Schneider Electric makes €1.4 bn bid for RIB Software

RIB software logoDirectors of Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software have urged shareholders to agree a €1.4 billion bid from Schneider Electric.

Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software, which has been expanding its footprint in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC)  Software-as-a-Service space in recent years, is the subject of a €29 per RIB share from Schneider Electric, valuing the 1200-strong company at around €1.4 billion (c. £1.16 billion or US$1.52 billon).

Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric logoA French multinational corporation with annual global revenues in 2018 of almost €26 billion (c £21bn or US$28bn), Schneider Electric specialises in electrical equipment (building automation, home automation, industrial safety and control systems, electric power distribution, electrical grid automation, Smart Grid, power and cooling for datacentres, etc), but has also been growing its software and data capabilities. In 2010, it invested, with Alstom, in a €70 venture capital fund, Aster, to support innovative start-ups in the fields of energy and the environment; from 2015, it began to focus on the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), sustainability and efficiency, and introduced an IoT-enabled architecture and platform, EcoStruxure (which, like RIB’s MTWO platform, uses Microsoft Azure); and in  2017, it acquired the Cambridge, UK-based AVEVA Group, a provider of engineering and industrial software.

RIB expanding

RIB has been expanding its AEC operations beyond its central European heartland for some years, while also growing its SaaS capabilities and extending beyond its core estimating foundations. In 2012, it acquired an Australian AEC SaaS document collaboration business ProjectCentre plus a US estimating software provider MC² (post), and two years later acquired Denmark’s AEC SaaS business Docia, looking to expand into cloud-based facilities management as well as project delivery (post), while also growing its SaaS revenues (post).

Mads BordingWhen Extranet Evolution interviewed RIB’s COO and executive board member Mads Bording (right, also former CEO of Docia) in London in 2018 (RIB plans further cloud expansion), he talked about the group’s plans to expand internationally (mentioning China, for example) and to grow the cloud-delivered construction ecosystem, MTWO, it was developing in partnership with Microsoft. This was extending the reach of RIB’s core product – “an integrated 5D BIM solution” – which could be flexibly deployed via the cloud, as an on-premise solution, or as a private cloud or a multi-tenant architecture. An April 2018 fund-raising round raised €131m which was earmarked for acquisitions, and 2019 saw 14 planned deals extending RIB’s global reach (resellers in the UK, Australia and Africa), its technological capabilities (building specification data, IoT, AI and BI), and its SaaS revenues (already up 33% in 2018).

Total RIB Group revenues were up 57% in 2019 to €214.3m – c £178m or US$232m – (news release), generating an EBITDA of €50.1m (32% up on 2018), while the group’s target of achieving 30,000 users of MTWO and  iTWO 4.0 was exceeded by over 100% with 69,265 users. The company says 2020 revenues will be in the range of €270m to €310m with an EBITDA of €57m to €65m, and plans between 10 and 20 further M&A deals during 2020. In January 2020, RIB invested in US-based VIM AEC (post).

Schneider bid

On 13 February 2020, Schneider Electric announced its intention to launch a voluntary public tender offer to the shareholders of RIB in accordance with German takeover laws. The offer price of €29 per share represented a premium of over 50% on the volume-weighted 12-month average share price prior to the announcement and of 41% on the last closing price. RIB’s management team is supportive of the proposed deal, content that the two companies can “create a global leader in digital and sustainable smart building solutions” and that, “as a strategic partner Schneider Electric will actively support the development of RIB”.

Proposed Schneider RIB fitRIB chairman and CEO Tom Wolf says:

Thomas Wolf“We are pleased to have found in Schneider Electric a strategic partner who shares our vision to revolutionize the global construction industry and to create a carbon-free and sustainable living space for our children and grandchildren. Schneider is the global leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation, enabling efficiency and sustainability for its customers.

As the current main shareholder, I have decided to offer my shares to Schneider Electric at the offer price, as a clear signal of confidence in their attractive offer, which I fully support in the interest of RIB Software and all RIB shareholders. However, at the request of Schneider Electric, the current management team will continue in their positions, and Michael Sauer (CFO) and I will retain a combined shareholding of approx. 8.7%.

Due to the uncertainties in today’s world I welcome a strong, long-term oriented, strategic partner in Schneider Electric. We understand that we only can reach a carbon free future if we join our forces today.”

The Extranet Evolution view

The ‘fit’ between Schneider Electric and RIB appears strong. The French giant, following its AVEVA deal, has a strong foothold in industrial applications covering the whole asset lifecycle, but is less strong in the building construction sector, where RIB has built a significant foothold. And both have established partnerships with Microsoft to use its Azure platform.

Bentley digital twinHowever, this remains a competitive sector. AEC design authoring vendors such as Autodesk and Bentley have also been expanding their portfolios to better support construction delivery processes. In late 2019, Autodesk launched its Construction Cloud, consolidating some of its construction-oriented acquisitions alongside existing BIM toolsets, while Bentley has been investing in 4D BIM, acquiring Synchro in 2018, and taking a leadership position (also with Microsoft Azure) in pushing IoT-enabled ‘digital twins’ (read Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream, August 2019) – the Schneider-RIB graphic clearly envisages a joint product / service offering in this respect too.

The Bentley parallels are particularly interesting. Amid occasional speculation about an initial public offering of the firm’s shares, the US firm has also been cultivating a strategic relationship with Germany’s Siemens – which operates across some of the same markets as Schneider Electric – since 2016 (post), with Siemens building a 9% holding in Bentley’s voting stock by early 2018 (post). And on the same day as Schneider’s RIB bid, Bentley submitted a registration statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for a proposed public listing of its Class B Common Stock (13 February 2020 press release).

Assuming this deal is concluded, it will be the second acquisition of an AEC SaaS player since I suggested six potential targets in April 2018 (read: The next big AEC SaaS acquisition?). Six months later, Hexagon acquired Bricsys (mainly a design/BIM authoring vendor but with a complementary SaaS platform, Bricsys 247). Two of the others have both recently published rosy financial results: Germany’s thinkproject (thinkproject grows revenues 25% in 2019) and London-based Asite (Asite revenues up 20% in 2019).

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thinkproject grows revenues 25% in 2019

Germany’s thinkproject increased its revenue by more than 25% in 2019 and anticipates continued double-digit revenue growth in 2020.

thinkproject logoMunich-based thinkproject, which describes itself as “Europe’s leading construction and engineering SaaS provider”, increased its revenue by more than 25% in 2019. Following profitable growth in the international construction software market, recent acquisitions, and continued investment in its products, around 400 employees and over 2,000 customers, thinkproject enters 2020 with significant new customer wins and the introduction of an indirect channel partner.

thinkproject acquired Essen-based ceapoint aec technologies GmbH in February 2019 (post), strengthening its BIM capabilities with ceapoint’s DESITE BIM while extending ceapoint’s regional scope. In October 2019, thinkproject then acquired Germany-based BIM common data environment (CDE) specialist Conclude GmbH (post). The acquisition further strengthened the company’s leading position with asset owner customers in the central European DACH region, and added cost management capabilities to its product portfolio.

During 2019, thinkproject also won a major infrastructure project in the Asia Pacific region, supporting
clients embracing NEC contracting standards (thinkproject acquired the UK-based NEC contract change management platform CEMAR in May 2018), and won its largest enterprise customer contract to date in mainland Europe.

In early 2020, thinkproject has already won two new major clients, and has invested in growing its European indirect channel partnerships by appointing BIM expert Mensch & Maschine as a non-exclusive pan-European reseller for DESITE BIM (20 January 2020 post).

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)Appointed thinkproject CEO in May 2019, Gareth Burton (right) is enthusiastic going into the company’s 20th year in operation:

“We are proud of the diverse company we have built and will continue to invest in our people, environment and the communities we work in. Thanks to our fantastic employees and customers, we have delivered substantial growth in recent years and we anticipate continued double-digit revenue growth in 2020.”

Ralf Grüßhaber, thinkproject’s CFO, says:

“After the tremendous growth we saw in 2019, we want to continue gaining market share at further improved margins. We are expanding our geographic footprint to provide improved support for our clients and this will be an exciting year for the product side of thinkproject as we continue investing in our product integration and innovation. We are planning to launch our multilingual CEMAR product this year, which will support wider NEC contract management across Europe and beyond.”

Burton adds:

“We will strengthen our cross-selling efforts, helping us meet increased demand from our customers for construction intelligence and make use of the integrated broad product portfolio we have within our group: CDEs, BIM, contract management, cost management, managed services and mobile solutions. Plus, we will further expand our growing reseller partnerships in 2020.”

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RIB invests in VIM AEC

Germany’s RIB has invested in north America’s VIM AEC, an augmented reality startup founded by ex Revit executive Arol Wolford.

RIB software logoAfter a busy 2019 during which Stuttgart-based RIB Software made several significant investments and acquisitions growing both its geographical footprint and its product portfolio, it has started 2020 in similar style (though few details of the scale of its latest investment have been given).

During 2019, RIB:

  • made an investment in the UK AEC software reseller Cadline (April 2019)
  • bought a 60% stake in USA-based BSD to strengthen its estimating and product data technologies and gain a bridgehead in north America (June 2019)
  • acquired a 70% shareholding in South Africa’s CCS, a cost estimation and project control software provider (July 2019)
  • took a strategic 15% stake in India’s Winjit, specialising in Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain (August 2019), and bought 60% of reseller US CAD, and
  • invested in another India-based software developer, Softtech, bought a German business intelligence specialist, Datapine, and acquired an Australian reseller (November 2019).

Arol Wolford background

RIB’s latest investment announcement (no financial figures provided on the scale of investment) concerns Arol Wolford’s startup operation VIM AEC.

VIM-AEC logoWolford has an illustrious AEC software career dating back to the 1980s. He was a founder of Construction Market Data (CMD – acquired by Reed Elsevier in 2000 and today part of ConstructConnect), which provided a range of  industry information sources. He was a board member at Revit Technology Corporation, creator of the parametric building modelling application, Revit (sold to Autodesk in 2002). In 2003 Wolford founded SmartBIM (today Concora), a creator of Revit objects. In 2010  he founded VIMtrek, rebranded in 2018 as VIM AEC (VIMtrek enabled distribution of visual models, VIMs, collaboration using VIMnotes, a 3D post-it note style system, and conversion of Revit files to Unity packages). Wolford was also chief innovation officer at BSD – as mentioned above, majority owned by RIB since June 2019.


According to RIB:

VIM graphic“VIM AEC is an extension of BIM helping to link design kernels such as Revit with rich data and create visualization in the cloud, on mobile devices and AR/VR much faster. This preserved design integrity, reduces risks and errors affecting re-work and efficiencies. It enables engineers and architects to use BIM 3D Models within special classes like Magic Leap, Oculus Rift or Samsung VR, combines the Design with Data out of the [RIB} MTWO platform and create a new virtual working environment for easy cooperation for the next generation of BIM supporting our strong relationship with Autodesk to get even more value out of BIM on an integrated online platform.”

The first version of VIM AEC on the MTWO platform is planned for late 2020. Wolford has apparently created a 20-strong team BIM VR and AR experts in Toronto and in Atlanta to close the gap between the gaming and construction industries when it comes to user experience in virtual 3D worlds. The target, RIB says, is to transfer Revit models into a cloud-based visual collaboration platform which allows users to walk or fly through buildings to better understand, inspect, analyse, optimise, and creatively discuss and collaborate on buildings with others – creating an almost real world similar to computer games.

Arol WolfordVIM AEC CEO Wolford said:

“We have decided to invite RIB to invest into our start-up because we believe that the RIB MTWO platform which can be for example used complementary to the Autodesk BIM 360 platform will be a leading cloud platform for millions of users in the future. To integrate BIM Data from 3D Design with iTWO cost and time data and to experience all combined data within a first-class VR experience on a gaming industry standard can be a game changer for the building vertical. RIB offers the powerful MTWO platform to provide all computing power and managed services to run such data in the most efficient way. We are looking forward to the cooperation with RIB.”

Mads Bording, RIB Group COO said:

Mads Bording“Arol Wolford is one of the most recognized BIM visionaries and pioneers in the world. He was not only one of the founders of the leading BIM design software called Revit, but he also developed Building Systems Design in Atlanta and supported many research projects in leading universities around the globe. RIB’s target is to win 2 million users for our MTWO platform and to invest into technologies which can support the platform users in the digital transformation process. With our international R&D capacity, our deep knowledge in cost and time data, our worldwide new distribution network in EU, India, Australia, UK, Middle East and USA out of hundreds of construction software experts and with our global RIB Cloud platform MTWO, we believe we can bring the right infrastructure to the start-up to offer a new digital working experience for the building vertical in the future.”


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Asite revenues up 20% in 2019

AEC SaaS technology vendor Asite grew its revenues 20% in the year to 30 June 2019. Could the London-based business be an acquisition target?

Asite logo 2012In the year to 30 June 2019, London-based construction Software-as-a-Service vendor Asite grew its revenues by 20.4%, from just over £8m in 2018 (post) to £9.638m (c. US$12.6m or €11.43m. According to the company’s 2019 annual report, operational profit for the same period was up 83% to £2.484m (c. US$3.25m or €2.95m), and it says it has strengthened its global footprint over the 12 months.

Nathan Doughty, who succeeded the late Tony Ryan as group CEO of Asite earlier this month, said:

“Asite’s vision is to connect people and help the world build better.

The Asite platform continues to push the boundaries of research and innovation in the field of digital engineering on behalf of our customers.  This positions us well to deliver on our strategic plan to become the global leader in digital engineering by integrating supply chains for capital projects and infrastructure developments worldwide.

Our offices across the globe now give us the geographical coverage to fully support our customers worldwide and through investment in our sales and marketing teams within these offices, to achieve our ambitious revenue growth goals.”

Regional operations

Full-year revenue split by region was:

  • UK – £7,070,653 (73%)
  • Europe – £483,462 (5%)
  • APAC – £1,106,580 (11%)
  • North America – £797,389 (8%)
  • India – £180,224 (2%) – down from £234,264

So, within its “global footprint”, the mature UK market, up 15%, still contributes almost three quarters of Asite’s revenues. (The UK construction market has struggled through Brexit uncertainty for the past three years, and the Construction Products Association forecasts little improvement; last week The Construction Index reported there is “little evidence … that the general election result will … benefit the construction industry in 2020. Those hoping for a Boris bounce are deluded…”.) Meanwhile, overseas, APAC saw Asite’s sharpest growth, up just over 60%, while revenues were up 38% in North America – albeit, in both cases, from relatively low bases and against strong local competitors.

For the second year running, headcount fell, from 213 to 200, again mainly due to reductions in Asite’s largely India-based technical team, now 166 strong (183 in 2018). Asite now has 20% fewer staff than at its 2017 peak of 242. Another change was the post of chairman: Asite’s main shareholder Robert Tchenguiz was appointed to the post on 1 February 2019, succeeding Walter Goldsmith. Another director, Timothy Smalley, resigned in April 2019, and so, following Ryan’s death, the company currently has just three board directors, down from the five it had at the start of the financial year. This should bring overall director remuneration down (it was £673,750 in the year to June 2019), lowering overheads and boosting profits in the current financial year.

Asite BIM escalatorFollowing some rationalisation in the AEC SaaS collaboration sector over the past three years or so (Oracle acquiring Aconex, Trimble acquiring Viewpoint and eBuilder, Autodesk acquiring Plangrid, etc), Asite remains one of the few independent UK-based vendors, and it has been consistently growing revenues and delivering profits in recent years, while also investing in its BIM capabilities (talking about a “BIM escalator” last week). If it can weather the ongoing UK uncertainty and continue to grow its international revenues, then Asite will become an increasingly attractive target for potential investors.

Update (30 January 2020) – Asite has announced two internal promotions: the appointment of Devendra Gera as chief technology officer and Tony Pickworth as chief financial officer.

Update (14 February 2020) – Asite business development and growth plans will be driven by four distinct operating regions: UK / Europe (led by SVP Rob Clifton), APAC (led by SVP Atit Patel), North America (led by SVP Chris Peters), and India / MENA (led by Executive Vice President, Ritesh Narain). These regions will be supported by a robust and mature shared services model from the Asite Group. [News release]

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ThinkProject adds German reseller for DESITE BIM

thinkproject logothinkproject, the Munich, Germany-based provider of Software-as-a-Service technologies to the construction and engineering sectors, has announced a partnership with Mensch und Maschine Software (M+M – also known in English-speaking markets as Man and Machine).

Under the deal, M+M – a 1000-strong supplier of computer-aided design and manufacturing, product data management, and building information modelling applications – becomes a non-exclusive master reseller of thinkproject’s DESITE BIM product suite. DESITE BIM was added to thinkproject’s product portfolio with the company’s acquisition of ceapoint  in March 2019 (post).

The six product variations of DESITE BIM offer varying levels of BIM proficiency and seamless collaboration and information exchange throughout construction projects thanks to its open and neutral support of a variety of data formats and easy integration with CDEs (thinkproject has two such productstpCDE for construction projects and EPLASS CDE for rail, road and infrastructure projects). DESITE can integrate different types of information into building information models, conduct model and clash detection checks, and run 4D simulations, in addition to creating schedules, information take- off, and quantity take-off.

DESITE from CeapointM+M will support thinkproject with sales, marketing and customer training for the DESITE BIM product suite in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, UK, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. MD for construction and architecture Rainer Sailer says: “The DESITE BIM product portfolio takes BIM to another level and is a great option for many customers because it integrates well with so many existing softwares. We’re excited to be working with thinkproject to sell this product and integrate it into our leading European BIM Ready training program.”

thinkproject head of product strategy and innovation Jochen Hanff says: “As an already established BIM expert, Mensch und Maschine is a natural fit for this type of partnership. Their knowledge and resources will help us take DESITE BIM to new markets across Europe and bring great value to our customer experience.” His chief sales officer colleague Anton Hofmeier adds: “Joining forces with Mensch und Maschine will allow thinkproject to continue to grow as a global leader in construction intelligence by making our market leading products accessible to a wider international audience, while ensuring the high level of support and product quality that our customers have come to expect from thinkproject.”

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Buildiro Direct launched in London

Buildiro launches a same-day delivery service for London-based tradespeople sourcing tools and materials from local builders’ merchants.

Buildiro logoBuildiro, positioning itself as “the world’s first mobile app for materials procurement” and launched in London in September 2019, is introducing a new service on Monday 20 January 2020, just under a year since the startup launched its prototype app (February 2019 post). Buildiro Direct will deliver crucial, small, missing items to tradespeople within London, offering a 0.5% discount off every purchase via a points collection system and free courier returns.

Having solved one problem – knowing merchants’ stock availability (helping tradespeople become more productive and merchants build better trade customer relations) – Buildiro is now seeking to resolve another pain point: discovering missing items that threaten to hold up jobs.

Buildiro Direct: 90-minute or same-day delivery

Buildiro Direct London reachBuildiro Direct will deliver from a list of over 20,000 items held on the Buildiro app whether that’s a tool, cable or valve, items that are necessary for the smooth running of jobs.  Tradespeople can select from either the 90-minute or same-day delivery option which will run every day (including Bank Holidays) from 7.30am to 6.30pm on items which will typically be under 12kg in weight and fit on a motorbike or small van.

Michael Strnadel at LM Solutions London Ltd has been trialling Buildiro Direct in beta, and said:

“With Buildiro Direct I don’t need to leave the job I’m on any more as I can get what I need delivered within 90 minutes! On top of that, the e-invoicing system is just amazing, my accountant is now connected to my Buildiro account so I don’t have to worry about invoices at all because it’s all automated.”

Luke Polach (Buildiro)This app enhancement comes on the back of substantial investment in the app from investors who became aware of Buildiro’s UK success.  Luke Polach, CEO and founder, says: “We’re pleased with progress to date – tradespeople have told us that they are saving time and money in their search for supplies and, as a result, have widened the list of merchants they know and use.  The trade has been crying out for innovation, “we need an UberEats or Deliveroo for the building trade”, and we are delighted to have delivered.”

Polach says that tradespeople will continue to use Buildiro to source all key supplies faster, more cost-effectively, reducing time wasted spent driving to merchants to source items: “The new enhancement will help in the day-to-day smooth running of jobs on site as a small, one-off requirement can be even more time-consuming than sourcing larger items if it puts a job on hold.

At the same time Buildiro is reminding UK users of its e-invoicing option which can be linked to any accounting software which saves merchants’ time and helps their customers to seamlessly comply with the UK’s Making Tax Digital scheme.

The Buildiro app was developed in-house and runs on the Google Cloud Platform, where data is secured and protected.  It is available from the Google Play and Apple app stores and is currently expanding its list of merchants. Fast, same-day delivery will cost £6.90 and the 90-minute delivery option will cost £14.90. Buildiro’s reach will be extended to other cities “soon”.

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Autodesk converges its Construction Cloud

The June 2019 projected convergence of Autodesk’s construction-oriented solutions was crystallised in late 2019 with the launch of the Autodesk Construction Cloud.

Autodesk Construction CloudAt the London Build trade show in November 2019, Autodesk followed up its Connect & Construct Summit announcement in Las Vegas, promoting its Autodesk Construction Cloud to a UK audience.

Five months earlier, at the London edition of Connect & Construct in June 2019, Autodesk had signalled the convergence of Plangrid and BIM 360 technologies, merging its acquisition of Plangrid (November 2018 post) with the more established BIM 360, while also talking about two other acquisitions: Assemble (July 2018 news release) and the US- centric BuildingConnected (January 2019 post) – set to be launched in EMEA in 2020.

Autodesk Construction Cloud brings these four solutions together alongside the group’s design authoring tools, connecting headquarters, office and field teams to increase collaboration and productivity. Over 50 new product enhancements, as well as deeper integrations between each product, allow data to flow across all stages of construction. New artificial intelligence (AI) functionality helps construction teams identify and mitigate design risks before problems occur – reducing delays, rework and costs.

Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

Jim Lynch“Despite the tremendous challenges construction companies face to connect huge volumes of data and people, no one has delivered on the promise of unified construction from design to operations – until now. With Autodesk Construction Cloud, we’re introducing a new era of connected construction and offering unrivalled integration between headquarters, office and field teams. We’ve never been more dedicated nor clearer in our mission to empower designers, contractors and owners to meet the world’s rapidly expanding construction needs, while helping to make building more predictable, safe and sustainable.”
Autodesk Construction Cloud

Construction Cloud enhancements

Launching Autodesk Construction Cloud, the company unveiled more than 50 new product enhancements spanning the building lifecycle from design to operations. Highlights include:

  • Expanding support within Assemble for the latest version of Autodesk design tools AutoCAD, Revit and Navisworks.
  • Empowering subcontractors to immediately quantify 2D views in BuildingConnected Bid Board Pro.
  • Enabling greater collaboration, field teams can now take videos directly within the PlanGrid app. Along with improved photo management, teams are able to provide richer commentary from the jobsite.
  • Enhancing all BIM 360 modules, along with deeper feature integrations – such as between Construction IQ and BIM 360’s design review capabilities, called Design Risk Management, which helps reduce the likelihood of RFIs and change orders originating from design issues.

To help construction teams reduce miscommunication, errors and rework, Autodesk has rolled out 18 different integrations, allowing data to flow between all its construction products (between Revit and PlanGrid, BIM 360 Design and Civil 3D, BuildingConnected and PlanGrid and BIM 360 and Assemble, to name a few). Built with BIM 360’s common data environment (CDE), Autodesk Construction Cloud ensures the whole team is collaborating on an integrated record set, and supporting customers in meeting ISO 19650.

With nearly one million (mainly north American) subcontractors using BuildingConnected, Autodesk says its Cloud encompasses the industry’s largest ecosystem of owners, designers, builders and trades, including nearly one million subcontractors who use BuildingConnected.

AI-powered analytics

Autodesk Construction Cloud encompasses powerful AI to help construction teams identify and mitigate risks before problems occur – helping to reduce delays, rework and cost. Autodesk cites technologies such as TradeTapp, which arms general contractors with subcontractor risk analysis during the planning phase, and Construction IQ, which uses algorithms to prioritise the highest risk projects, subcontractors and issues that need attention during the build phase, gives teams the insight and confidence to make informed decisions and build right the first time.

A case study on BAM Ireland’s use of Autodesk Construct IQ was shared in London in June 2019, and was discussed again at a Constructing Excellence event in London in September 2019 (read the final section of 15 October EE post, BIM is not big data). Michael Murphy says:

“Autodesk’s end-to-end system for the entire building lifecycle – from design to long-term maintenance – is giving us a competitive advantage. Using the advanced technology and predictive insights of Autodesk Construction Cloud, we achieved a 20% gain in quality and safety on a high-profile project. Autodesk Construction Cloud is bringing us one step closer to a unified solution with all our data in the same platform, so that information is no longer in a silo or lost. We’re strongly aligned with Autodesk in pursuit of better construction across the globe.”

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Tony Ryan, Asite CEO, dies suddenly

Tony Ryan, the flamboyant Irishman who has been CEO of SaaS technology vendor Asite since 2006, died suddenly in London yesterday (2 January 2020).

Sad news from the London-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider, Asite:

Tony Ryan (Asite CEO)“It is with great sadness that we announce that Tony Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Asite, died yesterday in London, due to unexpectedly severe complications from a recent illness. The entire Asite family mourns this loss. On behalf of our Board of Directors, management team and employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to Tony’s family.”

With immediate effect, our Chief Operating Officer, Nathan Doughty, is appointed Chief Executive Officer, supported by the Board of Directors and management team.

Tony Ryan

Ryan, who died aged 48, was appointed CEO in June 2006, having previously been COO (December 2005) and before that Asite sales director, back in the days when it was an AIM-listed company. Ryan succeeded Gordon Ashworth who had taken over from Tom Dengenis (later CEO of Synchro – since June 2018 part of Bentley Systems) in March 2005.

Tony Ryan at Adoddle17 launchWith Nathan Doughty (former CTO then COO), he led Asite through a period of enormous change in the AEC SaaS space. For the most part, UK collaboration vendors survived the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s, after which began a series of mergers and acquisitions which, in Ryan’s view, left Asite as the only significant UK vendor that was still independent (though GroupBC might disagree). Ryan led the company to its first annual profits in 2010. Technologically, Asite was also one of the earliest of the UK vendors to embrace building information modelling (2006) and to look at mobile solutions and Salesforce-style platform-as-a-service models (2010), while it also invested in its marketing – embracing social media (2009), creating a cartoon robot character called Adoddle (2012 – Ryan incorporated the phrase ‘It’s a doddle” into his Twitter handle), partying hard at an annual yacht regatta, running Open BIM design competitions, and launching the 17th edition of Asite’s software at an Irish-themed party in London’s Shoreditech on St Patrick’s Day (17 March 2014 – Ryan, pictured right at the event, was a flamboyant Irishman) – repeating the feat four years later in Sydney, Australia (March 2018). Revenues continued to rise throughout his time, though efforts to break into the US market and to grow Asite’s business in other locations were less successful – in 2018, around three quarters of the company’s revenues were still from the UK (post).

The Extranet Evolution perspective

As CEO of one of the UK’s leading AEC SaaS vendors, Tony Ryan spoke to Extranet Evolution on numerous occasions, commenting on ownership changes among competitors or on technological developments, while – ever the salesman! – also promoting Asite hard and trying to position it at the leading edge of industry developments. There have been occasions when the accuracy of some of his claims needed to be questioned, but he would argue his case hard and sometimes abrasively.

Nathan DoughtyNew CEO Nathan Doughty has been with Asite throughout most of its existence. He joined the business in 2002 from another AEC SaaS startup, Bidcom (where he was a colleague of Tom Dengenis), which later merged to become part of Citadon, and was active in several of Asite’s technology initiatives, being also involved with BSI, the International Alliance for Interoperability / BuildingSMART, and the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers, championing open BIM throughout.

Asite logo 2012Less flamboyant and more pragmatic than Ryan, Doughty is perhaps the perfect person to steady Asite at this tragic time. The business and its shareholders have seen several of its former UK competitors snapped up by international corporations in billion-dollar deals: BIW and Aconex are both now part of Oracle, 4Projects became Viewpoint and is now part of Trimble. Doughty might be the man to steer Asite, which is still majority owned by the property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz (post), towards a similarly lucrative outcome.

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Buildots: site visual data capture

Tel Aviv-based Buildots uses 360-degree wearable cameras and AI for “automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies.”

At October’s Digital Construction Week 2019 trade show in London, I spotted Israeli startup Buildots among the exhibitors. I didn’t have chance to learn more then, but the company presented at December’s COMIT community day (held in IFS‘s impressive new offices by the River Thames in Staines, west of London).

buildots-logoFounded in Tel Aviv and now with an office in London, Buildots was founded in early 2018 by Roy Danon (CEO), Yakir Sudry (CTO) and Aviv Leibovici (CPO) – who presented at the COMIT ‘wearables’ event. The three have backgrounds in computer science and electrical engineering, and all have worked for the Israeli government or  its defence force. Buildots investors include Innogy and TLV Partners.

Automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies

Aviv Leibovici - BuildotsLeibovici (right) described Buildots’ solution as “automated detection of schedule and design discrepancies.” It aims to help contractors more effectively manage the plan, execute, measure and optimise cycle – especially the measure and optimise steps. The  toolset combines data collected by 360-degree cameras worn by employees with data from project schedules and uses artificial intelligence, AI, to compare captured visual data with what is scheduled in the project programme and what has been designed. It gives “precise control of the last 5%”, Leibovici said, and enables “continuous flow assurance” – which is vital in the high density residential projects where Buildots has hitherto been focused.

Buildots data and analysis from projects undertaken in Israel was shared (I understand the firm is also working with UK contractor Balfour Beatty in London). Leibovici said wearable devices enable seamless collection of highly detailed information (visual evidence). In one walk around a single floor of a residential development, data on 2500 elements was captured. Moreover, once the data had been collected, uploaded, processed and analysed, Buildots could also help to identify missing elements  (missing power sockets, for example) or errors (eg: wall apertures that had been closed – on one project, 812 walls and 515 door openings were being created, and the toolset identified two doors had been omitted).

buildots error demoSnapshots from the visual evidence could then be used to notify contractors about defects or omissions, while also providing a visual as-built record of how and where services had been installed prior to floor, wall or ceiling finishes being applied. The Buildots Software-as-a-Service solution also provides dashboards showing percentage completion of work packages, work logs, and can be used to help schedule payments.

The quality of visual data is, of course dependent upon the quality of the 360-degree camera used. At the COMIT event, Liebovici responded to questions about the weight of the devices and battery packs, the frequency of surveys, and lighting levels. Accurate image capture is apparently easier in sunny Tel Aviv than cloudy London!

The Extranet Evolution view

HoloBuilder LogoUsing wearable or mobile devices to capture visual site data is being trialled by several contractors, alongside more conventional capture using static laser-scanning and photogrammetry equipment and techniques. Perhaps the most notable competitors to Buildots in this space are the US-based OpenSpace and Holobuilder solutions.

OpenSpace hit the headlines in August 2019 after raising US$14m in Series A funding (read Forbes article), and has integrations with Procore (OpenSpace news) and Autodesk’s BIM 360 (ditto). The technology has also been deployed in the UK: St Albans-based Lindford Consulting offers OpenSpace project recording as one of its services, for example (Update [22 January 2020] – read this BIM+ interview with Lindford’s Edward Carolan).

HoloBuilder SpotWalkHolobuilder launched its 360 Construction Documentation Solution in July 2017, for example, and has expanded in Europe and progressively extended the platform’s functionality, adding SiteAI (December 2018), a JobWalk Planner (April 2019), and – launched at Autodesk University in November 2019 – SpotWalk, the first robotic construction 360° capture solution. SpotWalk equips Boston Dynamic’s Spot robot with autonomous 360° image capturing technology, allowing customers to let Spot remotely walk around a project site and create a 360° digital record of their construction projects. US Holobuilder customer Hensel Phelps is already testing SpotWalk on its $1.2 Billion San Francisco Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Airport project.

eviFile logoIn December 2018, COMIT also hosted a demonstration of a German-built Panono 360-degree camera (post), and 3D photography and scanning by firms such as Matterport have also featured. Away from 360-degree photography, smartphone or tablet apps for progress documentation – geo-located progressive assurance – are provided by Leeds, UK-based eviFile* (May 2017 post), which has been successfully winning work on civil engineering infrastructure and utilities projects. In July 2019, eviFile announced a project with Yorkshire’s Drax power station where its technology could potentially save the generator £1m a year (read Yorkshire Post report).

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

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