpoint Team will require them to be extensively re-engineered (in 2010, as 4Projects, Viewpoint was one of two UK vendors – with BIW/Conject – licensed to provide documented support for NEC processes).

Larsen demonstrated the Analytics toolset, showing how its dashboard can pull in data from ERP systems used on AEC projects to produce cost reports, with simple double-click, and drag-and-drop actions. He told me there was no intention to launch a UK version of Viewpoint’s widely used US-oriented ERP application, Vista (“it’s just too complex to internationalise for this market”) – but the Analytics toolset was being developed to enable integration with such solutions, recognising there was a demand for visibility of the impacts of contract changes on project costs.

VfP deep dive

Andrew BrennanEMEA product manager Andrew Brennan delivered the ‘deep dive’ into Viewpoint for Projects (VfP). He said usage of the SaaS platform continued to grow, with over 200,000 active users on some 77,000 projects – around 7,000 users login over 100 times a month, he said. Enhancements added in the past 12 months included multi-file upload, an improved VfP desktop application, improved BS1192 file-naming convention support, improvements to email notifications, and the option of multi-factor user authentication (using Google Authenticator on users’ mobile phones). Brennan also demonstrated an updated viewer – VfP now offers the latest HTML5 viewer from Brava (no need to download a separate ActiveX control) with new mark-up capabilities.

Viewpoint for Projects is being transferred to new Amazon Web Services hosting (its main UK hosting was with Rackspace – 2015 post). Brennan said this has proved to be a major undertaking, partly because of the sheer volume of data currently held – over 150TB – and had prompted some re-engineering of Viewpoint’s solution to improve separation between the application and the underlying SQL database of documents and drawings. These are already hosted on AWS, with the application set to be transferred soon, he said (earlier, Larsen said these VfP database optimisations had also improved page serving times). The transition will also enable faster implementation of new VfP features including support for new ISO 19650-compliant BIM processes, and integrations with the ViewpointOne / Trimble ecosystem, heralding a convergence of the Viewpoint solutions into a suite managed on a common software architecture.

The Extranet Evolution view

Viewpoint has been relatively quiet since its 2018 acquisition by Trimble, but this was perhaps to be expected as both sides explored their direct relationship and the potential of Viewpoint relationships with other Trimble businesses. There was a strong Trimble representation at the event (Tekla’s Duncan Reed spoke in a session on the second day), Trimble integration was a repeated theme, as was the reassurance to Viewpoint UK customers and end-users that, as a construction-focused business, Trimble was going to offer a better long-term future than its previous backer (venture capital investor Bain). Inevitably, perhaps, there have been some changes of personnel following the ownership change, so this summit event was a vital step in building relationships between existing customers, Attwell and the new Viewpoint UK/EMEA leadership team, and the wider Trimble group.

ViewpointOneTrimble also appears to be backing a long-term evolution of the Viewpoint platforms – allaying some user fears that it might be replaced by other collaboration solutions in Trimble’s portfolio. EMEA VfP and Field View customers and users will also have been reassured that they were not about to forcibly migrated to Viewpoint Team. The ViewpointOne technology strategy, it seems, will provide a platform to gradually improve common areas of all three solutions, with Trimble and other technology partners (including Microsoft and Amazon) providing more extensive development resource.

[Disclosure: I attended the Viewpoint conference at the company’s invitation and chaired a discussion forum at the conference, receiving a fee.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/viewpointone-platform-shift/

Hacking the Bentley iModel platform

Over 72 hours, teams vied to win a US$2,500 bounty put up by Bentley Systems as one of the prizes in the InfraHack 2019 hackathon. Bentley is positioning itself as a champion of ‘open’ collaboration.

Infrahack presentation in progressInfrahack 2019 kicked off at Fujitsu’s London headquarters last Thursday (16 May 2019), expanding on previous year’s hackathons, which had focused on railway-related challenges (“Hacktrain”), to cover a wider range of infrastructure. Organisers Hack Partners had assembled a group of customers including National Grid, CGI, Highways England, Transport for London, Network for Rail, Northumbria Water, the National Infrastructure Commission, Mott MacDonald and Bentley Systems.

These organisations all posed challenges to the audience of innovators, technologists and programmers; out of 500 applications, 250 people were interviewed and 60 participants were given places. Most of the customer bodies also provided various data resources, including CCTV footage, footfall data, infrastructure design information, SCADA and weather data to provide raw material for analysis and development. After the challenge presentations, teams started to form to respond to their chosen challenges. Teams had three days to come up with solutions, which were due to be presented on Sunday (19 May 2019).

Challenges posed covered areas including electrical vehicle charging, energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings, predicting the traffic impacts of major events, modelling the depth of water utilities, impacts on transport choices caused by generational shifts, and improving information about station lift availability.

Bentley bounty

Steve Cannadine from Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures and colleague Michael Gaunt challenged teams to explore the “Golden thread of information”: to connect project data, gather insights, and so improve decision-making. Bentley Systems offered a US$2,500 bounty to any solution deploying its iModel.js / iModel hub open-source technologies (announced at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure event in London in October 2018 – post) – and there was clearly a strong potential overlap with the Mott Macdonald challenge. Bentley’s Glen Worrall (principal application engineer for digital twins) spoke about “living digital twins,” the importance of “alignment, accountability and accessibility”, and briefly showed how Microsoft’s PowerBI could provide analytical information for project decision-making (reminding me of Aecom’s award-winning work from YII2018 – post) – although Worrall said the InfraHack challenge was more about “design insights”). Originally from the northeast of England, Worrall was also enthusiastic about the Northumbria Water challenge, where Bentley was contributing to data about utilities in Sunderland.

screengrab - Bentley Design Insights

head and shoulders photo of Bentley's Nabil Abou-RahmeAfter the challenge presentations, I talked to Worrall and to his colleague Dr Nabil Abou-Rahme, right, who joined Bentley as chief research officer for Bentley Institute’s Digital Advancement Academies last month (April 2019 – read news release). He joined Bentley from Mott MacDonald, where he was involved in digital transformation, most recently as head of smart infrastructure and global practice leader for data science. Clearly enthusiastic about data opportunities, he said Bentley was keen to exploit the rich data gathered from infrastructure project delivery processes and to make it more openly available to help improve collaboration and decision-making (he said the $2500 bounty had been the idea of Bentley CTO Keith Bentley, keen to get innovators using the iModelHub and iModel.js platform; Worrall added “Keith also wants the platform to be as widely tested as possible” – hence the offer).

“Open” modelling

Many of the Bentley design solutions are described as “open”. Its “Open modeling environment” portfolio includes OpenRoads, OpenBuildings, OpenRail, OpenPlant, etc, though this tends to mean that they share core software architectures that allow data to be seamlessly exchanged across multi-disciplinary projects and teams using Bentley solutions (not open standards or open data). Last week, Bentley announced two new additions to the portfolio: OpenSite Designer, and OpenBuildings Station Designer. The company also has its own definition of CDE: not a common data environment, but a “connected data environment” helping share digital components and workflows.

In a Spring press briefing on 13 May 2019, Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley said “dark data” contained in engineering files from various sources (including Revit) could be “opened up” in this CDE to become “data that is query-able and change-synchronised for stakeholders in the project delivery ecosystem.”

Glenn Worrall (Bentley), speaking at InfrahackWorrall said Bentley had historically been mainly regarded as a design software business, but was now pushing into the construction process (he cited the June 2018 acquisition of Synchro Software), and ultimately into the whole life of an asset (“the purpose of a model will change over the asset’s lifecycle”). This evolution had been helped by the adoption of web services, by exploitation of Microsoft’s Azure platform, and by Bentley’s Connect technologies. It was also important, he said, to promote standardisation of design and consistent approaches to defining elements of projects (Uniclass got mentioned several times), which made it easier to build tools.

He described iTwin as “a mannequin” for an asset. “It provides a structure, a platform that gives a good representation of the core asset that was delivered. You can then choose how you dress it – for example, it can be populated by data from Internet of Things sensors so that you can see its operational performance.” He talked about avoiding the “digital waste” arising from bloating models with unnecessary additional data that could be provided by “instance connections” – for example, linking to, rather than incorporating, geolocated open weather data. But he said many construction businesses (and clients) still need to develop their digital competence (we discussed how BIM adoption in the UK had potentially resulted in a two-tier sector – an increasingly BIM-competent level sitting above a level unsure of how, or if, it needed to adopt BIM).

Infrahack winners

A group calling themselves Team Pipes took on Northumbrian Water’s challenge, won the Bentley challenge and finished second overall, and – according to Worrall, “showed an excellent example of iModel.js”. No official announcement of the results yet, but, judging from Twitter, a team focused on the Network Rail challenge was the overall winner, while a team taking on the Highways England challenge finished third.

Update (30 May 2019) – A BIMplus news report confirms the overall Infrahack winner was Team 404 Not Found, who built a publicly accessible data-feed (a unified API) providing real-time status of lifts and escalators at train stations across the UK. They estimated that this could save Network Rail around £3-4m a year in better maintenance planning procedures in addition to improving customer satisfaction and mobility for customers with accessibility requirements. In second place, Team Pipes brought together Bentley Systems’ iModel.js and 2D maps of water pipes to calculate their depth, creating a 3D map of Northumbrian Water’s 25,000km network of pipes. Third was Know Your Network, which created a decision supporting dashboard to help network operators better plan roadworks.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/hacking-bentley-imodel-platform/

eviFile and 3DRepo combine mobile and BIM

A partnership between two UK-based software developers, digital evidence platform eviFile and BIM collaboration platform 3D Repo, offers a combined digital evidence and BIM solution.

eviFile logoTwo UK-based software developers, digital evidence data collection platform eviFile and cloud-based BIM collaboration platform 3D Repo, have formed a strategic partnership, allowing construction clients to access a powerful combined digital evidence and BIM solution.

3D-Repo-Logo-BlueeviFile and 3D Repo believe clients will achieve on average a 40 per cent more efficient programme through more effective data sharing, streamlining and reduction in time onsite. The companies have already been commissioned to work together on a major UK groundworks project.

Mobile data capture plus BIM

eviFile works via standard tablets and smartphones, enabling field operatives to use their device’s cameras and GPS capabilities to record works undertaken and completed. Every use is securely captured with information on time, date, geographical location, user and device orientation (see May 2017 post: eviFile – geo-located progressive assurance).

3D Repo enables real-time BIM management through a cloud-based collaborative approach. As the platform sits in the cloud and allows secure logins from any web browser, it produces significant efficiency savings for construction clients as well as their contractors and consultants who otherwise struggle to easily collaborate due to disparate systems with poor interoperability and large data sets.

The strategic partnership sees London-based 3D Repo provide revision control, issues management and BIM data analysis for clients, while Yorkshire’s eviFile provides project management, inspection test plan (ITP) completion and data relay back into the model in real time.

eviFile targets admissibility

Commenting on the partnership, eviFile managing director, Luke Allen (on left in photo), said:

“This is an industry-leading partnership which has huge potential for construction projects. eviFile stands apart in the sector for powerful and secure digital evidence collection which protects brands and avoids disputes. Combining this with 3D Repo’s modelling capabilities creates a compelling offer for construction companies, who can now track issues in the build stage within their modelling.

“We are always looking for better ways of doing things and this is just another way in which we are innovating. Construction technology start-ups continue to challenge the status quo and with this partnership we will create further commercial advantages for clients.”

eviFile is believed to be the first platform of its kind in the world to meet principles set out in the National Police Chiefs’ Council digital evidence guidelines for collecting data for use in legal disputes. 3D Repo is an approved supplier to the government under the G-Cloud 10 digital marketplace scheme.

3D Repo founder and CEO, Jozef Dobos (above, right), added:

“Linking these two systems means we can provide clients with richer data and a single source of information on their project. eviFile gives excellent photographic and nongraphical data and combining this with our in-depth 3D data management makes it easier and safer for field workers to locate and solve issues – which are then relayed back into the model. Bringing together the worlds of BIM and digital evidence has huge potential for the sector.”

[* Disclosure: I am a non-executive advisor to eviFile.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/evifile-3drepo-mobile-bim/

Finland’s Congrid targets UK H&S market

Developed for Finland’s demanding construction health & safety market, the Congrid mobile solution is now targeting the UK.

Congrid logoSponsoring a construction event can be one way to get your brand noticed. It worked in getting Finland’s Congrid on my radar – I received an email invitation to attend the Quality in Construction Summit in London on 3 July 2019, and clicked on the link to the sponsor.

Congrid: safety measurement

Based in Helsinki, Finland, Congrid was founded in 2013 by NCC construction site manager Matti Huusko and Timo Makkonen, a project engineer and later a field service manager at electrical equipment manufacturer Vaisala. Their focus was to create a mobile application for quality and safety management, which – judging from the company’s website – was launched in around 2016. According to Makkonen, “Finland is the front-runner when it comes to safety on the construction sites” as, by law, construction sites must perform a specific safety measurement on a weekly basis. This pre-emptive action is intended to both prevent potential safety hazards and to make sure that site workers get notified of anomalies at the site.

“The measurement in itself is relatively simple. It comprises of different topics that are measured by giving positive points when the safety criteria is met and negative points when it is not. Let’s take one of the topics, namely fall prevention, as an example. For each correctly installed fall prevention a positive point is given and for each incorrectly installed or lacking one a negative point is given. So a person goes through the site and records all the positive and negative observations for all the safety topics.”

The measurement is straightforward to perform, Makkonen says, and delivers quantitative data which can be further analyzed and used as a KPI (key performance indicator). As recording data can be prone to errors, and as different tools may be used to capture data, Congrid was developed to conduct safety measurements, and to work intuitively in challenging environments.

Congrid ScreenshotThe business was one of a batch of companies supported by Microsoft’s ‘Turbopump’ programme in Finland in 2017, and the Congrid application expanded to include mapping information and signatures in 2018.  Clients include Finland’s West Metro, contractors YIT and Fira, and housebuilder Bonava. By 2018, the company was also marketing in Sweden, and it sponsored a UK event: the Building Engineering Services Assocation’s conference and awards in London on 1 November 2018. Now, having appointed a UK territory manager, Daniel Hunt, it is sponsoring the Quality in Construction Summit event in July 2019.

The application is available on Android and Apple iOS platforms and, as well as the safety measurement functionality, provides punchlisting, quality inspections and document management tools.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/05/finlands-congrid-targets-uk-hs-market/

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