May 21 2015

Goodbye, 4Projects. Hello, Viewpoint for Projects

4Projects summitThis week’s 2015 Viewpoint customer summit conference in London drew over 100 people, all provided with an update to the company’s product development roadmap outlined in Newcastle last May (4Projects: the future is cloud-based everything). One headline announcement has been confirmation of the rebranding of 4Projects; with effect from September 2015, the SaaS construction collaboration application will be known as Viewpoint for Projects, a modification of the US and Australia branding of the collaboration offering: Viewpoint for Collaboration.

4Projects by Viewpoint - blueMore significant than the branding change, though, will be the latest steps in Viewpoint’s migration towards a more unified suite of products largely delivered as Software-as-a-Service. What we currently term ‘document control‘ (will we rename this as we become more model-based? Information control? Project control?) remains a core specialism, but the plans outlined by Jeremy Larsen will also see Viewpoint’s collaborative project management capabilities expanded into areas that are currently strengths of rival solutions.

For example, Aconex is strong on project communications; Viewpoint will be strengthening its RFI, submittal, transmittal, meeting minutes and project email functions. And while Conject has long had a European differentiation by virtue of its commercial management module (formerly Financial Control), Viewpoint will be gunning for customers demanding this functionality with new cost control functions, covering contracts, subcontracts/purchase orders, change orders, estimates, phase codes/cost types, etc.

4Projects’ investment in research and development relating to BIM feature strongly in the future Viewpoint for Projects product suite, with its BIM Manager module (rebranded from 4BIM) complementing document control. And December 2014’s MCS Priority1 acquisition – now branded as Field View (as distinct from Field Share – the former 4Mobile app) – providing mobile data capture for daily reports, health and safety, quality control, snagging, and inspections.

‘My Viewpoint’

Stressing usability, accessibility, mobility and configurability, the Viewpoint product management team shared initial views of the unified interface to these functions, which users will be able to access through a single login to a personalised view, dubbed ‘My Viewpoint’. The focus to date has been on the project communications area, with Viewpoint recruiting a user experience (UX) specialist to help develop an intuitive-to-use, cross-device interface, using HTML5 technology.

fieldviewAlmost coinciding with the conference, the latest release (15 May) of Viewpoint’s Field View functionality has been more tightly integrated with the 4Projects platform. Today Richard Scott demonstrated how Field View allows 4Projects users to access version controlled drawings, along with all subsequent updates, from their 4Projects containers within Field View. The Field View web app also allow users to reuse COBie output to generate geometry, helping them set up projects more quickly, plotting buildings, zones and spaces in seconds – meaning Field View now links to BIM-based projects.

Progress towards a unified SaaS system covering all Viewpoint project management capabilities will be incremental. For example, just as Field View and the 4Projects external project management functions are being integrated for UK users, in the US the collaboration functions and Viewpoint’s internal project management system, Vista, are also integrated. Over time, this integration will be extended, but the initial steps may require some work-arounds – for example, cost control will initially require the user to have the Vista Windows application locally installed, but in due course this will be migrated to become a SaaS module. New document control, BIM Manager and Field View SaaS modules are all programmed for release over the next 12 months or so.

[Disclosure: I delivered a keynote presentation (fee paid) to the Viewpoint customer summit.]

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May 20 2015

Tinker with the tech or make big hairy audacious changes?

With collaborative platforms, mobile, BIM, ‘Big data’, the ‘internet of things’, we are tinkering with enablers of change. “Digital Built Britain” envisages entirely new business models for the industry currently known as construction.

21 years (and more) of industry reports

It’s almost 21 years since the Latham Report was published in 1994 (then the latest in a sequence of industry reports stretching back to World War 2: Simon, Emmerson, Banwell …), and its ripples continue to be felt, not least because it stimulated some UK industry changes to procurement (we started to talk about strategic partnering and frameworks) and to contracts (Sir Michael favoured the NEC, for example). At the time, sophisticated use of information and communications technology was still in the future, but the IT opportunities were eventually picked up by Sir John Egan in Rethinking Construction (1998) and Accelerating Change (2002), reiterated in the Construction Commitments (2006) and then – after the 2008 Construction Matters report recommended the appointment – championed by the first chief construction advisor, Paul Morrell from late 2009 onwards (post).

Never Waste A Good CrisisBy this stage, the global financial crisis was scything through weak companies, projects were being moth-balled or cancelled altogether, and the industry was desperate to find positive routes forward. For Constructing Excellence, Andrew Wolstenholme’s Never Waste a Good Crisis (2009) had reiterated the core Latham and Egan themes about collaborative working – and Paul Morrell responded to the challenge. Low Carbon Construction (2010) set the foundations, but the publication of the 2011 Government Construction Strategy instigated a more wide-ranging set of measures.

To many in the technology sector, this has all been about BIM, but – as University of Westminster lecturer Rob Garvey pointed out to the London Constructing Excellence Club last week (read Storify) – it also created the conditions to test new models of construction procurement such as two-stage open book, cost-led procurement, and integrated project insurance (first contract just initiated). Much of the endeavour, however, remained silo’d, Rob said; to deliver the latest industry strategy (Construction 2025, published in 2013), we need to break down these silos, build on the progress made and ensure they extend beyond just the progressive fringe.

‘Disruptive’ trends

I talk regularly to conference audiences about where the construction IT industry is going (among other subjects). Updating an argument in my book (published in 2005 remember), I identify the Latham/Egan/Constructing Excellence agenda as an influential industry culture trend (particularly when times are tough – but companies can, and do, ‘revert to type’ when economic conditions improve) and then suggest that the web, broadband and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) have all helped change perceptions about technology and information management (parts of the industry have moved from being paper-centric to being more online document-centric).

Since the mid-2000s, new technological trends have begun to emerge. Information mobility has been a factor since the advent of smartphones (c. 2007) and tablets (c. 2010). BIM has, of course, been a dominant theme for at least the past five years; social media has – maybe somewhat grudgingly – begun to challenge existing models of communication; and we have also become more aware of the power of data –  ‘Big data‘, interoperability, linked open data, and outputs from the ‘Internet of Things‘ (in short, some of us are now moving from being document-centric to being data-centric).

However, these technological changes are not, on their own, going to overhaul the construction industry. They are, at best, enablers. We also have to tackle existing silo’d structures, attitudes, cultures and resulting behaviours within the industry. However, the future direction and shape of the industry currently known as construction is more likely to be influenced by political, economic, social, legal and environmental factors. Globalisation, carbon, population growth and resource shortages will have an increasingly important and direct bearing on what industry clients identify as desirable business outcomes, making them more alert to whole-life performance and to wider business, social, economic and sustainability outcomes.

New business models

DBB-Level 3 coverDigital Built Britain, published in February 2015, is therefore a key document. Despite its dry and apparently technology focused subtitle – “Level 3 Building Information Modelling: a Strategic Plan” (yawn!) – it synthesises four separate industry strategies – Construction 2025, Information Economy, Smart Cities, Business & Professional Services; it tells a wider audience than construction that it needs to build and exploit a “new digital economy”. We need:

  • New ways of doing things
  • New business models
  • New business relationships
  • New institutions
  • New performance metrics

This fits with Constructing Excellence’s vision (its response to Construction 2025, and its various 50% improvement targets), which says delivering ‘best practice’ is not enough. The successful businesses of tomorrow will break through the current industry ceiling, making radical changes and building collaborative business relationships so they can deliver exceptional performance:

  • CEvision2013“success will depend on delivering and exceeding client’s desired outcomes”
  • Exceptional performance will mean collaborative working and BIM to enable lean processes
  • All organisations will be measuring, reporting and sharing data about performance
  • Better procurement will provide for appropriate profit and encourage innovation
  • Aligned commercial incentives will give the supply side ‘skin in the game’ to support best whole life outcomes
  • Reward for value will be the way of getting paid.

Yes, BIM and data are part of this picture but only as enablers. Over time, they will become normal – as much part of the way of doing things as CAD, word-processing and email today. Supply chain organisations in the industry currently known as construction will, I hope, be rationalised and more integrated. They will be suppliers of leaner, safer, lower-carbon and data-supported “asset services” (delivering ‘illumination’, not light fittings, for example – “Buildings-as-a-Service, BaaS … maybe even AaaS!), rewarded across the life-cycle for the value delivered by the built assets they create, and having the reputations and market valuations more commonly found among sophisticated manufacturers. This is not achieved by focusing on technology, it is achieved by radically overhauling existing structures, processes and cultures, driving out waste, creating the collaborative conditions to nurture innovations, and having supply chains focus on what delivers best value.

Sir Michael Latham was fond of repeating a saying attributed to Albert Einstein that “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got“. We have been tinkering with small ways to improve how our industry works – it’s now time to start making more radical changes.

(This post is based loosely on a keynote presentation delivered to Viewpoint Construction Software‘s user conference in London today. Disclosures: I am on the steering group of Constructing Excellence, and a CE collaborative working champion.)


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May 19 2015

Digital construction autumn 2015

Construction IT conferences: are we beginning to move beyond BIM and look at other, related fields, and to do so more affordably?

The recent heavy focus on BIM has seen some UK construction IT conferences become a bit repetitive (and, sadly – particularly for SMEs – often expensive), featuring the same speakers, the same case studies, etc, but there are some signs that we are beginning to move beyond BIM and look at related fields, and to do so more affordably.

For example, I talked about ‘Big Data‘ at a conference – organised by Asite, CIOB and ConstructIT – at London’s Google Campus recently. Next month, London Constructing Excellence Club’s monthly meeting will focus on “Smart Buildings and Smart Technologies“, and, later this year, we will have a whole week dedicated to “Digital Construction”, followed, two weeks later, by the COMIT/Fiatech two-day conference.

Digital Construction Week

Last week, I met up with Ollie Hughes, one of the promoters of Digital Construction Week, which will feature a series of core events in London from 20-22 October 2015. He outlined the DCW plans, which include a Westminster reception on 20 October, a two-day exhibition, plus conference sessions, at the Business Design Centre in Islington, and an awards event to top things off on 22 October.

DCW imageHowever, the DCW team is keen to be inclusive and promote ‘fringe’ events (we talked a bit about Clerkenwell Design Week, 18-20 May, and the busy London Social Media Week, scheduled for 14-18 September this year; I have organised SMW events in past years). The aim is to build a varied programme of events delivered by a range of organisations, all happening immediately before, during or after DCW and cross-promoted by DCW to give greater visibility. Ollie said he wanted a choice of different types of events covering different subjects, with many free or low-cost to attend so that interested but time-poor industry professionals might take just a half-day out of their schedule to network and learn about the digital construction matters that are most relevant to them.

(As a result, I am now considering organising a Be2camp construction social media event and/or perhaps a CIPR CAPSIG event focused on technology PR for the construction industry. Update (21 May 2015): The ICE’s BIM conference is on 21 October.)

Efficiency through Digital Projects 2015

COMITTwo weeks after Digital Construction Week – but potentially also riding a wave of interest stimulated by it – is the second joint COMIT/Fiatech conference, Efficiency through Digital Projects, set for 10-11 November at the Hallam Conference Centre in London. The excellent 2014 conference attracted over 130 contributors, 12 stands, and 8 sponsors, and the team aims to surpass this in November, and has just issued a call (link) for a diverse array of presentations including:

  • Computing everywhere: Social, Mobile Analystics and Cloud
  • New Technologies AR/VR. Internet of Things
  • Interoperability and Lifecycle Information Management
  • Integrated Materials Management
  • Handover and Asset Management – a consistent approach
  • Application of Big Data Analytics, Cognitive Computing
  • From the Owners Perspective
  • Integrated Project Management (includes safety and risk management)
  • Mobile IT – what is really happening to our industry
  • Automating Code Processes
  • Advanced Work Packaging
  • Workforce and People
  • Intelligent and Automated Jobsite – Robotic Engineering

Incidentally, the early bird registration fee – registration opens 1 June – for this two-day conference is £300 (£180 for COMIT/Fiatech members). This compares to the fee being charged for a forthcoming one-day BIM event in London: £395 plus VAT per seat! No wonder, as a result, I (and others) are more likely to attend events like Leeds Beckett University’s ThinkBIM series, BIMnet and others run by some of the CIC’s BIM4 groups.

[Disclosure: I am a member of the COMIT steering group, have been invited to join the DCW steering group, and supply paid support to ThinkBIM events.]

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May 19 2015

Plangrid gets $18m funding

Plangrid logoSan Francisco, California, US-based construction mobile solutions provider PlanGrid has raised $18 million in series A financing to help fuel its growth. As part of the investment deal, Sequoia Capital‘s Doug Leone has joined the PlanGrid board of directors.

In its news release, co-founder and CEO of PlanGrid, Tracy Young says:

“Despite significant gains driven by technology over the past decades, construction is the one industry that has continued to see a decline in productivity. The industry has lacked a platform that could provide the flexibility and user experience of modern applications. Since filling the void with PlanGrid, we’ve seen rapid adoption within the industry, adding hundreds of new customers each month. This investment will allow us to significantly increase our growth and provide more value to our customer base.”

Plangrid Android drawing viewAs I described last year (June 2014 post), Plangrid started out as a free, simple-to-use iOS blueprint viewing application for iPad users, and expanded to incorporate management of progress photographs, punchlists (aka defects management, snagging) and tracking and management of requests for information (RFIs). A web-based view of users’ information is also provided, and an Android application soon followed.

According to Plangrid, its “construction collaboration platform has become the world’s largest digital blueprint repository, with more than 20 million blueprints managed in its cloud-based platform.” It says the platform is used on over 200,000 projects worldwide by more than 10,000 customers, including construction firms like Clark Builders Group, Power Designs, and Structure Tone, as well as building owners like Nordstrom, Tishman Speyer, and Sutter Health.

The company emerged from Y Combinator in 2012 and has since secured initial funding from Sequoia Capital, Box, 500 Startups, Y Combinator, Navitas Capital, Google Ventures, Sam Altman, Paul Bucheit, David Sacks, and Professor Raymond Levitt. Sequoia’s Doug Leone says:

“We believe there’s going to be a new generation of successful SaaS companies that are targeted at specific industries. Tracy and her team have built the new clear software leader in the construction industry, which represents an incredibly large market that can’t adopt PlanGrid’s solution fast enough.”


There is clearly investor appetite for mobile construction collaboration solutions. The Plangrid investment echoes New York City-based FieldLens‘s May 2014 $8 million Series A round; six months earlier, Textura acquired Latista for $35m; and another Plangrid competitor, Bluebeam (with a wider solutions portfolio), was acquired by Nemetschek in October 2014 for $100m (post). Other mobile acquisitions include Conject’s Wapp6 deal (January 2014) and, more recently (December 2014), 4Projects’ Priority1 buy (now being branded as Field View).

Over in Europe, at Copenhagen-based GenieBelt (post), founder Gari Nickson says:

“This shows great investor confidence in the industry. PlanGrid have a great product and is by far the best for rendering drawings and communicating on drawings. (But with our new ‘simply simple docs’ we are on track to be there too.)”

By the way, I am not sure that Plangrid is “the world’s largest digital blueprint repository”. Aconex, for example, in its 2014 IPO prospectus, said it was managing over 1.18bn items, a large proportion of which will have been drawings; and it was hosting around 1.4m BIM files (August 2014 figures). And I suspect other mature SaaS vendors such as Viewpoint’s 4Projects, Conject, Think Project! and Asite will have comparable numbers (if you have, perhaps you can share them via the comments?).


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May 15 2015

BC launch semantic BIM 1.1

Business CollaboratorFollowing its late 2014 management buy-out, Reading, UK-based SaaS collaboration vendor Business Collaborator was quick to launch the first version of its building information modelling module. The next iteration, BIM module v1.1, has just been released, promising “data-driven, semantic BIM software to help customers procure, design, construct and maintain assets and infrastructure efficiently”.

According to BC’s website, version 1.1 provides “federation and clash detection along with a redesigned and streamlined interface.” BC says its BIM data viewer and server now enable the entire project team to federate together models from different disciplines and run clash detection to find problems in those models – all within a web browser:

BC1.1 model viewerModels are uploaded to Business Collaborator (Common Data Environment / Project Extranet / Document Management System) and imported / optimised into a Semantic Database.  From there, any member of the project team can select two or more models and view them at the same time.  All of the capability when viewing a single model is transferred across when viewing many models together.  Users can navigate, filter by IFC Category, turn individual models transparent and search for objects across the Federated model.


BC CTO Stephen says:

“The team have worked incredibly hard to deliver this next phase in our BIM journey. Model Federation and Clash Detection were unanimously identified by our customers as the most needed additions to our BIM module and I am delighted to be able to announce the availability of this functionality, fully integrated with our leading CDE and Project Extranet platform….”

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May 06 2015

Visual-Wise: immersive 3D on a phone

London startup Visual-Wise can take an architectural model and, with a little help from a cardboard holder, turn your smartphone into a 3D headset.

Visual-Wise logoI took a quick trip into Google Campus in London’s Shoreditch yesterday to talk to engineering duo Megan Masterson and Reuben Carter of 2014-founded London-based startup Visual-Wise. This offers the immersive experience previously confined to expensive soft/hardware such as Oculus Rift [first commercial units to be available in early 2016, reports TNW] and makes it available to users via a mobile phone (albeit held in a simple cardboard ‘headset’).

Reuben explained that the technology behind Visual-Wise takes design information (which can be generated from any design authoring tool, from Sketchup or 3DS to Revit, for example), then runs it through a stereoscopic rendering engine, adding lighting, shadows and materials to provide a near photo-realistic depiction of the modelled space. Available as an Android app (and being ported to iOS), Visual-Wise allows the model to be viewed on a smartphone held in a lightweight flat-pack cardboard headset (the one I tried was held in a more durable wooden version), eliminating the need for expensive and bulky hardware and related software. Multiple spaces can also be linked together, so that the viewer can move virtually from room to room, if required.

The technology has already been tested by architects and clients. The Visual-Wise website includes a link to a RIBA Journal case study on how Purcell Architects used the toolset to show designs for a proposed new annex to a southwest London church. Megan told me they had also had interest from property developers and property brokers looking to quickly show new developments to prospective tenants or purchasers.

Riding the current BIM wave, Megan, a civil and structural engineer and former McKinsey consultant, and electronic engineer Reuben have been busy talking to different architecture, engineering and construction businesses about their idea, initially funded through the Entrepreneur First programme. We talked about parallel tracks being pursued by other developers, including holography (post), augmented reality (used by Costain at London Bridge station, for example) and 360-degree panoramic photography (eg: Stickyworld). I also reflected back what I’d learned from covering other virtual reality platforms (eg: Denmark’s Realsite, Cafe4Tune): while it may be less important to those marketing properties, for AEC industry use, in my view, applications need to be more than stand-alone viewing tools and capture feedback for further collaboration.

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May 05 2015

Jobsite Unite: connecting site workers

Social, real-time approaches to construction collaboration have been tried several times. Jobsite Unite believes its mobile-based worker communication platform can complement AEC file-sharing systems.

For a long time, construction collaboration technology (like email*) tended to be focused on the asynchronous exchange of project-related content – documents, drawings, forms, comments, photos, redlines, etc – generated by and shared by participants who, more often than not, would be sitting in front of a desktop or laptop. The advent of smartphones during the 2000s began to change this narrow view of the platform, as did wider adoption of tablet devices from around 2010 onwards (and, of course, BIM is also creating new shifts, towards sharing models and data).

However, the platforms still tend be very content and process-focused: documenting and recording interactions relevant to the planning, design, construction, commissioning and handover of a built asset. Despite the emergence and now increasingly widespread adoption of social media tools, construction collaboration platforms have generally not reflected this shift.

Social construction collaboration

There have been some notable – but shortlived – exceptions.

ToolboxscreengrabIn 2009, I was impressed by the potential of a prototype platform, Incite Toolbox, developed in Australia by Sean Kaye and Michael Baker, which baked the social media concepts of “the stream” and “tags” into the product. What started out as a file-sharing service was potentially developing as a messaging and conversation platform which could easily be accessed on mobile devices. Unfortunately, development of this then ground-breaking platform was put on the back-burner as the Leighton Holdings company, first, focused on its desktop platform, Keystone, and then, in what I dubbed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, made the talented Incite team redundant, discontinued the innovations they had been working on, and even threatened me with legal action (post).

Kalexo tasklistAnother tool that impressed me in 2009 was Kalexo (developed by Hannes Marais – who I recently spoke to again, following his Beta launch of Oumy in April). When I first saw Kalexo I described it as enabling information-rich exchanges such as integrated voice, video communications and online meetings, moving beyond file-sharing and process management, and breaking interaction down into smaller task-based interchanges. A closer look at Kalexo revealed a tasklist interface (not dissimilar to a Twitter stream) through which users could get a quick overview of recent project activity, display the status their own tasks and set filters to show all tasks or only the ones that involved them or their company.

Jobsite Unite - grid logoandroid_jobsitehomeMemories of these (and others – for example, Senubo and Comindware) came flooding back when I interviewed Jay Olsen, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa, USA-based startup Jobsite Unite [not to be confused with job-finding service] last week. Very briefly, Jobsite Unite is software for hardhats: “Jobsite Unite helps simplify, streamline, and record critical jobsite communication – anytime and anywhere – for residential and commercial construction projects.” Jay says it capitalises upon the increasingly common use of mobile devices and social media platforms by site-based workers.

The lead contractor will set up a project on Jobsite Unite (its licensed per-project, an approach that helps encourage supply chain adoption) and then invite their team members and all employees of all subcontractors to start using the system. They create their profiles and can then start posting comments and photos on news feeds specific to their jobsites, internal company team, or publicly to advertise their availability to work. They can also manage contact lists and call, email, or direct message other workers without affecting their SMS plans. It is offered as an app in iOS and Android; the back-end is managed as a SaaS solution, with prices starting at $250pcm for unlimited users on 1-2 job sites.

JobsiteUnite iOS_contactsIn being focused on the workers with “boots on the ground”, Jay said Jobsite United was different to other mobile solutions which tended to be focused upon employers or managers. It is also clearly geared more towards the needs of small businesses, small teams and even solo subcontractors, allowing them to share real-time updates. Importantly, it is not a tool for sharing documents, but it can be used for managing work schedules, relating tasks to the availability of manpower, materials, information, etc. “If there is a change to the program, the contractor can immediately tell the subcontractor or work team, saving a wasted journey, rework, or time spent waiting for previous tasks to complete.”

As a communication platform, Jobsite could therefore complement or potentially be integrated with other mobile tools, Jay said, identifying systems such as PlanGrid (post). Its focus on smaller businesses and on the workers involved in delivering projects for SMEs also reminds me of the Copenhagen, Denmark-based startup GenieBelt (post), which has a similar mobile-first approach too.

(* Tuesday 5 May 2015 is #NoEmailDay; it will be held next year on 6 June 2016.)

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May 04 2015

Trimble and Nemetschek in open BIM alliance

Trimble and Nemetschek have established a strategic alliance to expand adoption of open approaches to building information modelling (BIM).

Trimble logoNemetschek logoUS-based IT provider Trimble (provider of, among other solutions, SaaS applications Trimble Connect and Project Sight – both launched in late 2014) and the Nemetschek Group (provider of the BIM+ common data environment and the Vectorworks BIM authoring application). According to the announcement (made today, 4 May 2015, in Germany), both companies are collaborating “to promote openness and interoperability across their solution portfolios.” It continues:

“Trimble and Nemetschek will share their extensive global market and technology expertise and collaborate on initiatives to drive a paradigm change in the development and adoption of technologies for the AEC industry and building owners. The companies intend to:

  • Transparently share data formats to support new solutions and promote workflow interoperability between selected products across the DBO lifecycle…
  • Support interoperability and the longevity of project data for the entire project lifecycle;
  • Maintain their respective deep commitments to open standards and workflows for the benefit of the entire industry—rather than for any individual vendor.

Trimble and Nemetschek plan to leverage the Trimble Connect collaboration platform (announced in October 2014) to integrate workflows and create close interoperability between selected Trimble and Nemetschek solutions. The move might be interpreted as a concerted effort to help customers bypass other AEC software vendors which have lagged in their interoperability efforts. In July 2014, Nemetschek Vectorworks also formed an alliance with London-based SaaS vendor Asite.

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May 01 2015

Holographic collaboration, anyone?

Trimble partners with Microsoft to bring Microsoft HoloLens wearable holographic technology to construction – integrating with the GTeam collaboration environment.

Trimble logoTrimble has announced today that it is working with Microsoft to develop new tools integrated with the HoloLens holographic platform on Windows 10 (set to be released later this year). These tools are intended to improve quality, collaboration and efficiency in the design, construction and operation of buildings and structures, and a proof of concept was demonstrated at Microsoft’s Build Developer Conference held this week in San Francisco.  According to the news release:

Trimble HoloLensMicrosoft HoloLens is a head-mounted, holographic computer that provides a mixed-reality experience for a range of commercial and consumer applications. When used by architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals, the HoloLens device extends interaction with 3D models beyond the confines of a 2D computer screen, creating new ways for the many stakeholders of complex, multi-phase construction projects to visualize, collaborate, share ideas and manage change.

At the conference, Microsoft demonstrated integration of HoloLens with Trimble’s SketchUp 3D modelling software and the Trimble Connect collaboration platform launched in October 2014, following its September acquisition of GTeam.

Using HoloLens, architects can experience their SketchUp models as holograms placed in the real world, enabling them to quickly analyse various “what if” design scenarios. Remote teams can also use the technology to review and collaborate to resolve constructability issues in real time.

Bryn Fosburgh, vice president responsible for Trimble’s construction technology divisions, said:

“Trimble has a mission to deliver solutions that transform the user experience and work processes in many industries. We believe that HoloLens is a game-changer for design and construction teams by facilitating improved communication, and enhanced transparency. We’re excited to partner with Microsoft in creating what could be a new era for technology in the AEC market.”

Microsoft corporate VP, devices and studios, Yusuf Mehdi said:

“Microsoft HoloLens is a revolutionary tool for people and businesses enabling professionals in industries like design and construction to do more and achieve more. Trimble’s deep knowledge of design and construction processes makes it a natural partner in bringing holographic computing to this industry.”

These HoloLens-enabled solutions, in combination with Trimble’s SketchUp, Trimble Connect, and V10 Imaging Rover, are currently under development, and details on availability were not disclosed at the Build Conference.

Other virtual reality tools are, of course, also under development. Various businesses have been testing Oculus Rift-based solutions, for example (I saw it demonstrated at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference last November), and – at a simpler level – augmented reality tools can also be integrated with building information models and mobile devices.

Update (1 May 2015): Trimble is not the only AEC firm looking at the HoloLens platform. “Autodesk is taking steps to allow users to use 3D models created within their Autodesk Maya or Fusion 360 software and integrate them into the virtual reality space, by teaming with Microsoft on their Hololens initiative,” reports

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Apr 30 2015

Conject to benefit from SaaS consolidation

Conject CEO Ralf Händl regards his company as the European market leader and is anticipating further consolidation in the SaaS collaboration market as a result of BIM adoption.

ConjectAfter Anglo/German SaaS technology provider Conject finally entered the BIM race last month, I got chance this week to meet Conject Group CEO Ralf Händl face to face. Ralf officially took over as Conject CEO at the beginning of 2014 after Colin Smith stepped down from the role (later taking up a new position at Textura).

Besides being leader of a German-owned company, Ralf has extensive knowledge of the global construction and real estate industries, having served in overseas roles for Stuttgart-based consultancy Drees & Sommer, and holding international executive board and management positions in German construction companies Bauer, Walter Bau and Bilfinger & Berger. A long-time Conject shareholder, he has also worked as a Conject consultant assisting with its international expansion.

SaaS and mobile trends

This has not always been easy; Ralf believes the drive for greater SaaS adoption in construction and real estate was hampered by the global financial crisis in the late 2000s, but now the global economy is growing again, he feels construction is beginning to catch up with SaaS and mobile trends evident in other sectors. In his view, larger businesses were initially more comfortable with SaaS solutions than small or medium-sized companies, but now the rest of the sector is beginning to change.

Following Conject’s acquisition of mobile construction solutions developer Wapp6 (announced in January 2014), the business has been focused on assimilating its mobile expertise into existing solutions and markets, Ralf said. Rebranded as ConjectMI, this was launched in the UK in May 2014, and the mobile capability is now available in English, French, German and Russian language editions, with consultancy support also being extended. Integration of ConjectMI into the group’s solutions had, however, briefly delayed development of the company’s SaaS FM solution and its BIM capabilities, Ralf explained.

BIM and beyond

We briefly reviewed Conject’s BIM initiative (covered more extensively in my March post). Interest in BIM is growing rapidly in Germany and France, Ralf said. Some companies (Hochtief was mentioned) were pushing ahead of the rest, and BIM adoption was further advanced in sectors such as civil engineering. However, he sees the UK as two to three years ahead of mainland Europe countries, so Conject’s UK team will be leading the company’s BIM developments. He sees this as critical to the company’s future success.

“BIM requires significant investment in R&D by collaboration vendors. There may only be five, maybe 10, SaaS businesses with strong BIM capabilities as a result of consolidation in the market, and clients will want one-stop shops for their data. At the moment, there are too many breaks in the chain from delivery to FM.”

International markets

ralf-haendlRalf sees Conject as “the market leader and major player in SaaS collaboration” in Europe, with strong adoption in all major regions. He said Conject UK sales had been booming since mid 2014; adoption in France was also growing and the business had identified significant opportunities to grow further there; and the German market was strong, with Conject’s position strengthened by some consolidation among major customers [the Group will be announcing its results soon – to be covered in a future post]. Austria, Poland and Russia were also strongholds for Conject, he said, although currency fluctuations had affected margins in their Russian business. The company had also won projects in Italy and Switzerland, and its Duisberg office was well placed to help it serve customers in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

Outside Europe, Conject claims strong growth in the Middle East and Asia/Pacific, winning substantial projects in these regions. Ralf had recently visited Conject’s offices in Dubai (“now in complete recovery – it’s as though there had never been a financial crisis – and we are winning work across the whole Middle East”) and Singapore. Despite having some projects in the United States, this is not a priority market for Conject:

“We’ve watched Aconex and Asite try their hand in America, and it’s clear that you can’t compete in that market by organic growth. It needs a substantial acquisition of a business with operations across several states to have an impact there.”


We talked briefly about Aconex’s IPO, Viewpoint’s 2013 acquisition of 4Projects and other deals in the sector – including Trimble’s acquisition of Gehry Technologies, Bentley’s purchase of EADOC, RIB’s ProjectCentre and Docia deals and Business Collaborator’s MBO – plus the closure of some smaller players such as Cadweb and Woobius, confirming Ralf’s view of market consolidation. He regards Conject as an attractive partner to customers with strong operations in Europe, or who want to add strong SaaS technologies that complement their existing solutions, but also said Conject were looking at some acquisitions of their own.


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