Jun 21 2016

TIM: The Inspection Manager

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

Enter TIM

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

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

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

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

Competitive comparisons

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

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

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

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/06/tim-the-inspection-manager/

Jun 20 2016

“Top 10 (US) Construction Apps”

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

Top 10 Construction Apps

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

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

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

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

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/06/top-10-us-construction-apps/

Jun 20 2016

think project! acquires Austrian sales partner

Thinkproject-logoAlmost exactly three months after Aconex acquired the Germany-based Conject business (post), the latter’s near-neighbour in Munich, think project!, has ac­quired 70% of its Aus­trian sales part­ner i-pm GmbH.

Founded in 2004 and solely marketing think project!’s SaaS-based construction collaboration across Austria, i-pm will shortly rebrand to be­come think project! Öster­re­ich (Aus­tria). MD Michael Jug will retain re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Aus­trian mar­ket and his team and lo­ca­tion will re­main un­changed.

think project! believes the deal will in­ten­sify growth – both within Aus­tria and in­ter­na­tion­ally through its Aus­trian cus­tomers – and ex­pand its mar­ket pres­ence sig­nif­i­cantly. The deal is the latest in a series of deals which have seen think project build stakes in var­i­ous Ger­man com­pa­nies (eg: Eplass, planConnect), plus French PLM business, Lascom AEC (post).

CEO Thomas Backhmaier says:

Thomas Bachmaier“The Aus­trian mar­ket is an im­por­tant core mar­ket for think project!. The pres­ence of in­ter­na­tional and re­gion­ally in­flu­en­tial con­struc­tion con­trac­tors, glob­ally ac­tive en­gi­neer­ing com­pa­nies and par­tic­u­larly pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture clients such as AS­FI­NAG (Aus­trian mo­tor­way op­er­a­tor) and ÖBB (Aus­trian Rail­ways) make Aus­tria a mar­ket with ex­cep­tional de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial for think project!.”

Michael Jug, MD of think project! Öster­re­ich, says:

“With its ro­bust tech­nol­ogy and strate­gic fore­sight, the think project! Group was the foun­da­tion for our suc­cess from the very start. We are very pleased to now be a part of this strong group of com­pa­nies and, as a re­sult, can see op­por­tu­nity for con­sid­er­ably ex­pand­ing the mar­ket po­ten­tial and fur­ther grow­ing – both within Aus­tria and in­ter­na­tion­ally through our Aus­trian cus­tomers.”

The deal reminds us that, despite its Conject deal, Aconex still faces strong competition in the central European market. As well as think project!, Stuttgart-based RIB is also strong in cloud-based collaboration, having acquired Australia’s ProjectCentre in 2012 (post) and Denmark’s Docia in July 2014 (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/06/think-project-acquires-austrian-sales-partner/

Jun 02 2016

Open data, BIM and the semantic web

‘Semantic web’ technologies potentially expand the richness of data made available to built asset decision-makers. UK SaaS collaboration vendor GroupBC is leading progressive thinking in this field.

The latest ThinkBIM ‘twilight’ seminar, held in Leeds yesterday (1 June 2016), looked at the wider application of data relating to the built environment. Too many BIM events focus purely on the creation and use of data within a built asset project team; some extend the discussion to look at reuse of data for facility management, operation and maintenance; but few BIM events look at how some BIM and other built environment data might be connected to other data or even made more widely available, perhaps as open data.

Becoming more open

So far as BIM is concerned, the UK government’s 2011 insistence on BIM processes generating “open shareable asset information” is often assumed simply to be about ensuring data is interoperable: capable of being shared between different applications, operating systems and IT hardware. However, the first word is also strongly linked with the UK government’s wider digital agenda – the February 2015 Digital Built Britain strategy (strongly endorsed in the recent 2016 Government Construction Strategy and leading us towards BIM Level 3), for example, is not just about construction, but a fusion of industry strategies relating also to business and professional services, future cities and the information economy.

Discussions about open data are increasingly common, particularly in the UK, where the government has set out to be a world leader in creation and reuse of open data (it recently ranked first in an Open Data Barometer league table of international performance), with data valued as a key part of our national infrastructure (however, in December 2015, the Open Data Institute wrote an open letter to Lord Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, arguing data is not being given “the same importance as our road, railway and energy networks were given in the industrial revolution and are still given now”).

The government’s open data push is being realised both centrally and locally, and is predicated on a belief in greater transparency, in ‘Government as a Platform’, giving tax-payers access to their data and other information derived from government investment in public services and assets. As well as central government’s National Information Infrastructure and Data.gov.uk, several local authorities have launched open initiatives, some creating dashboards sharing metrics generated from open datasets (look at the London Datastore, Open Glasgow, Leeds Data Mill, Bath:Hacked and Open Data Bristol, for example).

Open is everywhere

In addition to BIM-related open data conversations, I have attended Constructing Excellence meetings about open data (read Ben Pritchard’s blog post); I am part of an EthosVO-led, Innovate UK R&D project (SkillsPlanner) using open linked data as a resource to help address construction skills shortages; and I have led conversations in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations about the need for communicators to be more data-literate, more aware of open data issues and opportunities.

However, yesterday’s ThinkBIM event (held at AQL’s datacentre housed in a former chapel – now the beeping digital heart of Leeds) was more focused on the built environment challenges and opportunities.

  • AGI Foresight 2020 imageWhile commonly regarded as a mapping organisation, Ordnance Survey’s core skills are in data, technology and interconnections. Echoing the Association for Geographical Information’s recent Foresight report (post), Ordnance Survey’s Paul Griffiths described geospatial data as the ‘glue’ connecting data about built assets to other data about the environment and about social aspects of the areas around those built assets. in February 2015, OS launched OpenMap, a new digital map bringing open geospatial data to mobile and web platforms. Then, using examples drawn from Thames Water projects undertaken using the ‘Semantic BIM’ platform provided by SaaS vendor GroupBC (formerly better known as Business Collaborator), Griffiths showed how data about existing building types and heights, flood risks, crime, employment and education could be used to augment existing decision-making tools (“project design need no longer happen in splendid isolation”).
  • ODI Leeds’ Tom Forth showed various examples of data captured by Leeds City Council and made open, including a powerful example of how public building energy use could be cross-referenced with IT data relating to office occupancy to demonstrate when and where energy savings might be made (making “ten million lines of data” open, he said, also helped make that data usable and bridged gaps that previously existed between FM and IT departmental silos). Datasets about empty buildings, housing density and open spaces could also be accessed to inform public debates about housing shortages and planning decisions.
  • Stephen Crompton (GroupBC)GroupBC’s CTO Steve Crompton then provided a ‘RetroBIM’ critique of legacy information, suggesting around 98% of current built asset data was effectively trapped in drawings and documents held in internal file-sharing systems, not lodged in databases where they could be used as a basis for decision-making (“Let’s democratise some of that data, put it in the cloud,” he said). He briefly described how GroupBC’s Semantic BIM platform could provide vital contextual data to support efficient decision-making for planning, designing, constructing and operating built assets.

ODI data spectrumDuring the panel discussion, it was clear security, commercial confidentiality and personal privacy concerns all need to be addressed in selecting what data might be made open (the Open Data Institute has a useful ‘data spectrum’ diagram showing the continuum from closed to open data). But Tom Forth stressed many bodies currently hold huge volumes of dormant data that could be made open (surely, such data will only have value if someone does something with it?).

Government departments are already opening up some of their data reserves so that they can be explored and exploited. In June 2015, DEFRA, one of the most data-rich departments in Whitehall, opened up thousands of datasets so that they could be more widely used to improve the quality of our natural environment.

It was also clear that the industry currently known as construction is still at an early stage in not just its BIM journey (the BIM Level 2 deadline passed less than two months ago) but also in its open data journey. To re-use an argument I’ve given in recent lectures and conference keynotes, we have only just started to move from “common paper environments” to “common data environments” – and open data is part of the more long-term BIM Level 3 picture (is it just a coincidence that the ‘semantic web’ is sometimes referred to as Web 3.0).

GroupBC: semantic BIM differentiation

GroupBCI speak regularly to the main SaaS collaboration vendors active in the UK, and GroupBC is the only one actively developing semantic web capabilities. That is not to say that rivals aren’t thinking about integration between their platforms and other information systems – APIs are a key part of Viewpoint’s roadmap, I heard at last week’s customer summit, for example – but GroupBC is pioneering the use of linked data to build new products and enhance the capabilities of existing tools.

Its ‘Semantic BIM’ technology moves beyond the typical uses of BIM for visualisation, clash detection, construction sequencing, etc, and opens up a potentially huge web of related data, from ‘location intelligence’, to data shared by or licensed from other commercial or public bodies, and to data held in internal corporate systems. BIM, therefore, becomes just part of a bigger built asset data picture – the semantic web allows teams to exploit far richer seams of data, potentially unearthing vital ‘nuggets’ of information for accurate and timely decision-making.

(ThinkBIM’s next half-day conference, focused on BIM for operation and in-use, is in Leeds on Wednesday 6 July 2016more details here. Update, 7 June: Help a Loughborough MSc student with this BIM survey)

[Disclosure: I have provided event support services to ThinkBIM, and consultancy services to GroupBC.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/06/open-data-bim-and-the-semantic-web/

Jun 01 2016

Aconex UK growth makes Conject deal look timely

Latest results from Aconex (UK) Ltd suggest the March 2016  Conject acquisition was timely, with the Australian giant’s European operation lagging behind regional rivals.

Aconex logo 2014I have monitored the performance of Aconex’s UK-based operation, Aconex (UK) Ltd for some years (since at least 2007). The Melbourne, Australia-based parent company has made great strides to become the dominant SaaS ‘pure-play’ vendor in the global construction collaboration market, but in the UK – arguably, the most mature, sophisticated and competitive market for AEC SaaS collaboration – it has historically lagged behind indigenous competitors such as 4Projects, BIW (now Viewpoint and Conject UK respectively) and Asite. Aconex has also fared less well than rivals in the mainland Europe market.

But direct comparisons are also difficult. Despite its name, Aconex (UK) Ltd has not derived most of its revenues from the UK, but from operations in mainland Europe and neighbouring regions such as north Africa (it has an Algerian subsidiary, for example).

uk vendor revenues 01Jun2016Revenues for the year to 30 June 2015 were up 9% from £2.74m to just over £3m, but 2014’s pre-tax profit of £0.357m turned into a small loss (around £18k). While 72% of 2014 sales were from non-UK projects, the figure for the year to June 2015 was 63%.

Aconex’s single-digit European performance therefore lags behind those of its rivals. Over the same reporting period, Asite (post) grew revenues by 12%, while Conject UK earlier grew 13% (post), Viewpoint UK-only revenues were up 14% (post) and Munich, Germany-based think project! reported in February (post) March that its 2015 revenues grew 33%.

Of course, Aconex’s European performance will change dramatically following its acquisition of Conject in March this year. The Conject deal was partially justified on the basis that it would significantly increase Aconex’s market penetration and user network throughout Europe. These latest results suggest such a strategic move was necessary to accelerate the relatively slow organic growth achieved by its existing operation.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/06/aconex-uk-growth-makes-conject-deal-look-timely/

May 26 2016

Viewpoint 2016 UK customer summit

Viewpoint Construction Software‘s 2016 UK customer summit reconvened at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel again this week, and, with more delegates (c. 150) from more companies (55) than last year, now looks to be outgrowing the venue. For many of those attending the two-day event, it was a first opportunity to hear from Manolis Kotzabasakis – appointed CEO of Viewpoint in August 2015 (post) – and he reiterated many of the subjects I discussed with him earlier this month: industry transformation, overdue consolidation, Viewpoint’s continued growth, etc.

UK developments

EMEA commercial director Steve Spark gave an update on the UK business’s progress, which he said includes the SaaS collaboration platform Viewpoint For Projects (VFP) being used on major infrastructure projects including the Hinkley Point nuclear power station project, HS2 and Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Sales had grown 22% sales, revenues were up (due to be reported in September) and use of the former 4Projects system and of the mobile platform Field View (formerly Priority1) had both grown massively –  6.5 million documents were published to VFP in a year, a million more than the previous year. Steve also said Viewpoint was winning growing volumes of VFP deals in Australia and the US.

Development resource had also expanded massively since 4Projects was acquired by Viewpoint in February 2013 – from 13 to 35 developers – with the total UK operation now numbering 105 (“and growing”); it was also announced that hard-working former Priority1 CEO Richard Scott is also taking a 12-month sabbatical from the business.

Recent product highlights have included an HTML5 viewer (superceding the old Brava viewer), launch of the VFP BIM Manager, and access to VFP from within Field View. Imminent is launch of an end-user portal, ClearView, and availability of Viewpoint apps via the main Apple, Android and Windows app stores (and I saw an Alpha preview of an iOS version of the previously Android-only Field View tool).

BIM Manager and Viewpoint For Projects

(Update: 12 noon BST) – John Adams, product manager for BIM Manager (also architect and self-confessed “COBie enthusiast”), led a session on integration between BIM and the VFP collaboration platform. Its 4BIM R&D project (which started in 2012) gave it a lead over most of its competitors when it came to developing BIM in the browser and to integrating COBie views into views of the model. He explained COBie data can now be drawn from more sources than just the displayed model.

Viewpoint’s BIM home page brings models, data and requirements together; it has been designed with the needs of information managers in mind, and with Level 2 BIM processes central. BIM model-related tasks can now be managed from the BIM viewer (including use of BCF, BIM Collaboration Format), which captures a view and associated comments and time/date stamps it), and – recognising that teams are now working on combined models – tasks against federations have now also been built in to the tool. BCF, supported by BuildingSMART, has been adopted as Viewpoint’s key component for managing and resolving ‘BIM issues’ via its VFP common data environment, CDE.

John also covered file naming conventions, automated model format  and working units checking; he said Viewpoint has worked extensively with BS1192 ‘standard guru’ Mervyn Richards to ensure its system meets PAS1192:2 and 3 requirements. And much had been learned from deploying the technology and processes on projects for customers including the UK Ministry of Justice and contractor Willmott Dixon (he demonstrated the viewer’s toolset using a model created for a project at Bournemouth University).

(Update: 1500 BST) – I also talked over lunch to John about the ongoing Innovate UK-funded project looking at ‘satellite’ or ‘Tier2Tier’ CDEs (post), due to finish this autumn. He told me the research project has identified different speeds of adoption of COBie within project supply chains, and also some shortcomings in processes currently defined in BIM Execution Plans (BEPs) regarding publication of data to satellite CDEs. Learning from the Tier2Tierproject will be shared by the project’s academic partners following its conclusion.

[Disclosure: I delivered a keynote presentation (fee paid) at the Viewpoint event.] 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/05/viewpoint-2016-uk-customer-summit/

May 19 2016

GamePlan’s aim: ‘lean’ collaboration

Nothing to do with computer gaming, GamePlan is a US start-up exploring both lean construction and BIM-based collaboration.

GamePlan logoIn devising its product, US-based startup GamePlan (headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware) has consciously tried not to copy existing SaaS construction software providers’ approach to collaboration. While its core platform offers many of the same features, its philosophy has been strongly guided by a commitment to ‘lean construction’ and learning from Last Planner and related approaches. I spoke to GamePlan founder Vishal Porwal earlier this week.

Vishal PorwalAs a marketer, I queried the company name. In a sector where vendors often create names that associate themselves directly with building, construction, projects and sites, why did Vishal choose GamePlan? “It dates back to when I was working at Turner Construction,” he said. “Often, superintendents would start a meeting by asking ‘What’s the game plan?‘ and as we were also working on lean construction workflows using tools like Last Planner, the name kind of stuck.”

Lean and social

Vishal recalls the difficulties of managing Last Planner outputs capture on paper, in Visio, then Excel spreadsheets or MS Project: “We wasted a lot of time on transferring information and confirmation and verification processes – not doing project work or solving problems.” GamePlan was therefore devised to deliver a combination of information exchange, project and contract management, scheduling, communication and collaboration.

GamePlan Time LineIts user interface is also influenced by tools such as Slack and Facebook, providing – like one or two other products – a discussion timeline feed for collaboration as well as more conventional email notifications. And GamePlan have been heavily involved with several US AEC Hackathons, finding them useful in stimulating new thinking and innovation (incidentally, after the inaugural London AEC Hackathon in July 2015 – post another London event is planned for 8-10 July).

Vishal says he has been reading ExtranetEvolution since 2009/10 and credits it with helping him formulate the concept of GamePlan, which launched in 2013.

“I wanted to create a robust cloud-based construction project management solution that could become an affordable, enterprise-ready alternative to the likes of Procore, NewForma and Aconex. Our mission as a company is to make the construction industry safer, more productive, environmentally friendly and more profitable.”

GamePlan Field: PunchListingGamePlan Team is the core project-wide collaboration platform, enabling people from different organizations, working on the same project, to quickly discuss ideas, get feedback, share updates, ask questions and organise work – core features cover groups, tasks, photos, contacts, members, and reports and analytics. As well as browser-based access, users can use GamePlan on iOS mobile devices, and there is also a Chrome extension. GamePlan Team is included for free as part of all other company products: Field, Documents, Contract Management, Time, and Resources, each typically priced from US$50 per month (for 10 users, 10 GB storage and unlimited projects), and with data and workflows shared across the different products.

From 2D to BIM and beyond

GamePlan on iPadClose to US$500m worth of projects have been hosted on GamePlan so far (projects range in size from US$100,000 to over US$60m, with customers across the US, plus others in Mexico, Australia and Qatar). Some small builders have adopted GamePlan for traditional 2D document control and issue management, while others have started to use it for BIM coordination, Vishal said. “Often firms are coordinating model files by sharing Navisworks .NWCs and .DWGs to places like ShareFile and Dropbox, so we offer integration tools that synchronise with these.”

In the longer term, Vishal (who writes a blog about green and lean BIM) expects GamePlan to offer a more sophisticated approach to BIM: “We have been doing some experiments with model visualisation, VR and AI and look forward to extending our product offering to solve AEC problems using the latest and greatest technologies available in the market.” And GamePlan is also planning to start marketing its platform in Europe in the near future, to both widen its customer base and pick up on European countries’ adoption of BIM and development of associated standards.

Going lean

Efforts to promote lean construction have a long history and a close association with efforts, including BIM, to promote collaborative working (I recall attending Constructing Excellence events on the subject in 2007 and 2008, and I returned to the topic in 2010 when I wrote about Advance2000). Of the companies I regularly monitor, only Newforma offers something specific relating to lean construction – in October 2015, it launched Newforma LeanPlanner, powered by LeanKit, to help teams improve production schedule reliability and deliver more predictable project outcomes, but the solution was not (yet) integrated with its core platform.

Vishal is forward-looking in his approach, keen to embrace new ideas and the latest thinking on BIM, as well as more established, yet still relatively progressive, approaches such as lean construction. We talked quite a bit about the UK BIM programme and UK vendor common data environments (CDEs), and with some of his customers already working 80% to 100% in BIM, it is clear that he sees BIM as key to GamePlan’s future, er, game plan.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/05/gameplans-aim-lean-collaboration/

May 05 2016

BIM meets Wiki at DesigningBuildings

Construction’s own wiki, DesigningBuildings has launched a free online guide to BIM Level 2 compliance.

On 4 April 2016, Level 2 Building Information Modelling (BIM) became mandatory on centrally-procured UK public projects, with far-reaching implications for those involved. Clients, consultants, contractors and suppliers are all required to understand the finer details of the Level 2 process. But the 2016 NBS BIM Survey found 42% of respondents were just aware of BIM and 28% were not very, or not at all confident in BIM.

DesigningBuildingsnew guide, created by Designing Buildings Wiki (an industry-specific wiki launched in 2012 – read my pwcom post and my February 2013 post) and construction consultancy PCSG, takes users step-by-step through the Level 2 workflows, from the basics of storing project information to preparing employer’s information requirements. And as a wiki, it is – like Wikipedia – “open access”, meaning anyone in the industry can edit and improve the guide to reflect their experiences of using BIM in practice. It is aligned to Level 2 standard PAS 1192-2 and the 2013 RIBA plan of work.

Designing Buildings Wiki chairman David Trench CBE said:

“We don’t all have to know how to operate BIM software, but everyone needs to understand the information workflows, collaborative practices and terminology that Level 2 has introduced. We’ve translated the jargon into plain English and explained the processes in a way that will feel familiar, rather than intimidating, to encourage the industry to embrace this change.”

Adrian Burgess, technical director at PCSG said:

“It’s all about collaboration. What we have created is a starting point. We’re now calling on the industry to add to and improve the guide and its supporting articles to help create a truly comprehensive resource.”

The step-by-step BIM guide is available to use, edit and improve free of charge. It is supported by more than 100 linked articles about BIM. To improve the guide, just click ‘Edit this article’ at the top of the page you want to change. To add more supporting articles, just register and click ‘Create an article’.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/05/bim-meets-wiki-at-designingbuildings/

May 04 2016

Viewpoint restructured and growing

Viewpoint CEO Manolis Kotzabasakis says construction needs to change, and believes his company is well-placed to lead industry adoption of SaaS-based ‘field to back office information on the go’.

Viewpoint logo 2016Following Aconex’s recent acquisition of SaaS construction collaboration rival Conject, there was – as usual – some debate about the implications of the deal for other vendors in the space. Some commenters (example) suggested that Aconex competitors such as Portland, Oregon, US-based Viewpoint would now struggle, and hinted at redundancies in Viewpoint’s UK operation, management changes and poor business performance.

Such views were robustly rejected when I spoke last week to Manolis Kotzabasakis – who succeeded Jay Haladay as CEO of Viewpoint in August 2015 (post) – and other senior Viewpoint executives.

Transformation and IT consolidation

Manolis Kotzabasakis, Viewpoint CEOManolis, who started out as a chemical engineer working in the UK (he studied at Manchester University and was CEO of Northwich-based Linnhoff March in my home county of Cheshire for a time), was recruited to Viewpoint from Aspen Technologies where he rose quickly through the ranks from a marketing role to chief technology office. During his time there he was involved in over 20 acquisitions and saw at first hand how technology could transform business processes in traditional industries (in this case, in the process manufacturing sector).

He told me he had been excited about the potential to help construction businesses experience the same kind of transformation – “construction is one of the last major verticals needing to change” – and not just large corporations but SMEs too. He had also witnessed how the process plant industry’s IT sector had gone through a spate of M&A activity, and felt the AEC sector was already starting to see a similar rationalisation to a more select group of major players.

Viewpoint management changes

Appointed in March 2014, EMEA MD Alun Baker has now left the business following changes intended to create a functional, rather than regional, reporting structure across the Viewpoint group, Manolis said.

“Viewpoint, as a company, has been very successful given its scale, but needed to change. We had various individuals – like Jay – looking to retire or move in a new direction. Moving from regional reporting to functional reporting is the right structure for Viewpoint. Most of the significant changes have been in the US; Alun’s departure was the only significant change in the UK – he had also felt it would be better if he moved.”

Steve Spark, commercial director for EMEA and global SVP Sales, now leads the UK operation, while taking responsibility for collaboration and Field View sales in the US and in Australasia. He said headcount in Viewpoint’s EMEA region (largely comprising the former 4Projects business) grew 27% from 2014 to 2015 (some of this increase can be attributed to the December 2014 acquisition of Mobile Computing Solutions); more recently, at the end of March 2016, total headcount was up 10% from March 2015.

“We are very excited about the pick-up so far, and believe there are some big opportunities for us in the US,” said Manolis.

Acquisitions being eyed

He also said Viewpoint had been winning some collaboration deals in Australia despite Aconex’s supposed domination of its domestic market. He felt Aconex’s Conject deal was the latest sign of consolidation in the AEC software market, and said Viewpoint is looking at potential acquisitions, continuing:

“Our vision is to bring together the field with the back office. I have been excited to talk to some of our major US customers and find they share this vision. They feel integration is vital, and want our combination of collaborative tools and BIM. They want information on the go – whether on the project site or in a hotel room. Some are not ready yet for the cloud; some want it today.

“It is slightly different with ERP, so we may progress with public/private or ‘hybrid’ cloud provision of back office ERP. This is currently mainly a US challenge; we are not providing ERP in the EMEA region yet, so here we are following an integration strategy, helping our customers connect Viewpoint collaboration to back office ERP from COINS and other leading vendors. The API becomes very important to us.”

Viewpoint For Projects successes

EMEA CFO Chris Baty said the UK-based collaboration product had seen growth accelerate in 2015, with the acceleration continuing in 2016. Steve Spark underlined the company’s success in securing corporate deals:

Steve Spark“Looking at 1,840 deals reported by Construction Enquirer, worth around £25 billion, we are working with 95% of the top 20 contractors, and 50% of these solely use ViewPoint For Projects for all their projects. Looking at our Field View customers, 20% of these are on enterprise deals, with 20% using both products.

“We are also seeing growing interest below the Tier 1 contractors: subcontractors down the supply chain are becoming increasingly interested in using Viewpoint for collaboration – BIM has been a strong catalyst for this – and we now have a sales team dedicated to working with specialist contractors.”

Summary view

Manolis summed up the conversation:

“We now have the right people in place and we have got the basics right. Growth is accelerating and profitability is very impressive across the business, and we are encouraged by the EMEA growth, with UK growth particularly impressive. New SaaS bookings are up 50%, which will translate to later revenues – all a strong testament to Steve and his team.”

Commentary

The post-Aconex/Conject comments seemed mainly to reflect the views of bullish Aconex advocates and/or mischievous competitors. The SaaS collaboration sector is also small and incestuous, with a lot of movement between the different firms, so it is inevitable that individuals with axes to grind will sometimes take the opportunity to suggest changes are hampering, rather than helping, a rival business.

Viewpoint is a sound business with ambitions to expand use of cloud-hosted BIM-driven collaboration in its core north American market while simultaneously capitalising upon its UK business’s strong footprint to grow brand awareness and eventually sales of its ERP platform in new markets. From his time at AspenTech, Manolis Kotzabasakis has strong experience in building and extending the reach of an international software business, and Viewpoint’s strategy is strongly supported by Bain Capital who made a US$230 investment in the company two years ago. Viewpoint remains an ambitious and well-backed player in the construction software space, with a strong BIM product and wider and scalable SaaS strategy, and so well placed to capitalise upon the growing adoption of such technologies by both construction businesses and asset owners.

The tripling of Aconex’s share price since its December 2014 IPO has helped draw attention to the construction software space and there have been several large investments in the sector (in the last two years, US-based Procore, for example, raised $15m in June 2014, $30m in April 2015 and another $50m in December 2015), and Aconex’s Conject deal and capital-raising shows continued appetite among investors. However, some investors are also urging caution, particularly in relation to M&A activity – mentioned by Manolis.

Research by Deutsche Bank analysts (reported in the Australian Financial Review), for example, suggested M&A can be both a driver of earnings but also a potential risk due to possible overpaying for assets and integrating purchases; it said Aconex’s growth strategy “involves opportunistic assessment of acquisitions which presents pricing and integration risk.” And such risks can also be particularly acute in the notoriously cyclical construction sector; as we saw with the Global Financial Crisis, an industry downturn can quickly impact the revenues of businesses reliant upon a steady stream of project starts.

[Disclosure: Unrelated to this blog post, I will be speaking at the Viewpoint UK user conference later this month.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/05/viewpoint-restructured-and-growing/

May 03 2016

Buildcloud: architect-led collaboration

Web-based Buildcloud aims to help architectural teams working on high-end projects to improve communications with their (high end) clients and contractors.

Buildcloud logoThe latest entrant to the UK mobile-oriented construction collaboration market is Buildcloud, developed by a West Yorkshire-based startup, whose team includes an architect (Edward Park, formerly of Cartwright Pickard and Aedas, now a director of Leeds-based ParkDesigned) alongside others from web-design and branding backgrounds.

Product manager Cat Barrett told me Buildcloud is aimed at architects but also the general construction industry. Like most tools in this space it comprises a web browser-accessed application and a mobile app (currently just iPhone – “no android yet but we will look into that soon”). Marketing to date has been limited to a single page advert in the RIBA magazine, “but people are already signing up to the free trial, interestingly from all over the world”.

Buildcloud project newsfeedAs you might expect for an application “designed by architects – for architects” (reminiscent of the now-defunct Woobius – April 2009 post – and the Avollio platform I looked at in August 2014), Buildcloud has a clean and modern design, and aims to smooth client management and communication. It is particularly targeted at architects dealing with “high end clients” who, Buildcloud says, “can be demanding and difficult to work with” and “want to be involved in everything, yet have time for nothing.”

The design team, for their part, are provided with a master drawing register – ensuring “you never build from out of date plans again, old drawings are automatically superseded and change notifications sent” (seemingly targeting a market reliant on 2D deliverables, not using BIM). The application also features a “revolutionary site notes editor” allowing “creation of site notes in seconds; add photos, create lists, assign actions and issue as a branded PDF all from the app” (maybe not that ‘revolutionary’ – many of these capabilities are built in to several other apps used for site diaries, snagging, etc).

For those not using the app constantly, a daily email digest is sent automatically showing all of a user’s project updates, while a Facebook-ish project newsfeed lets the client, designers and contractors communicate in real-time. The app also tracks project costs: “just record your contract tender cost and track changes as contract variations.”

While there is a free starter option (one client, one designer, one contractor – clearly aimed at modest-sized projects), the professional package is priced a £12 per user per calendar month, with unlimited projects, and – tantalisingly – a free tender. At this stage, Buildcloud simply says its tendering feature is “launching soon”. Having seen other online construction project tendering platforms (eg: RICS, DarleyeTender, Asktobi) launch and then struggle and even be discontinued, it will be interesting to see how this one fares (see also my April 2014 post on NexTenders).

 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/05/buildcloud-architect-led-collaboration/

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