Former ‘Facebook for Construction’, FieldLens closing

FieldLens, the New York City-based mobile construction management technology provider, acquired by WeWork in June 2017, is set to shut down.

Fieldlens logoFieldLens, the New York City-based mobile construction management technology provider once dubbed the “Facebook of Construction” is said to be closing down. The business largely disappeared after being acquired by WeWork in June 2017 (FieldLens acquired by WeWork), and Yves Frinault of San Francisco-based rival FieldWire has talked about FieldLens’ closure on social media, saying:
Fieldwire logo

“I am pretty bummed about Fieldlens’ closure. It often takes multiple companies to change an industry and in our quest to improve the lives of craftspeople in the field, they were definitely a worthy competitor.”

Meanwhile, the FieldWire blog also invites former FieldLens users to explore its products (Why Fieldwire is the Best Fieldlens Alternative).

FieldLens backstory

FieldLensFieldLens was founded by Doug Chambers and Matt Sena in 2011 and launched the Beta service of its mobile construction collaboration service – once dubbed the “Facebook of Construction” – in late 2013. It was one of a handful of vendors who looked to change from the industry norm of email-type communication processes to mobile-friendly short-form status updates and messaging feeds (Should construction dump email?). Fieldlens formally launched in March 2014, and two months later closed an US$8m funding round.

When it was acquired by WeWork, the property business was looking for a toolset that it could deploy to support its stream of new office fit-outs. WeWork was then opening 5 to 10 locations every month. It was becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of design and construction services, and recognised the importance of information in efficient building processes. Chambers said FieldLens would also be offered as “a stand-alone construction communication product”. But it was no longer marketed as overtly as before, and began to fall from view.

WeWork logoWeWork downsize and sell-off

Since 2017, WeWork – once a £47 billion unicorn – has faced some major challenges. It filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in August 2019, then cut its valuation down to as low as $10 billion. It removed the flamboyant Adam Neumann as CEO, and then delayed the IPO indefinitely while also planning to layoff up to 6,000 employees – about 30% to 50% of its workforce (Forbes). Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and 100s of once-busy WeWork co-working spaces became ghost towns, barely occupied by the startups and SMEs that were once its lucrative lifeblood.

As well as cutting staff, it appears the business has also been offloading some of its proptech and other acquisitions, sometimes at huge discounts to their purchase prices. MeetUp was sold to a venture capital firm, and (according to the Real Estate Daily Beat) the “Selling spree of failed acquisitions continues: Managed by Q, Flatiron School, Unomy, Spacemob, Fieldlens, and Welkio –the list goes on and on“. However, without the energy and commitment of its founders, starved of marketing, and with many property project sites idle, it seems keeping the FieldLens business alive has proved impossible.

(Thanks to Asite CEO Nathan Doughty for the tip-off; the Asite NYC office was 11 blocks from FieldLens’ office.)

Permanent link to this article:

Bentley Systems’ IPO aims for $5.5 billion valuation

Bentley Systems has revised the targeted price range for its upcoming initial public offering (IPO), which could value the company at about US$5.49 billion (c. £4.28 billion or €4.68 billion).

Bentley logo 2017US-based architecture, engineering and construction software and services provider Bentley announced in August 2020 (Bentley raises IPO prospect again) that it had filed a registration statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for a proposed initial public offering (IPO) of its Class B common stock. Last week (15 September 2020), the company gave more details of the offering.

One Liberty Plaza, NYCBentley announced it would comprise 10,750,000 shares of its Class B common stock – all being sold by existing stockholders of Bentley. The selling stockholders expect to grant the IPO underwriters (who include Goldman Sachs & Co, BofA Securities and RBC Capital Markets) a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 1,610,991 shares of Class B common stock from the selling stockholders. The estimated IPO price was given as between $17.00 and $19.00 per share. Bentley had applied to list its shares on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “BSY”.

Today, however, the estimated IPO price was revised upwards, with the shares now targeted at a range of $19 to $21 per share (Reuters); Bentley subsequently announced shares would be offered at US$22). At the $21 level,  the IPO could therefore raise up to $225.7 million, potentially valuing Bentley Systems at about $5.49 billion (£4.28 billion or €4.68 billion). [Post updated to include Bentley pricing announcement.]

(By comparison, Autodesk and Trimble – both also NASDAQ listed – currently have a market capitalisation of around US£50 billion and US$11 billion respectively.)

[Image: One Liberty Plaza, NYC (NASDAQ HQ) by Erik Drost via Wikimedia Commons.]

Permanent link to this article:

UK publishes National Data Strategy

The UK Government’s National Data Strategy underlines the needs to improve data interoperability and to develop agreed standards if we want more effective use of data across the built environment

National Data StrategyThe UK Government has launched a National Data Strategy and has set out actions it will take to support the use of data in the UK (news release). The strategy puts data at the heart of the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic “so companies and organisations can use it to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy.”

The strategy lays out five priority ‘missions’ the government must take to capitalise on the opportunities data offers:

  • Unlocking the value of data across the economy
  • Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime
  • Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services
  • Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies, and
  • Championing the international flow of data

The government’s plans for a thriving, fast-growing digital sector in the UK include the appointment of a new Government Chief Data Officer. This person will lead a whole-government approach to transforming its use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.

“A leading digital nation”

The UK is already a leading digital nation, the strategy says. Data-enabled UK service exports were estimated to be £243 billion in 2019, or 75% of total service exports.  The strategy commits to developing a clear policy framework to determine interventions needed to unlock the value of data across the economy and help the UK recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This demonstrated the power of technology to respond to rapidly changing health demands, to keep supermarket shelves stocked and transport moving, and to support people working from home. Existing UK strengths can be leveraged to boost use of data in business, government and civil society, the strategy says. Notably:

It proposes an overhaul in the use of data across the public sector and the government will launch a programme of work to transform the way data is managed, used and shared internally and with wider public sectors organisations, to create an ethical, joined up and interoperable data infrastructure.

Dr Jeni Tennison of the Open Data Institute said:

People and organisations of all kinds are facing big challenges over the next few years. Data can help us all to navigate them, increasing our understanding of our changing world and informing the decisions we make. Data can also cause harm, for example through over-collection and inappropriate use. At the ODI, we want data to work for everyone, which means ensuring it both gets to the people who need it, and that it is collected, used and shared in trustworthy ways.

This National Data Strategy consultation is an important opportunity for us all to explore and influence how data should be used to support the UK’s economy, environment and communities, and we look forward to the debate.

(The strategy is not set in stone; consultation questions are included throughout the text.)

Construction and BIM

In a list under the strategy’s first mission (Unlocking the value of data across the economy), construction is one of the sectors with most to gain from better data availability. And the strategy highlights the need to improve coordination and interoperability, saying:

The lack of basic coordination and interoperability both within and between organisations can drive inefficiency, a lack of accountability and an inability to thoroughly evaluate or plan. Data that is not usable, linkable or comparable between organisations means that, nationally, we lose out on … the ability to pool data from multiple sources and sectors to create new economic opportunities, or to save lives.

“Indeed, even those working on advanced technologies report that poor data foundations can be a real blocker for driving the transformative power of data.”

BIM (sic)The paper says poor data quality and, relatedly, a lack of agreed standards are clear barriers to the effective use of data, with evidence of a lack of (central) ownership of data standards/ metadata/ APIs, a lack of skills in managing data, fragmentation in the systems used to manage data, and ongoing resourcing issues linked to set up and maintenance costs. It acknowledges that these costs could be especially burdensome for smaller organisations, or for organisations who make data as a byproduct of their operations rather than as a discrete business product.

BIM: building data foundations

In section 4 – Data foundations: ensuring data is fit for purpose – the strategy talks of construction’s progress with BIM (which it misnames), but observes:

“There was anecdotal evidence from our call for evidence that in general SMEs find it more difficult than large companies to invest in and maintain high quality data. There are pockets of stronger evidence for particular types of business. For example, the construction industry has well recognised Business Information Management (BIM) standards [sic]. However, a range of academic studies find SMEs in construction generally do not use BIM. The issues identified by SMEs include:

  • perception that BIM is only of benefit for larger construction projects
  • high set-up costs of software
  • licensing of software
  • lack of in-house skills and/or cost of training
  • information retention across platforms (interoperability) – despite the industrial strategy supporting BIM
  • lack of demand from clients (so no push to adopt the greater functionality)

Digital Twins

Data for the Public GoodBIM is a fundamental building block for digital twins of infrastructure assets. The strategy follows its discussion of BIM with observations on how location data and data about the built environment have helped the UK’s National Digital Twin Programme (NDTP). It highlights the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s Gemini Principles. These set out some key steps (including more open, interoperable information) to support better decision-making across the whole life of built assets for the benefit of the wider economy, society and environment.

One of its illustrative case studies covers joint research between the Singapore government and Ordnance Survey to develop its 3D ‘digital twin’ of Singapore. Another relates to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Data for the Public Good report, and the NDTP’s ongoing development of an ‘Information Management Framework’ (IMF). It says:

“The IMF will create and enable the adoption of the common information management components to enable the integration of data in a consistent, resilient and secure manner across organisations and sectors. As the IMF is developed and approved, its parts will be made available nationally to progressively enable a UK system of trusted, decentralised and interoperable information exchange. This will create a data infrastructure for the built environment, and pave the way for the National Digital Twin.”

The Extranet Evolution view

This National Data Strategy continues the digital push that has been evident for over a decade. Even the hitherto digitally lagging construction industry is being pushed towards digital transformation. The launch of the 2011 UK Construction Strategy (post), for example, fired the opening shots in pushing adoption of BIM – championed by Paul Morrell, the government’s then Chief Construction Advisor (2009 post). Sadly, perhaps, construction no longer has such an advisor – though the government clearly thinks digital working warrants the appointment of a Chief Data Officer.

Good Data for the Public GoodIt is encouraging that ‘interoperability’ (along with ‘interoperable’, cited 38 times in the strategy) is regarded as a key requirement. This has been a recurring theme in the construction industry for years. However, there are now concerted efforts in the UK to look at the issue, particularly as it relates to BIM (see Engineers seek ‘Good data for the public good’), with a Construction Innovation Hub-backed BIM Interoperability Expert Group (BIEG) exploring the issues. But the mention of high set-up costs of software and licensing issues surrounding BIM is also a reminder of recent industry conversations about some software providers’ commercial and product strategies (Design firms demand change at Autodesk).

The Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden talks about helping British businesses make the most of the digital revolution over the years and decades to come, and positioning the UK as a global champion of data use. This echoes the ambitions of one of his ministerial predecessors, Francis Maude when he launched the UK’s BIM push in 2011 (post). Supported by Paul Morrell and his successor Peter Hansford, that BIM push helped UK prototype standards become the foundations of international standards. Many UK AEC businesses are now helping other countries improve their built environment digital capabilities.

SME digitalisation is key

As mentioned above, however, BIM adoption has not been universal, particularly among SMEs. Some businesses remain wary of investing in digital transformation (perhaps even more so now, with some businesses concerned about recessionary pressures), or sticking to the ways they’ve always done things (a GoReport survey, May 2020 post, found 39% of businesses content with traditional methods and 33% fearing change). Despite what is sometimes expressed in a few construction businesses, information technology is no longer a ‘necessary evil’, an overhead to be kept as low as possible, or simply a tactical concern (in 2018, 26% of businesses in a Plangrid survey admitted to having no technology strategy, while 36% simply bought tools on an impromptu basis – post).

The National Data Strategy will need to drive change and create opportunities at all levels. A compelling case will need to be made if BIM and other digital technologies are widely to become business as usual. In a highly fragmented industry largely serviced by SMEs, some industry practitioners will need to relax their old ways and embrace the new. As Dowden says: “… data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.”

Permanent link to this article:

AEC Tech TV goes live

AECTech.TVThe first episode of AEC Tech TV went live on 3 September 2020. The construction technology video magazine show is co-presented by Extranet Evolution editor Paul Wilkinson and Aarni Heiskanen of Finland-based AEC Business (see Covering the contech space: AECTech.TV).

AEC Tech TV episode 1

Topics covered in the first show included contributions from Europe, the United States and Australasia:

  • immersive collaborative virtual reality (VR)
  • the UK IET report “Good Data for the Common Good” (EE post)
  • Building information modelling (BIM) for FM
  • the challenges of running a virtual AEC Hackathon, and
  •, an Austrian BIM technology startup.

Aarni Heiskanen, co-presenter of AECTech.TVAudience reaction to the first show has been positive, and a stream of contribution enquiries has started to flow. Heiskanen, right, says he has already recorded two items for the second episode with further recordings scheduled ahead of the next release: on 10 September 2020.

“This is a new venture and we learned a lot in creating the first show,” Wilkinson says. “There were a few rough edges, but we aim to get more polished as we expand our knowledge and work with new contributors on existing and new content slots.”


AEC Tech TV is a weekly online show that features people and companies that envision, develop, and implement transformative digital technologies for the built environment. Each recorded show is also available via the AEC TechTV YouTube channel for online viewing 24/7 – where viewers can also quickly shift to the segment(s) that interest them most.

To share your experiences, insights, and ideas on the show, email to learn how you can contribute.

Update (11 September 2020)

AEC Tech TV episode 2

The second show includes items on:

  • International BIM standards and the UK BIM Framework
  • A Loughborough University research report on COVID-19 and construction
  • Paul Doherty talking about COVID-19
  • The RIB Nordic Connex BIM mobile viewer application (EE post)
  • A view on blockchain from Digibuild
  • Plans for a virtual hackathon run by Garage48 in Estonia

Permanent link to this article:

Norway’s Fonn attracts $3m, targets UK and US

Fonn, a Norwegian sofware startup raises $3m to help fund its continued expansion in US, UK and European housebuilding markets.

Fonn ConstructionNorwegian construction SaaS software startup Fonn has announced a US$3m (c. €2.5m or £2.25m) funding round led by Oslo-based venture capital firm Idekapital. Aidiom, Investinor, Skagerak Maturo and Oxer Kapital were co-investors in the business, which is based south of Bergen. It aims to “reinvent project management for construction” globally.

Fonn foundations

Fonn Construction was founded in 2016 by Jan Tore Grindheim after he had first-hand experience of poor communications, lack of documentation and inefficiency when he commissioned his own house. Looking to improve collaboration and information sharing among the various subcontractors involved, he created Fonn Construction. The prototype application was developed with support from his brother (chairman of Lean Construction Norway) and from a friend with a PhD in information technology and user experience. Backed by some investment from Innovation Norway, their initial focus was “What does the site worker actually need to get his job right?

Fonn's GrindheimThe business was launched commercially in 2018, aiming to provide site workers with an intuitive and easy to use solution that could be accessed via the web and on mobile devices (iOS and Android). It puts the latest information literally at the fingertips of site-based personnel, while providing a hub for managing communications. In less than two years, Fonn Construction was reported to have signed up over 50% of major home builders in Norway. Subcontractors started using the system for refurbishments and small projects,  and larger commercial contractors embraced the mobile and user-friendly tool on their sites. Grindheim, right, says: the firm’s success “is based on Norwegian principles of quality, and an extreme focus on user-friendliness in an industry that is lagging in digitalization.”

In 2019, a seed-funding round helped the company to grow further, and to expand into other, larger markets outside Norway. Extranet Evolution understands it has a three-strong team in the UK (including former BuilderStorm CEO David Lawrence; post) and four people in the United States. In total, the company now has over 20 FTE staff – 10 in Norway, plus some developers and support staff in Spain and Poland.

Fonn fundraising

Fonn devicesFonn was previously supported by Innovation Norway and Connect Norway and financed by investors from BAN Bergen. This has helped it grow in the UK and US to the point that around 80% of Fonn’s new sales come from these markets. Investment manager Frida Rustøen explained why Idekapital led the latest fund-raising round:

“We have been following the construction industry for a while and have met with several software companies aiming to improve project management in the space. We’ve worked closely with the management team for months, we have tested the solution, and talked with many industry players. We were amazed by the satisfaction level of their users! Fonn has made wise choices for their product by focusing on usability, and our impression is that Fonn has the best solution available. We were instantly impressed by the professional and go-getter team and the growth they have proven over the past few years.”

Jon Øyvind Eriksen, CEO of Aidiom, said: “We invested in Fonn because digitalization of the trillion USD housing sector represents a huge market opportunity. The value added from the construction sector contributes to 4% of the US GDP in 2019. Applying software to improve productivity, Fonn is positioned to become a leading platform for the residential construction industry.” Fonn says around 85% of US home builders are not using any project management software.

International growth

Fonn - Daniel SkotheimThe company’s chief sales and marketing officer Daniel Skotheim says:

“With the new capital, we intend to triple our recurring revenue over the next 12-18 months. We will continue our international growth, and at the same time strengthen our position in the Nordics.”

EE has covered other Nordic startups targeting the housebuilding sector, including Finland’s SME application HomeRun, the quality and safety management tool Congrid, and project management app Derigo (post). Skotheim, right, continues:

“Fonn is well placed to be a success in both the US and the UK for a number of reasons. The product is well-designed, easy to use and accessible to a wide range of companies – with an excellent feature set for the SME market – a market that has often been overlooked. Immediately finding a product-market-fit, we have already scaled our international presence in the US and the UK. Focus now is to further strengthen these teams with new resources.”

Market positioning

In the UK, the company featured in a recent Construction News report about the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously mentioned, the feature said technology has “proved key in the crisis,” citing use of generic video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Teams as well as industry-specific tools such as Fonn, Autodesk’s Plangrid, and Procore. UK-based Lawrence believes Fonn will be competing against tools like BuilderStorm, BuilderTrend and LetsBuild (post), saying the UK  SME construction market is still a large and hitherto largely untapped marketplace.

Small builders and subcontractors, however, are increasingly targeted with a range of different solutions. Earlier this year, for example, EE covered the London launch of Buildiro, and, in May 2019, the Snaffle mobile app – both enabling tools and materials purchasing by tradespeople. And EE recently reported the August 2020 launch of Skrap – a construction hire marketplace connecting construction businesses with on-demand skip and construction hire-related services.

Fonn’s pricing is based on the size of the customer company, and once implemented includes unlimited projects, unlimited users, and unlimited storage at no extra cost. For small businesses with revenues under US$2m, the subscription is US$149 per calendar month.

Permanent link to this article:

NBS Chorus, Uniclass and CDEs

Formerly part of RIBA, NBS is positioning itself to be a ‘common data environment’ technology provider, with NBS Chorus building on its Uniclass and BIM toolkit data heritage. 

Until June 2018 a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIBA Enterprises, Newcastle, UK-based NBS has been actively involved in electronic publishing and then software projects since the 1990s.

Initially, it extended its conventional ‘National Building Specification’ publishing activities to produce electronic resources for architects and other designers and specifiers. In parallel, it was also commissioned in 1997 to develop a classification system, Uniclass. This helps industry professionals find different types of related information defined by their subject matter.

Uniclass 2015 back story

CPIC Product Information guideThe Uniclass story dates back to the 1980s. Then several UK professional bodies (RIBA, RICS, BEC and ACE, representing CIBSE and ICE) established the Building Project Information Committee. (This was later renamed the Construction Project Information Committee (CPIC), and included the CIOB, CIAT, UK Contractors Group and the Landscape Institute.) It was formed to produce guidance on efficient preparation of project specifications and production drawings. In 1987, the Committee produced codes of procedure for building works covering project specification and production drawings, plus guidance on a Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) for Building Works, and a guide to Co-ordinated Project Information. These codes and guides created principles since used in the production of other industry guidance. Examples include the National Building Specification and some of the building blocks of UK and international BIM standards.

Uniclass was a logical extension of this guidance work, intended to organise library materials and to structure product literature and project information. “It works like the Dewey decimal classification system used in libraries, ” NBS chief strategy officer Richard Waterhouse told Extranet Evolution. “Specifiers can find related or alternative product types. It can also help designers who are looking for products that satisfy particular performance requirements. It’s also valuable for contractors and facility managers when they need to explore product variants.”

As industry professionals started to digitise their tasks, Uniclass incorporated CAWS and an electronic system for structured product data and product literature, EPIC (Electronic Product Information Co-operation). The first Uniclass editions emerged in 1997 but were essentially paper-based systems, and were heavily criticised for inconsistencies between the labelling and depth of tables, and for poor coverage of civil engineering works. Uniclass 2 was released in 2013, and then superseded in 2015 by Uniclass 2015.

BIM standards

Uniclass 2015 is kept under review and updated quarterly under NBS’s stewardship, Waterhouse says. “Improvements are constantly being identified – recently, people from the HS2 project and BIM4Water initiative have suggested helpful changes, for example.” Uniclass 2015 is also being mapped to other industry tools including SFG20 (the Building Engineering Services Association’s standard for planned maintenance) set to be published shortly – and RICS’s international construction measurement standards. “Partly as a result, Uniclass 2015 has not just been adopted in the UK, but in countries including Australia and Canada,” says Waterhouse.

The CPIC standards development work also led, through the Avanti initiative, to production of industry guidance on document and drawing naming and numbering conventions. To support efficient information exchange and so facilitate collaboration, it was agreed project teams needed common methods and protocols to communicate information (including how information might be managed via SaaS-based collaboration platforms – see Avanti reality check for extranets, September 2005). The outcome, eventually (and despite some scepticism – see EatYourCad Babbage Award goes to … Avanti, December 2006), was BS 1192:2007. This British standard was quickly supported technologically by several of the UK extranet vendors, and became one of the foundations of the UK’s BIM Level 2 requirements.

BIM toolkit

In parallel, NBS was also extending its work on product data to develop a BIM object source, the NBS National BIM Library (rivals included BIMStore, SpecifiedBy, Sweden’s BIMObject, and Cobuilder’s GoBIM from Norway, among others), launched in 2011. NBS was also part of a consortium commissioned in 2014 to develop a “BIM toolkit“, creating two building blocks of Level 2: the digital Plan of Works (dPOW) and a classification system for construction objects (see Why the UK BIM toolkit is a key building block, October 2014). NBS was also one of the technology vendors in the UK BIM Task Group’s BIM Technologies Alliance (a predecessor of the UK BIM Alliance‘s Technology Group* – of which NBS recently became a member).

Richard WaterhouseAt the time of the ‘BIM Toolkit’, Waterhouse said the dPOW would become an important resource to help technology vendors, particularly providers of SaaS construction collaboration platforms. It would provide a ‘common data environment’ to support sharing of structured data across a project. Classification development would see Uniclass 2 clarified, reworked and extended to ensure comprehensive and international coverage of all professions’ needs across all disciplines, including infrastructure projects, he continued.

NBS was set to be the ‘guardian’ of the BIM toolkit, using the expertise and experience gained in creating toolkit elements to offer other value-added products or services. It aimed to ensure the ‘toolkit’ would remain freely available to UK construction. Six years later, Waterhouse says NBS remains committed to supporting the toolkit, not least to ensure it fits with the growing suite of ISO 19650 standards and related guidance in the UK BIM Framework.

NBS Chorus and ‘CDE 3.0’

NBS Chorus devicesAugust 2020 marks two years since the launch of the NBS Chorus Software-as-a-Service application – NBS’s first cloud-based platform – incorporating specification, classification and BIM standards. This is one of  the “value-added products or services” developed through application of NBS’s accumulated knowledge, and, in Waterhouse’s view, Chorus can effectively perform as a ‘common data environment‘.

We are starting to see the move to ‘CDE 3.0’ – from documents to data. This is being driven by both technology and by regulatory requirements (including provisions to support Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Golden Thread of Building Information’, now included in the draft Building Safety Bill). It is important, though, to recognise that CDEs are not a single system solution – no more than you could ‘buy BIM in a box’ – but are about linked and dynamic data with the ability to record and compare versions of datasets.”

Waterhouse believes NBS has a suite of cloud based applications that can evolve to be this new view of the CDE:

“The BIM Toolkit can set the project requirements and identify roles / responsibilities and outputs at each stage of the project. Then NBS Chorus refines these requirements through the decision-making process, linked to the geometry models, product data (in NBS Source) and standards / regulatory data.”

Persistent product data

He continues:

NBS Richard Waterhouse“Product data is consistent in geometric (object) and data formats. It has unique IDs for products and includes links to data sheets, catalogues, etc for future reference. NBS Chorus can already function as a collaboration platform, with multiple parties given tiered levels of access. As well as design and construction team members, manufacturers and specialist contractors can be invited to write and record details of their products and systems. This improves accuracy and data capture when particular products and systems are known to be used.

“Critically, persistent product data can be maintained for the operational phase of the building, when products and systems must be maintained or replaced. This ensures that any new products at least meet the original design performance requirements. The persistent data is also critical to maintaining consistent data over time. We maintain versions of the product data so that, in the future, users can refer back to the original documentation.

“Over time, we will see the concept of ‘documents’ moving to be ‘model’ or ‘data’ views, each recorded at a date and time. NBS has already reshaped the integration between the geometry model and specification / product data in the UK, and this is also interesting customers in international markets. There is a logical extension to this integration with many of the process and audit-trail requirements of a ‘CDE’ (as we currently use the term).”

[* Disclosure: I am chair of the UK BIM Alliance’s Technology Group and a member of the Alliance executive team.]

Permanent link to this article:

Engineers seek ‘Good data for the public good’

In ‘ Good Data for the Public Good”, the Institution of Engineering and Technology has called for AEC software vendors to adopt a more open approach to data in the 21st century.

The UK-based Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) paper, Good Data for the Public Good (downloadable here) has been written by members of Autodesk’s EMEA Engineering Executive Council, and calls for software vendors to help their customers and end-users of data to support whole life working.

Good Data for the Public Good“To deliver operational benefits for owners, operators, occupants and users of built assets throughout their whole life, we need data that’s perpetually accessible while also being securely managed. Simultaneously, to deliver wider social, economic and environmental benefits, we also need data to be open. This doesn’t mean free; the openness of data is about its interoperability and ease of distribution.

“These aspirations inevitably challenge existing industry practices and some entrenched commercial positions. As industry practice has begun to shift from document sharing to data sharing, the role of established technology providers may also need to change. Today’s architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) software providers will need to review how they might best capitalise on the rapidly changing nature of built environment data in the 21st century.

Good data for the public good

Data for the Public GoodThe paper’s title is a conscious expansion on the UK National Infrastructure Commission’s November 2017 report’s title Data for the Public Good. That set out a roadmap towards a ‘national digital twin’ for the UK’s national infrastructure enabled by secure sharing of high quality, standardised data. The Centre for Digital Built Britain’s Gemini Principles followed a year later, expanding industry discussion about connected data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc (read EE February 2019 post AI, Machine Learning, construction and bots), including an article by one of the IET report authors – Neil Thompson of Atkins – in Building magazine.

The report’s other authors – Marius Jablonskis, Cathrine Morch, Joop Paul, Andrew Victory and Alain Waha – are also drawn from prominent European engineering firms active in the built environment: Norconsult, Sweco, Arup, Arcadis and Buro Happold, respectively.* In their executive summary, they say:

“To deliver operational benefits for owners, operators, occupants and users of built assets, we need data to be:
– Maintained obligatorily throughout their whole life,
– Aligning asset and asset data ownership, and
– Perpetually accessible while also being securely managed.
Simultaneously, to deliver wider social, economic and environmental benefits, we also need data to be:
– Mutualised: to be open, connected and easily shareable, and
– Long term accessible.
To achieve this, stakeholders in the built environment will have to reconsider their strategic choices, especially software providers that may overhaul their current technology business models.”

Breaking down proprietary data silos

Particularly in its section about delivering societal benefits, the report highlights how data silos – between disciplines, and between proprietary software applications, including BIM tools – have hampered effective collaboration and data sharing. It cites internet and web standards as classic examples of how open approaches can foster efficient communication and data exchange, but says standardised AEC data approaches are still in their infancy. “The long-term aspiration has to be an open digital twin model architecture rather than proprietary data scheme solutions.

On long-term data accessibility, the report continues:

“Built asset and related business operation data, therefore, needs to be collected and stored in a form that ensures it remains securely accessible by asset owners and their partners over the long-term – resiliently and reliably outliving changes in hardware, storage media, software and operating systems.”

How might software vendors evolve?

The report discusses different scenarios about how asset owner-operators, the AEC industry and especially its software providers might need to adapt.

1. Tool-maker – do software providers want to remain focused on helping industry professionals create and combine design inputs?
2. Market/integrator – should software providers be the technology platforms used by teams to integrate design inputs into built asset outcomes?
3. Data holder/broker – could software providers become the ‘digital twin’ hosting hub, connecting, aggregating and delivering whole life data about built assets?
4. Technology hub – could software providers be a GitHub, a place to manage public and private repositories of built environment and data software?

The authors wonder if vendors might need to shift from their current positions:

1. Status quo – do software providers remain a strong defender of its proprietary data format, viewing this as centre of a life-cycle platform to which others can contribute?
2. Visionary – do software providers become an advocate of open data formats, backing database management systems (DBMS) research, and making all products fully Industry Foundation Classes (IFC)-compatible?
3. Evolutionary – do software providers adopt an ‘inbetween’ option, reluctantly bending to external pressure to be more open?

The report finishes by suggesting Autodesk might need to overhaul its business model;

autodesk logo“AEC software providers like Autodesk are uniquely placed to influence how operational outcomes can be enhanced through innovative use of applications and data. However, in an increasingly globalised and connected world that faces major urban, social, economic and environmental challenges, late 20th century technology business models may need to be overhauled.”

An Extranet Evolution perspective

The IET report is a timely contribution to industry conversations about interoperability, the future of data, digitalisation and whole life approaches to built asset information. As previously mentioned (28 July post),  recommendations from the CDBB’s BIM Interoperability Expert Group (read the BIEG final report here) received widespread approval following consultation across the sector. And a series of workstreams  have since been instigated by CDBB to implement the BIEG report recommendations.**

The IET document is also timely for its discussion of 21st century software business models. A growing number architects’ firms have publicly expressed their unrest about Autodesk about the costs of Revit software, its lack of development, and its poor support for interoperability (see More designer unrest about Autodesk). This started as a UK-led protest, but it has gathered momentum across Europe and led to revelations about similar disquiet among architects in Australasia and South Africa. The IET paper does not mention Revit directly, though it does touch on software issues (saying  BIM “effectiveness is hampered by silo mentalities, poor interoperability and variable support for open data models”). However, the report is a sign that some of Autodesk’s most prominent EMEA engineering customers also feel that the vendor might need to change its data philosophy and so help engineers to deliver long-term data for the public good.

* I provided some technical author support to the Autodesk EXC group working on early drafts of the document.
** Representing the UK BIM Alliance’s Technology Group, I am supporting a CDBB BIEG workstream looking at the “AIM CDE”.

Permanent link to this article:

Skrap: automating construction hire

Self-proclaimed skip hire disruptor, London’s Skrap has raised £1.2m and plans expansion to cover other construction hire needs.

Skrap logoSkrap, a London-based startup, has raised £1.2m in seed funding as it sets out to transform how everything is hired in the construction industry by making it available on-demand. It claims a reputation as a ‘skip hire disruptor’ and plans to innovate in other parts of the industry including concrete, portaloos, and machinery.

Founded in 2017, Skrap is a construction hire marketplace connecting construction businesses with on-demand skip and construction hire-related services. The entire process is managed via a mobile app (Apple iOS or Android).

Skrap teamFounders Marwan Field, Hussain Hilli and Ahmed Rao experienced problems while running a construction business. Logistics were unorganised and fragmented; prices were asymmetric, and the marketplace of suppliers and brokers were doing everything manually.

Skrap was founded with a vision of allowing SME builders to order any construction hire service at the click of a button. Skrap says its 25-strong team is building the world’s first app dedicated to automating construction hire. It has been trialled with 100s of suppliers across London, Manchester and Birmingham to complete over 10,000 deliveries to 1000s of construction companies, large and small. Skrap aims to automate entire construction hire supply chains across major cities globally over the coming years.

According to Skrap, almost 100m tonnes of construction waste is collected in the UK annually. Construction businesses spend £5bn in collecting this waste, and a further £15bn on other hire services.

Skrap’s funding round

The fundraise was led by Vanneck Investments, with participation from a host of entrepreneurs and angels investors including Charles Songhurst, Eamon Jubbawy (Onfido), Anil Stocker (MarketFinance), Paul Huntingdon (ARM), Adrian Beecroft, Dennis Stevenson, Peter Brodnicki (MAB), Jay Radia (Yieldify, Reachdesk), and James Hind (Carwow).

Skrap graphicHussain Hilli, co-founder at Skrap commented:

“We’re thrilled to have some amazing investors on board and look forward to leaning on their expertise as we broaden the horizons for Skrap. Our team has huge ambitions to scale across the UK and globally. Having laid the foundations in skip hire, we are fast expanding in all construction hire verticals. Skrap is making its mark in industry by introducing the first mobile app that makes it simple and convenient for construction companies to access resources they need.”

The UK construction hire industry is a £20bn market, yet it is poorly served with services not fit-for-purpose in a digital age. Skrap is well positioned to bring innovative solutions to help transform the industry and make it one beacon of industry once again”.

SME appeal

This is the latest in a long series of occasional Extranet Evolution posts looking at SME-oriented solutions in construction. Earlier this year, for example, EE covered the London launch of Buildiro, and, in May 2019, the Snaffle mobile app – both enabling tools and materials purchasing by tradespeople.

Most construction markets are fragmented and heavily dependent upon small and medium-sized businesses. Other solutions aimed at small builders include Australia’s Tenderfield, and SmallBuilders, the UK’s BuilderStorm, California’s eSUB and Corecon, and New Zealand’s TidyBuild,

Corecon logoLast month (July 2020), Corecon announced a new mobile application geared specifically for construction field staff who often travel between office and jobsite. As it uses the same APIs used by Corecon’s browser solution, information can be entered in either solution, eliminating the need for data synchronisation across devices.

Permanent link to this article:

Permanent link to this article:

Covering the contech space: AECTech.TV

AECExtranet Evolution is collaborating with Finland-based AEC Business to launch a new video magazine focused on the construction technology sector: AECTech.TV.

Paul Wilkinson and Aarni Haiskanen have collaborated in the past on podcast projects. The duo are now compiling an initial series of weekly magazine programmes. They aim to cover the game-changing technologies and trailblazing companies which are redefining the future of architecture, engineering and construction.


Aarni HeiskanenHaiskanen, right, says AECTech.TV will be a video channel that’s on the pulse of the digital transformation:

“Technologies evolve much faster than our capacity to make use of them. Will technology make or break your AEC business? It is more important than ever to know where technology is headed and what opportunities it creates for new and existing businesses. So this is the perfect time to critically rethink how you operate and make money in the built environment sector.”

Wilkinson says

“I have collaborated on an increasing number of podcasts, webinars and videos in the past couple of years. Like most people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen growing use of video tools as people work from home. So, AECTech.TV aims to capitalise upon that new willingness to use do-it-yourself, low-cost audio-visual technologies. We want people talking about their businesses, their projects or their key issues. AECTech.TV is a magazine-style programme where contributors can voice opinions, share case studies, talk about their startups, or walk us through their projects or even their offices.

AECTech.TV is a weekly online show that features people and companies that envision, develop, and implement transformative technologies. The first edition is scheduled for release at 4pm BST on Thursday 3 September 2020, but each recorded show will also be available via the AECTech.TV YouTube channel for online viewing 24/7.

To share your experiences, insights, and ideas on the show, email to learn how you can contribute.

Permanent link to this article:

Load more