Dec 17 2017

Oracle set to buy Aconex

Aconex logo 2014US-based IT giant Oracle has announced it has offered to buy Melbourne, Australia-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex, for Au$7.80 (Au$5.96) per share in cash, a deal valuing Aconex at approximately US$1.2 billion (c. Au$1.6bn, £0.9bn or €1.0bn).

Project cost control

The pre-internet giant has spent billions to compete in the cloud computing era – and this deal expands Oracle’s construction and engineering cloud offering. In 2007 it acquired Cimmetry, developer of the popular Autovue browser CAD viewer plugin (later rebadged as an ‘enterprise visualisation’ tool), and its project management software Primavera, acquired by Oracle in 2008, is widely used in the sector. The August 2016 acquisition of Textura’s cloud-based construction payment management (CPM) services extended the reach of Oracle’s cloud-based services. At the time, it had some 85,000 contractors – mostly in the US – in the Textura network, and over US$3.4 billion in payments processed per month, but was also expanding in Australia and pushing into Europe.

Meanwhile, Aconex was pushing into similar areas. Its July 2015 acquisition of Worksite from ARES, adding project cost management (including earned value management, budgeting, cost performance, and forecasting) to its portfolio, with Connected Cost Management (CCM) soft-launched in late 2016 and public marketing started in April 2017. Aconex’s deal to acquire Anglo-German rival Conject in March 2016 added further depth to the Melbourne business’s project cost control functionality and grew its European presence.

Guy Barlow, AconexMeanwhile, it probably helped that several former Oracle executives were already working in Aconex. At the recent Project Controls Expo (November 2017), I interviewed Guy Barlow (recruited just over a year ago) who led the launch of CCM, and I identified it as Aconex’s potential game changer. Barlow was subsequently joined by several other Oracle colleagues. Underlining the importance of CCM, one-time Worksite executive Tim Olshansky was recently appointed CTO of Aconex.

Oracle view

Mike Sicilia, Oracle SVP and GM, Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit, said:

“Delivering projects on time and on budget are the highest strategic imperatives for any construction and engineering organization. With the addition of Aconex, we significantly advance our vision of offering the most comprehensive cloud-based project management solution for this $14 trillion industry.”

Aconex view

Aconex co-founder and CEO Leigh Jasper said:

Leigh Jasper“The Aconex and Oracle businesses are a great, natural fit and highly complementary in terms of vision, product, people and geography. As co-founders of Aconex, both Rob Phillpot and I remain committed to the business and are excited about the opportunity to advance our collective vision on a larger scale, and the benefits this combination will deliver to our customers.”

The Aconex board of directors has unanimously recommended the deal – the offer represents a 47.4% premium to Friday’s closing price of Au$5.29 – nearly four times the 2014 initial public offering price for Aconex’s shares in December 2014. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2018, subject to Aconex shareholder approval and certain regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. More information is available at

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Nov 30 2017

Ape Mobile expands internationally

Australian startup APE Mobile is spreading its wings internationally, looking to grow a US-based sales team and maybe add a London office in the future.

APE LogoAt Digital Construction Week in London in October, I met up with several businesses I had previously written about – one was APE Mobile, a Perth, Australia-based company I first encountered in October 2014.

Founder Matt Edwards had applied his project experience and in November 2013 launched APE Mobile’s Paperless Site app for contractors working on-site, helping them manage memos, forms, actions, drawings and documents, plus reports, via Apple iOS devices, while an open API enabled easy data exchange with back-office business systems. Recommendation and word-of-mouth marketing quickly extended APE Mobile beyond its Western Australia heartland (it enjoyed monthly revenue growth of 20% in its first year).

In August 2015, Edwards announced a Series A funding round led by Jolimont Global and Viburnum Funds, giving the company access to Au$2m (then c £0.94m or US$1.47m) to fund further product development and to drive growth . Then I noted that it wasn’t trying to compete with pure SaaS construction collaboration vendors, like Aconex, but was positioning itself as complementing existing solutions.

APE Mobile targeting Europe

Kevin Reece, Ape Mobile’s head of growth, was in London on 18 October to check out the competitive landscape (as well as visiting DCW, APE Mobile also exhibited at National Construction Week in Birmingham and was going to have a stand at London Build). He said: “We were very focused on Australia for the first couple of years, and since the start of 2017, we’ve been doing more marketing overseas – in the US, UK and New Zealand (we did a couple of US shows: CONExpo and the AGC IT forum) – and now about 25% of our customers are outside Australia.”

He said monthly recurring revenues were up 52% in the last quarter, and they were about to recruit sales people for the US market, complementing an Australia-based team that was stretched to cope with the time differences involved in international sales; a London office would be the logical next step after the US West Coast operation in Denver was established.

The company had also been boosted by advice from Leanne Graham, a former Xero executive and experienced cloud technology executive, appointed chairman of Ape Mobile in April 2016. Since her appointment, the company raised a further Au$2m from existing investors in late 2016, is currently closing a funding round, and plans a larger fund-raising round in 2018 to help it solidify its US presence.

Reece said:

Kevin Reece (APE Mobile, at DCW)“APE Mobile is building on its strengths to provide the kind of transformational insights that contractors will depend on to win in this rapidly changing industry. We realised that all people really want is to understand what’s happening on site, and because we capture data in a unique way, we have vast amounts of rich data that can be put to good use. We started by enabling access to data, and providing simple insights, but the evolution of this will be to essentially rollback time, which has many use cases such as safety management and contract disputes.”

Integrations (via a fully-documented public API) with Sage 300 CRE, Viewpoint’s Vista and Dexter + Cheney Spectrum, have also helped make the product attractive to users of those ERP systems; the company has also started integrations to Procore and Aconex, he said, and was looking at other AEC-specific vendors. A partner programme was also helping to extend the company’s marketing reach.

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Nov 24 2017

Connected Cost – Aconex’s game-changer?

Guy Barlow, global commercial director for Connected Cost at Aconex, was speaking at the Project Controls Expo in London last week (16 November 2017). I talked to him before his presentation (on the world’s emerging ‘Giga projects’).

Aconex logo 2014Just over six months ago, Melbourne, Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration vendor Aconex finally publicly launched its Connected Cost solution, filling a gap in its product portfolio compared to several competitors, particularly in north America. The July 2015 Worksite acquisition from ARES Corporation (also at the Expo) had apparently already encouraged some customers looking for project cost functionality, and the deal to acquire Anglo-German rival Conject in March 2016 added further project cost control functionality into the Aconex SaaS stack.

Guy Barlow joined Aconex from Oracle’s Primavera team in late 2016 (with a CV boasting earlier spells at PwC, IBM and Bearing Point), and has subsequently been joined by several other Oracle colleagues. Compared to Oracle, he said it was an opportunity to be “a bigger fish in a relatively small pond,” but also to work in an innovative and growing company changing the industry, and, with Connected Cost: “a product that will break the status quo.”

Selling Connected Cost to the former Conject customer base

Connected Cost was soft-launched in November 2016, with marketing starting in earnest in April 2017. Currently, the Conject Financial Cost solution remains a separate product to Connected Cost. Barlow said:

Guy Barlow, Aconex“Over time, you pull the best from what you’ve got and build it into your existing product, but for now the two are separate. Naturally, our goal is to sell Connected Cost to our Conject customers, filling in the gaps where the original product didn’t meet their needs.”

We talked about internationalising Software-as-a-Service products, and developing consistent process naming conventions, as well as accommodating different language needs. “Things like NEC capability, while not unique to the UK, have to be accommodated to fit different markets,” Barlow said.

Connected Cost has made the Aconex platform more attractive to some clients. Some recent deals would not have been done without Connected Cost. It is getting us into a whole new space. Document management and collaboration is hugely important to the industry and has helped Aconex grow over the last 16 years, but project controls get us to a new spot, helps us elevate the conversation, and get into more enterprise-type deals.”

ERP and ecosystems

Guy Barlow talking at Project Controls Expo, London, November 2017In some markets such as Asia, Barlow said spreadsheets are often still used to manage project controls, but customers have been looking at Aconex as it allows them to quickly adopt and deploy a solution that already has the “familiar look and feel of a spreadsheet but with all the collaboration built underneath it” (in his ‘Giga-project’ presentation later, Barlow said “the deployment time of Aconex was one thing that excited me about the technology”). He said “clients are tired of clunky, on-premise legacy solutions built on old software architecture“, and are looking for cloud-based alternatives.

However, he was clear that Connected Cost does not replace enterprise ERP or scheduling systems; it becomes part of a complementary enterprise software ‘ecosystem’.

“The corporate ERP system is great for looking in the rear-view mirror, but in a project-intensive industry you want to have forward-facing sight of how your projects are performing. We sit in that ‘sweet spot’ between ERP and scheduling (we have native, out-of-box integration with [Primavera] P6), and marry up the real-time data coming in with the budget information to give them that picture.

Construction payment management

In April 2017, Aconex founder Rob Phillpot talked about moving into construction payment management and supplier finance. Barlow said claims and payments / progress claim capabilities are one of the key areas in Connected Cost, describing current practice as “so backwards” (ie: in need of digitisation). “Supply chain finance is something we’re moving forward with, and we have someone working with Rob in Melbourne on this.”

As an ex-Oracle executive, Barlow had little contact with Textura when it was acquired by Oracle in April 2016 for US$663m – and accepted that Aconex’s Connected Cost CPM push would see him in direct competition with former colleagues, but he could only speculate about how Textura might fit alongside other Oracle products such as Primavera. (Other products in this sector include Zuuse’s Progressclaim, branded as in the UK, and, in the UK, OpenECX’s WebContractor.)

Connected Cost and 5D BIM

Taking the cost conversation a stage further we talked about building information modelling and cost management: so-called 5D BIM. “This is definitely on our roadmap,” Barlow said. “If a change is made in the 3D model, you obviously want to reflect that change in the cost, though, right now, we have priorities in other areas.” The roadmap also extends to augmented reality and drones, he said.

With one-time Worksite executive Tim Olshansky now CTO of Aconex, Barlow said Connected Cost would benefit from Olshansky’s push on pan-Aconex initiatives like Aconex API integration (“hugely important to us”), dashboarding, and the continued migration of Conject functionality to help retain those customers. Portfolio planning and risk management were areas that Barlow was interested in, potentially a logical extension of the company’s project controls capabilities, that could be augmented by business intelligence tools interrogating the “incredibly rich datasets” now being managed through Connected Cost.

Update (29 November 2017) – Guy Barlow has also been interviewed in the CIOB’s Global Construction Review.

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Nov 24 2017

Rhumbix and real-time site data

Rhumbix automates construction workforce timekeeping and reporting at the field level via a mobile app, and provides real-time reporting, benchmarking and analysis to managers.

Rhumbix logoSometimes being separated by an ocean and continent doesn’t help communication. As a London-based writer, I received a news release about San Francisco, California’s Rhumbix, and reached out for an interview, but the timings just didn’t work out (and there’ve been a couple of post-blog updates – latest 20.45pm GMT, 28 November 2017). In the meantime, I’ll briefly summarise….

Rhumbix was founded by two former US Navy personnel – Zach Scheel was a civil engineer, and Drew DeWalt was a submarine pilot – who met at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. In 2013, they were both working in northern Chile on separate projects, but both identified they had the same challenges of data collection on construction sites and estimating labour costs. Rhumbix is the result: a mobile platform that provides real-time project data and insights to project stakeholders.

The company’s news release claims it is currently being used by seven of the top 20 builders in the United States, including Turner Construction, which has seen a 790% ROI on its investment in Rhumbix, largely down to reducing the time taken to enter timecards. Foremen went from 4.5 hours per week of time entry to 20 minutes; superintendents and SPO engineers spent 90% less on manual timekeeping. It appears to be offered at three levels:

  • Rhumbix BASIC is a mobile app deployed to foremen to collect field data. “Data collected is shared immediately with the home office through an administrative dashboard. Timecards, daily reports, cost codes, T&M tags, pictures and notes are now 100 percent digitised.” The app uses GPS and customer-defined geo-fences to create more accurate records of job-hours worked on projects
  • Rhumbix CORE helps firms take their digitised data and feed it back to project managers, superintendents and foremen to provide real-time benchmarking and analysis.
  • Rhumbix MASTER allows integration of third party data with custom professional services and deployments to optimise and proactively improve processes

The company closed a US$7.35 million round of funding led by Blackhorn Ventures, in October 2017. The technology provides integration with Procore, Viewpoint, Intuit Quickbooks and Xero.

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Nov 10 2017

Aconex promotes from within

Aconex logo 2014Melbourne, Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex has announced the promotion of two employees to its executive team.

Tim Olshansky (Aconex CTO)Tim Olshansky has been appointed chief technology officer. He was most recently head of engineering, Americas, at Aconex. Previously he founded Worksite, provider of a SaaS project cost management solution that was acquired by Aconex in July 2015. Aconex says Olshansky will focus on strategy, direction, and execution of technology at Aconex. He is based in the company’s San Francisco office, its hub for the ongoing expansion of Aconex in the North America region. He replaces the short-lived Craig Fulton, the former Telstra executive appointed as CTO in February 2017 (post), who left Aconex in July and is now with IBM in Melbourne.

Kirsten Mann has been named acting vice president, product and experience. Mann “has spent close to two decades guiding organisations on how to enhance customer experience and has helped build a world-class product team at Aconex.” Over the past seven years she has held several Aconex roles, including director of customer/user experience and online support, and most recently, general manager of global design and experience. Melbourne-based, she will be directing new product offerings and continuing to address customer needs across the Aconex platform.

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Nov 03 2017

Total Synergy targets AEC designers

Australia’s Total Synergy provides a SaaS-based practice management toolset aimed at architects, engineers and other small AEC design firms, and is going global.

Total Synergy logoNorth Sydney, Australia-based Total Synergy has been developing its practice management tools for architects and engineers since 2000. I met founder and CEO Scott Osborne on a recent trip to London, along with EMEA regional manager Damiaan van Zanen, and they told me something of the history of the now 27-strong firm, and its forward ambitions.

Initially, the core Synergy product was a conventional on-premise toolset. It was competing against platforms such as the UK-based Union Square (acquired by Deltek in July 2016), Rapport3 and CMAP (its focus on AEC designers separates it slightly from providers such as the UK’s BuilderStorm, US-based and New Zealand’s TidyBuild – post). Having made the full transition to the cloud, the company is now looking to expand internationally. I saw van Zanen doing the rounds at Digital Construction Week two weeks ago; he manages the company’s London office in Clerkenwell. An office in north America is to be established in 2018 to expand the product’s round-the-clock human support and provide a US-based sales and marketing team.

An accountant by background, Osborne says Synergy is designed to meet the changing needs of the AEC sector globally.

Approximately 95 percent of global AEC businesses have fewer than 25 staff. We developed Synergy to enable this majority to untether from their offices and desks through a pure cloud software application. Synergy is designed to help all small-to- medium AEC businesses identify where they are profitable, manage their work and documentation, and collaborate with industry colleagues and clients on the same platform… without adding the significant cost and complexity found in bigger systems.”

Synergy is intended to help the AEC industry find more time for design. Drawing on the experiences of 10,000 users in Australia and New Zealand, Osborne says this is a key challenge for small-to- medium AEC professional services businesses:

“A simple example of immediate time savings is from one of our recent beta trials: a structural engineering
company of four people saved one-and- a-half days of time in just invoicing after only one month… that’s
one-and- a-half days back for the managing director who does almost everything in a firm that size.”

Three core functions

Synergy offers three core function areas for AEC design businesses: project accounting, project management, and collaboration. The service was launched globally this week, with a new website and a new video:

Synergy-dashboardThe product is built around a core offering of cloud-based project accounting, project management and collaboration, with strong dashboards and reporting functions. It has tools to set staff rates, and to manage documents, invoices, contacts, images and timesheets and is integrated with small business accounting solutions including Xero, QuickBooks Online and MYOB AccountRight Live, so avoiding double entry of information.

The company is not intending for Synergy to compete with the SaaS collaboration products of firms such as Aconex, Procore or Newforma. “Our aim is to integrate with the solutions from these guys,” van Zanen told me. “Where businesses do want to do some basic 2D markup we are working on an integration with the Bullclip tool from Drawboard.” He said some resource planning and related Gantt chart functionality would be added to the toolset in 2018 too.

‘Professional’ pricing start from £10 per user per month, allowing up to 2GB of storage per user, while the ‘Business’ band costs from £15, with 5GB per user and offering more document and invoice templates and deeper project phasing options.

Total Synergy functionality


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Nov 02 2017

Steve Spark expands on Viewpoint results

On 19 October, I interviewed Viewpoint’s Steve Spark about the SaaS vendor’s 2016 results and about prospects for 2017.

Viewpoint logo 2016At Digital Construction Week in London last month, I conducted a short video interview with Steve Spark, commercial director of Viewpoint’s EMEA business. In it, I asked about the company’s recent financial performance – which saw EMEA revenues up 30% in 2016 – and about uptake of the Field View mobile application. We also discussed the Viewpoint CDE integration with Opentree (Spark also mentioned Solibri – a partnership dating from 2014), and the importance of the company’s BIM/CDE capabilities.

Talking about the prospects for the current financial year, Spark said the 2016 momentum looked to have continued into 2017, buoyed by continued investment in sales and marketing. New customers included a number of house-builders, more Tier One contractors, but also some mid-tier regional and specialist subcontractors. As a more mature market, the UK remains the company’s most important country market, but Spark said Viewpoint, helped by a network of 14 EMEA partners, had been winning customers in Holland and Denmark, and – further afield – even in south America.

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Oct 31 2017

BRE Databook: a step forward for BIM standards

BRE logoInteroperability of data has been on my mind lately – Bricsys’s advocacy of IFC and the multi-vendor supported .DWG file format was highlighted last week, and yesterday we had the announcement of the merger of the UK BIM Alliance and buildingSMART UK&I. So I was interested to read that the UK’s BRE has launched a free-to-use and free-to-list BIM Product Library which will serve as an immutable, definitive and universal data store for all BIM data.

BRE says DataBook will help to overcome current costly and time-consuming fragmentation issues, providing a compliant, trusted and standardised model that the entire supply chain can access and utilise. As the BRE announcement (made during Digital Construction Week) says:

“… current BIM software providers use different standards, without offering a complete range of building elements which the user can draw from, and are often non-compliant with the British Standard BS8541. Furthermore, the fragmentation in software has prevented seamless communication between different parties.”

The free, industry-disruptive DataBook Product Library allows registered users to link their BIM objects and associate data to a fixed manufacturers’ data source. In Beta testing and set to launch in early 2018, DataBook will provide plug-in functions for authoring tools with options to link and to attach data based upon project stage and appropriate project roles. This will remove the liability and risk for designers and constructors from using editable BIM Library objects, whilst providing them with the appropriate manufacturer data that they need to respond to the project requirements throughout the project lifecycle.

Activeplan logoBRE has also created a new Templater tool that holds the standard for exchanging data, including product data. This will remove the confusion and lack of interoperability that has surrounded sharing standardised product information from BIM and associates technologies. BRE Templater (with code by Activeplan – founded by George Stevenson and Tim Aikin, former colleagues of mine at what was then BIW Technologies) will provide core building element definitions (like doors, windows, plaster board, roof tiles, etc.), and is built on international standards such as IFC. Paul Oakley, BIM Director at BRE said:

“The new DataBook will provide a much-needed process to manage information flow during the design and build process, without the complex geometry that exists currently. This will help make BIM work for everyone, as currently too much manual object changing is required as projects are transferred between manufacturers, architects and contractors. Given the substantial savings in time and money, DataBook will quickly become the go-to development source in the building industry.”

DataBook will have a premium, paid for element. Services will include BRE independent assessment of the validity of the data available to each BIM object. BRE will check whether the information source is correct and co-ordinated, and content requirements, including manufacturer and contractor-specific contents, will also be verified. BRE is currently in talks with manufacturers, including Tata Steel and Wienerberger, regarding the listing of products in DataBook.

Update (6 November 2017) – Via LinkedIn, Paul Morris asked:

The BRE Databook appears to deliver standardized BIM information to the industry in a similar manner to the NBS National BIM Library? Will the BRE model deliver improved interoperability and will the BIM object content be categorized based on its level of definition (LOI + LOD)? Can you add any further insight into this?

Via George Stevenson, I got the following response from Paul Oakley at BRE:

The Templater provides the BIM Data standards and presently implements the IFC data schema using IFC 4. If you know how to implement the IFC 4 Docs version you should get exactly the same data standard. These are open for anyone to use including NBL. Future Product Templates will meet further industry identified needs

The BRE Databook allows values to be stored against the Data Templates provided by the BRE Templater. NBL is based upon the 2×3 schema with some updates to IFC 4 so they will have a large percentage of this already. The Templater also provides the opportunity to define what Stage and which Actors an attribute can be associated with. Therefore this can provide a LOI based upon the IFC Schema for specific stages. This is also implemented within the DataBook but other solutions could make use of this via the templater.

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Oct 30 2017

UK BIM Alliance merges with BuildingSMART UKI chapter

The UK BIM Alliance and the buildingSMART UK & Ireland Chapter have agreed to merge, hopefully opening up BIM conversations to cover wider issues relating to people and process change as well as adherence to technical standards.

UKBIMAlliance logoToday (30 October 2017), Anne Kemp, chair of the UK BIM Alliance, used the opportunity of the buildingSMART International Summit in London to announce that the UK BIM Alliance and the buildingSMART UK & Ireland Chapter have agreed to merge.

According to a UK BIM Alliance news release, the Alliance will act as the umbrella organisation for buildingSMART UK & Ireland, thereby becoming the UKI Chapter of buildingSMART (the former International Alliance for Interoperability). A memorandum of agreement has been agreed by both parties with further, more detailed discussions taking place with a plan to complete integration by the end of the year. Kemp said:

“Shared common goals and the intention of both parties to work towards a digital Built industry makes this the ideal time to collaborate and deliver the needs of the industry today and for the future.”

The UK BIM Alliance was set up in October 2016 following the UK Government’s challenge to industry to support the implementation of BIM Level 2. It has been established as a not-for-profit, collaboratively based organisation bringing together a wide community of interest including BIM4 interest groups and BIM Regions, and other industry organisations, to try and bring about a transformation of the built environment industry, and make BIM “business as usual” across the industry.

My view

The merger reduces the number of bodies involved in standards-setting and BIM promotion in the UK and Ireland. Secretariat responsibilities for buildingSMART UK&I passed from BRE to CIRIA in October 2016. With CIRIA also being ‘home’ to the BIM Technologies Alliance vendor group (a more extensive grouping than the Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers, NCCTP, was a decade or so ago), this latest merger may help in embedding common data standards across the UK sector, while opening up BIM conversations to cover wider issues relating to people and process change as well as development and promotion of adherence to technical standards. With several of the collaboration vendors also actively embracing IFC and cooperating on integration of their services through APIs, etc, the merged organisation could be in the right place at the right time. And to maintain the digitisation momentum, how about integrating Digital Built Britain into this effort too?

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Oct 30 2017

Chapoo is now Bricsys 24/7

The Bricsys collaboration platform is being rebranded for a fourth time, finally adopting the parent company’s branding, and, as the company’s core product embraces BIM, its cloud solution is positioned as a BIM model server.

Bricsys logoIn April 2017, I attended a Bricsys Insights event at the Ghent headquarters of the Belgium-based engineering software developer. Showing off the capabilities of the Chapoo AEC SaaS collaboration platform and underlining the growing importance of BIM, that event offered a foretaste of developments announced at the company’s user conference in Paris, held last week (24-25 October 2017).

As outlined in April, Chapoo is a (profitable, privately held) sister company of Bricsys, providing a cloud-based information management platform known at various times as Vista, Vondle and – until this year – Chapoo (“Was Chapoo collaboration tool or hat cleaner?“). Bricsys CEO Erik De Keyser told me the separate branding, introduced in October 2012, had helped underline that its platform could be used in non-engineering environments to share files created by multiple applications as well as BricsCAD. Five years later, that requirement seems to have passed, as the service is now being rebranded for a fourth time, to Bricsys 24/7 (read Chapoo’s 6 October 2017 blog post; the rebrand will take place in early November). It is adopting the Bricsys logo and other branding elements, but is still delivered via a separate company (it has slightly different shareholders) covered by an inter-company license. (Online, it will be at ‘bricsys247’ or bricsys24-7 as the slash breaks up web addresses.)

Erik De Keyser (Bricsys CEO)This re-alignment of the brands comes at at time when Bricsys is redoubling its development of building information modelling (BIM) capabilities. Indeed, Chapoo’s blog post says the rebranding is a first step in “a much bigger development. … In addition to the existing Chapoo functionality, Bricsys 24/7 will be a full cloud-based BIM solution” (the term ‘common data environment’, CDE, wasn’t used, but was inferred).

Bricsys’s growth has partly been fuelled by expansion of a substantial network (De Keyser, right, and colleagues last week repeatedly referred to it as an “ecosystem” or “collaborative”) of developers building complementary specialist engineering and construction design and analysis solutions based on the Bricsys platform. It now offers an ‘App Store‘ (gaining nearly half a million visits in 2017 so far, up over 200% on 2016). In April, Chapoo-compatible applications included AproPlan (March 2017 post), time management tool TIQ, property inspection app SmartCheckups, and project imaging and timelapse platform C-Site; recent additions include Netherlands’ Kyp and Belgian field reporting app vendor ArchiSnapper.

Bricsys and BIM

BricsCAD vs AutoCADBricsys regards its BIM solution as a viable alternative to other modelling solutions – drawing heavily on its .DWG heritage (its BIM product application planning interface was described as “DWG API + 1%” at the Bricsys developer forum on Tuesday) and on its compliance to international standards, notably BuildingSmart’s IFC.

Some will be familiar with BricsCAD as an affordable and fully functional alternative to AutoCAD, with fewer of the perceived drawbacks of dealing with Autodesk (Hexagon, formerly Intergraph’s Peter van der Weijde summed up some of the differences, right). However, the BIM application will, of course, be competing with Autodesk’s mature Revit BIM solution – in some building circles seen as the de facto cross-project standard – while Bentley’s BIM tools have a strong position in the infrastructure sector.

WorldCAD Access‘s Ralph Grabowski, live-blogging from the @Bricsys2017 annual conference, summed up Autodesk’s stumbles and self-imposed road blocks: “forcing subscriptions, writing desktop software for being eventually cloud-only, running the corporation to please Wall Street, and slowing down development of flagship software AutoCAD.”

Bricsys is therefore one of several AutoCAD workalikes doing the opposite of what Autodesk is doing, with a BIM product, BricsCAD BIM, that uses .DWG instead of a single-vendor proprietary format (like .RVT). Bricsys is a member of the Open Design Alliance; the ODA’s Neil Peterson, right, spoke briefly at the conference saying: “No company should have a competitive advantage by making it hard to get data from your files.” Bricsys also joined BuildingSMART International in December 2016, and BricsCAD BIM comes with IFC import and export functions to streamline data exchange with other IFC-compliant models.

Several of the live BricsCAD BIM presentations demonstrated Bricsys 24/7 in use to update shared model information. I am no expert on BIM authoring software, but in the demonstrations the Bricsys V18 product handled large file sizes impressively quickly, while collision checking was completed in a fraction of the time taken for Revit to handle the same tasks (I think Bricsys BIM – priced November 2107 at £1180, versus £2460/year for Revit – would excite a lot of interest if it raised its profile at some of the UK construction technology events such as Digital Construction Week; thousands of firms will be making their transitions to BIM over the next three years if the UK BIM Alliance succeeds in its aim of making BIM “business as usual” across the industry).

Bricsys 24/7 as a CDE

Any way, back to Bricsys 24/7…. Apparently, Chapoo had become the number one collaboration product in the Benelux region of western Europe. Head of communications Don Strimbu highlighted the product’s use at Brussels Airport, on the A11 highway and on Zaha Hadid Architects’ design of the Antwerp Port Authority’s head office.

Bricsys 24/7’s development team, led by Jurgen Schepers, is relatively small and is co-located with and shares many of the same developers involved with Bricsys’s core CAD and BIM design authoring products. In this sense, it shares characteristics with Autodesk’s BIM 360 and Bentley’s ProjectWise as a BIM developer’s CDE.

Bricsys 24/7 opens in a browser without plugins, presenting authorised users with a dashboard view of their project information. Schepers demonstrated the ‘document inspector’ function that allows users to quickly view the properties associated with a file. More than 70 file formats are supported by the system’s viewer; the BIM viewer is primarily .DWG; Schepers told me:

“We are going to add IFC so for Revit you should export to IFC. If it really seems required we could create a Revit plugin that provides a ‘Upload to Bricsys 24/7’ button that will automate the export to IFC and then upload.”

I asked about viewing of federated models. Schepers said:

Jurgen Schepers (Bricsys)“In theory yes, as we already do this now for the master and xref files. All files have their own viewing info and data. When you view the master you are basically viewing a consolidated view of the master and each of its xrefs at once. For files that are not xrefs, we need to create a user interface to select the files you want and consolidate them in the viewer and that should be it. Keep in mind though that this will only work if they are the same scale, have the same origin and probably some other constraints.”

The current dedicated Apple iOS and Android Chapoo mobile apps will continue to work with the Bricsys 24/7 platform but will be rebranded in due course.

The AEC SaaS collaboration field is filled with competing solutions that were developed to be design file-agnostic, cloud-based information sharing and workflow platforms. Leading providers active in Europe such as Aconex, think project! and Viewpoint spring to mind, several of them describing themselves as common data environments, CDEs (again, not a phrase I heard in Paris last week), so this may be terminology that Bricsys 24/7 will need to use so that it gets linked from web searches for CDEs. If Bricsys 24/7 is to serve more than its BricsCAD heartland, it will, I think, need to be addressing the needs of users of other BIM authoring solutions and looking at the BIM compliance requirements of markets such as the UK.

Update (10 November 2017) – Bricsys VP communications Don Strimbu has written a blog post introducing Bricsys 24/7 (and talking about it as a CDE). A video of the 24/7 presentation is now also available:

[Disclosure: I travelled to Paris as a guest of Bricsys who paid my transportation, overnight accommodation and some meal expenses.]

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