Sep 27 2016

Finalcad raises €20m Series B funding

Finalcad logoShowing once again that there is a lot of investor interest in mobile-oriented construction collaboration platforms, Paris-based Finalcad has announced that is has secured €20m (US$22.4m or £17.25m) Series B funding to help finance its international development ambitions.

Finalcad on iPadFinalCad was established in France in 2011 and started to grew domestically following adoption by several major clients, including contractors Vinci and Bouygues, before beginning to spread its net overseas after getting a €2.1m (c. £1.5m) investment from Serena Capital in June 2014 (read my July 2015 post). I met up with two of the Finalcad team again in March 2016, when I was briefed about their defects reporting data, and about the platform’s growing building information modelling (BIM) related capabilities.

This latest funding round was led by existing investor Serena Capital, alongside Caphorn Invest and Aster Capital. Finalcad says the investment will fuel international business growth, expansion into new sectors and advanced research and development (including smart data analytics, artificial intelligence for object recognition, augmented reality linked to BIM models, digitisation of lean construction processes, and open API interoperability).

Jimmy LouchartJimmy Louchart, co-founder and CEO (right), says: “With this new round of funding, Finalcad is poised to scale for … growing demand happening within a growing global market.

Finalcad has been used to deliver more than 10,000 projects in 30 countries, with over 20 million jobsite observations and nearly 10 million photos. The platform is used by global contractors such as Bouygues, Daewoo Engineering & Construction, Eiffage, Fujita Corporation, Shimizu Corporation, Takenaka Corporation and VINCI, infrastructure operators like RATP Group, architects, and owners such as Capitaland and Swire Properties.

Finalcad is benefitting from positive international investment sentiment previously displayed with US funding rounds for FieldLens (US$8m in May 2014) and Plangrid (which raised US$18m in June 2015), alongside more modest investments in businesses such as Canada’s Bridgit (US$1.7m in April 2016) and Denmark’s GenieBelt (which announced a €2m investment earlier this month). At a different scale and stage, investors were also very supportive of the Au$120m share placement that funded Aconex’s Conject acquisition in March 2016.

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Sep 27 2016

think project! targets Spain in JV with ProjectCenter

Thinkproject-logoMunich, Germany-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor think project! has established a joint venture with Madrid-based ProjectCenter to target customers in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. According to a think project! news release, it will hold a majority stake in think project! Iberia.

ProjectCenter back story

ProjectCenter-logoAs previously described (March 2013 post), ProjectCenter started life in the late 1990s as one of a suite of products developed by Bricsnet, which eventually became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spain’s Torimbia group in 2010. Bricsnet’s FM or IWMS interests were then acquired by Manhattan, with ProjectCenter becoming the principal brand of a company mainly operating in the Iberian peninsula, plus parts of north Africa and south America. When I talked to the business three years ago, Cristina Niculescu said it had projects across 40 countries.

Today, think project! says ProjectCenter customers include Acciona, Bouygues, Enel Group, IKEA, Mercadona, Neinor Homes, TecnicasReunidas, URS-Aecom and Valoriza, with projects in Spain and overseas.


Think project! Iberia amalgamates the previous Spanish think project! office and ProjectCenter. The joint venture will be led by Iván de la Guía Prados (formerly think project! in Spain) and Cristina Niculescu (formerly ProjectCenter). The news release says the joint venture represents “yet another robust entity within the context of the international expansion strategy of think project!. It will also underline the continued development of the company’s market-leading position in Europe.” (The company also recently announced the opening of a research and development centre in Poland). Hans-Jörg Klingelhöfer, head of international markets at think project! says:

“We see Spain as one of our core markets, in which we’ve been successfully engaged since 2006. The presence of strong and internationally-active general contractors, engineering companies and consultants, as well as private and public asset owners, makes Spain a market with great development potential for think project!. In addition, we plan Madrid as our hub for opening up the Latin-American market.

Iván de la Guía Prados, managing director account management of think project! Iberia, explains:

“We are significantly increasing our market presence within the Spanish market thanks to this joint venture with ProjectCenter. It will enable us to pool the mutual experience and operations of our Spanish and international project businesses to contribute together towards the growth of the think project! Group.”

Cristina Niculescu, managing director technical account management of think project! Iberia adds:

We are very excited about this alliance and delighted to join the think project! Group. It is a great opportunity to expand our market and the reach of our services by offering world class cross-enterprise collaboration and delivering technical innovations in the construction and engineering industries.”

Competitive view

The think project! announcement is a timely reminder that Aconex still faces strong competition in the mainland European SaaS construction collaboration market despite its acquisition of think project!’s Munich-based Anglo/German rival Conject earlier this year (post) – a deal which helped boost Aconex’s EMEA earnings (post). The think project!/ProjectCenter JV also marks another step forward in the rationalisation of the SaaS collaboration market in Europe.

Think project!, which achieved revenue growth of 33% to €25.4m (c. £19.8m or US$28.4m) in the year to 31 December 2015 (post), has a strong position in its central European homelands of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and has been expanding its reach into neighbouring countries. Just over a year ago, it acquired 60% of France’s SaaS PLM specialist Lascom (post); in June it acquired its Austrian sales partner (post), and earlier this month it opened a new Polish development base in Szeszin.

RIB software logoAlso based in Germany, in Stuttgart, is RIB Software. In 2015 (according to its annual report, PDF), it generated €12m in SaaS revenues, up from €8.7m in 2014 (a significant proportion of this growth was due to the full-year contribution of its 2014 acquisition of Docia/Byggeweb); it has grown its SaaS revenues largely through acquisitions – Australia’s ProjectCentre in 2012 and Denmark’s Docia in July 2014. In July 2015, RIB also acquired a Spanish software business, Soft SA, which it saw as a stepping stone to establishing itself in Spanish-speaking markets.

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Sep 26 2016

BuildBinder CIMS

buildbinder logoWatching the US Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration space, I recently discovered another startup – San Francisco, California-based BuildBinder – targeting the construction project management sector. (Despite the similarity of names, I don’t think it has any connection to another Californian business, close-out documentation specialist Combinder, which I covered in April 2016; I have also written a few times about Australian QA Software’s Teambinder.)

BuildBinder was the idea of Mexican architect Oscar Núñez who identified various painpoints experienced by construction stakeholders, and, deciding that a SaaS application could alleviate these, he assembled a team of engineers and programmers to create a cloud-based construction information management system (CIMS). His brother Luis Núñez was another co-founder, alongside engineer Miguel de los Rios, in 2011. The product was initially called NK ProjectDesk (NK Construction & Services Group was Oscar Núñez’s Chihuahua-based company) but was rebranded to BuildBinder in 2014, and officially launched in December 2015, with hosting and some promotional support from Microsoft Azure (news release). Oscar Núñez said:

“With 30 years of experience in the construction industry and over 100 projects managed through BuildBinder, our new generation CIMS allows our clients to run their projects more efficiently and lower the risk they face. Using BuildBinder, our clients have reduced their total overrun cost and waste by 75% or more.”

The company says its CIMS combines project lifecycle management, business intelligence, Big Data and mobile collaboration in one platform, allowing builders, developers and their clients to efficiently manage multiple construction projects. As well as via standard browsers, BuildBinder can also be accessed via iOS, Android and Windows apps. Users can upload and share PDFs, AutoCAD files, Microsoft Project files, smartphone photos, blueprints, Excel files, etc, and can communicate with other users via SMS, email or an in-app chat tool. Dashboard views help users keep abreast of different phases of projects (bids, pre-construction, construction, close-out) or monitor particular activities (contracts, submittals, payments).

Starter pricing starts from US$250 per month for up to five collaborating users (“Read-only users are completely free”), while multi-project deals for unlimited collaborators start from US$3000 per month for 10-20 projects.

BuildBinder has entered a competitive market – even just in its US home state. California is already home to EADOC, expanding since its acquisition by Bentley Systems in March 2015, Corecon (post), SkySite (post), Procore (post), and the well-funded Plangrid, now being courted by collaborators such as Newforma (post), while the global SaaS construction market leader Aconex has its US head office in the state.


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Sep 20 2016

Kykloud wins major English schools survey project

Mobile Software-as-a-Service asset management application vendor Kykloud has secured one of the largest asset data collection projects in the UK.

kykloud-logoThe firm’s solution is to be used by teams of surveyors who, over the next three years, will be reviewing the condition of around 80,000 buildings in 22,000 state-funded schools across England as part of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) Condition Data Collection (CDC) Programme. The detailed data will be used by the EFA to target condition funding for schools during the next three to five years.

This project follows the 2011 James Review of Education Capital which recommended independent condition surveys on a rolling 20% sample of the school estate, repeating this to develop a full picture of the estate’s condition in five years and thereafter. The Property Data Survey Programme (PDSP) surveyed the building condition of the school estate in England from 2012-2014, resulting in an investment of more than £17bn in the education estate in England.

The CDC Programme is planned to start in the late autumn 2016, and will help the DfE and EFA to better target funding where it is needed in the future.

Kykloud CEO Edwin Bartlett said:

Ed Bartlett“This is one of the most innovative and largest projects of its kind in the UK.

Kykloud’s condition assessment and asset management technology will give the EFA the knowledge, tools and accurate data they require to make informed decisions about maintenance and capital spend for years to come. Kykloud is already used across a number of large scale projects both in the commercial and public sector but the sheer scale of this project and the impact it will have on determining future spend across the state-funded education estate makes this something we are certainly proud to be part of.”

Kykloud growth

Launched in January 2012, Kykloud was founded by Bartlett and former 4Projects (now part of Viewpoint) CTO Nick Graham. Since then the North Shields-based team has expanded to around 25 people, Bartlett told me earlier this month, with the business expecting to generate £5m in revenues in 2017-2018.

Initially, the company’s customers were predominantly (90%) surveyors and engineers (in 2013, the firm launched the first RICS-approved mobile survey templates) but the customer base has now diversified to the extent that these now make up just 30%. “Owner/operators are our biggest sector,” said Bartlett. “Kykloud customers include universities, local authorities and retailers, and we are also winning a growing volume of work from investors and funders of PFI-type and corporate real estate projects.” A property management inspection for Network Rail is just one of Kykloud’s recent projects.

The core Kykloud software suite comprises three main components:  mobile building surveying data collection, web-based asset management data storage, and desktop reporting. Bartlett said recent software development, driven by user feedback, had largely focused on the user interface, with improved tools for data validation and quality control. “A retailer customer, for example, has customised Kykloud to meet its asset needs, helping them verify expenditure on repair and maintenance to priority items such as lifts or HVAC equipment, and linking the surveys to data from their price books so that they can quickly assess replacement costs.”

Interestingly, given Nick Graham’s 4Projects background, a document management component now also forms part of the Kykloud application suite.

The EFA project, however, is a major coup for Kykloud, says Bartlett. “We were up against some serious international competition, and we were eventually chosen to replace Tribal’s K2 asset management system.” In a global real estate market worth US$10 trillion per annum and which spends 1% – c US$100 billion – on asset repair and maintenance, he thinks Kykloud, which opened an Australian office in 2014 and plans to operate in the US later this year, is beginning to make some serious waves in the asset management software market.

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Sep 19 2016

Atmotube: air pollution monitor

atmotube-logoAtmotube puts air pollution monitoring in your hands, and enables users to share readings in real-time and via social media.

Earlier this year, I participated in a COMIT community day workshop which asked us to think about ways in which air quality might be monitored for construction workers in tunnels. As a cyclist and someone employed at various civil engineering consultancies (Halcrow and then Tarmac Professional Services subsidiary Stanger Science and Environment), I have long held an interest in air quality issues, and that has been heightened in recent years by living close to the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach – notorious for creating occasional pockets of poor air quality in south-east London (my children attended a primary school less than 50m from the northbound carriageway, prone to long queues of stationary traffic in the morning rush-hour).

In 2012, I participated in a Kickstarter campaign and took delivery of an Air Quality Egg set – but this proved difficult to set up, left wires dangling between devices, and while it could share air quality readings to the web it needed a permanent IP connection, and when a firmware update required me to ship the kit back to the USA, I gave up on it.

However, earlier this year, I participated in another crowd-funded campaign, this time on IndieGoGo, to support Atmotube, a wireless personal air pollution monitoring device that connects via Bluetooth to a mobile phone. After a few months of updates from the Atmotube team my device was delivered just over a month ago (with my investor discount, it cost me $69 plus shipping), and within a couple of hours I was capturing and sharing air quality scores from my office and other locations.

Atmotube website clipAtmotube MapOnce charged up via a USB connection, the device can take readings every second, monitoring carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants, while also measuring humidy and temperature. To access these measurements, a free app is available (iOS and Android), and my Samsung smartphone was soon giving me a steady flow of readings, all geo-located thanks to GPS. These readings can also be shared with other users of the app via a simple map interface, and – even better for a social media addict – the readings can also be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Swarm (though the latter is a bit clunky – mainly because the main sharing is via FourSquare, not Swarm). The readings can also be exported to Excel, but I have mainly been using the app’s dashboard and reporting tools (I can, for example, view results for the past hour, past day, or past week).

Atmotube app screenshotThe device is about the size of a cigarette lighter, with the casing made of titanium – making it hard-wearing and good to look at (I’ve gone for the standard metal finish, but coloured options are also available!) – and it can be easily attached to a bag or keyring. I have used it to check air quality close to busy roads, in trains (both overground and on the London underground), as a car and bus passenger, and in various offices and meeting places, and, so far, I don’t appear to have been exposed to any particularly poor air quality. As the summary (right) shows, most of my air quality scores have been in the 80s and 90s – though my son managed to get it to read in the 50s and 60s by the simple tactic of exhaling hard into the mesh at the top of the tube! (As Atmotube can also trigger air pollution alerts, my son’s action set off an audible and vibrated notification on my smartphone.)

I talked about Atmotube at the September 2016 COMIT community day and suggested such devices could be invaluable as a simple, user-friendly way for workers to monitor air quality around them both on-site and inside buildings. Typically, we take around 20,000 breaths a day, so Atmotube potentially provides greater awareness of what we are breathing in. In society at large, it could be helpful to asthmatics and those suffering from other lung conditions, as well as helping parents of young children and the elderly.

Atmotube for AEC use

In the built environment, it might also help alert us to malfunctioning air conditioning or heating, or to leaks of gases, etc. I am not sure if the current devices can be networked together (at least not yet), but such personal climate monitoring tools (maybe adapted for construction site use) might potentially help provide facilities, HR or Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) managers with constant updates from employee users about their working conditions, offering more location-specific data – and also data from internal spaces – than is often captured from conventional weather monitoring services.

I have looked at several mobile data-capture tools (Kykloud, GoReport, TIM, SnagR, iSnag, FinalCad, etc) used by surveyors, engineers and others involved in inspection and monitoring to record on-site text and imagery (photos and video including sound). Perhaps devices such as Atmotube could be added to the inspector’s armory, allowing them to take real-time air quality readings, making their surveys even more comprehensive and detailed?

[This is a slightly edited and expanded version of a blog post first published on my pwcom blog.]

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Sep 16 2016

Geniebelt raises €2m funding

TechCrunch reports that Copenhagen, Denmark-based construction Software-as-a-Service vendor GenieBelt has secured €2 million in new investment to ramp up marketing for its platform.

GenieBelt logoTechCrunch says the round was led by Danish Solar A/S, a publicly listed European sourcing and services company operating within the electrical, heating and plumbing, and ventilation technology sectors. GenieBelt chairman Klaus Nyengaard, formerly CEO of Just Eat, also participated in the round (which follows previous rounds in November 2013 and February 2015). Echoing this week’s KPMG report (previous post), he said:

“Construction is huge (one of the biggest industries in the world, around 8 per cent of GDP) and one of those suffering the most from problems in terms of quality, cost over-runs, and customer dissatisfaction. At the same time it is the big industry that invests the least in technology. There is probably a link here”.

Back story

GenieBelt Mobile ViewI have been watching GenieBelt since its foundation in 2013 [Disclosure: I have also undertaken some consultancy work for the company], and have welcomed its simple-to-start-and-use mobile-first philosophy as an antidote to the feature-bloat of some other (PC-oriented, pre-smartphone) systems in the market. It is also focused more on the needs of the small and medium-sized businesses (which make up the vast majority of the construction industry in just about every country), and is priced attractively for that market, with a 2014 “free forever” offering to get users to trial the system. It recruited former Woobius founder Bob Leung to lead its user experience work (February 2014), and has been testing out real-time communication approaches that will be familiar to many users of social media applications.

Competitive space

This is a competitive sector – last December, for example, I noted five businesses, including GenieBelt, all targeting the UK (BaseStone and FinalCad also both presented at a recent COMIT community day), plus three startups in Australia and another three in the US and Canada (and the number continues to grow); and then we have the mobile offerings from longer-established ‘extranet’ vendors. Nyengaard accepts this:

“GenieBelt is not the only one seeing an opportunity to do something here — several startups have in the last couple of years set out to help construction improve using better SaaS technology, user-friendly UX, cheaper pricing, mobile, etc., so now we are seeing the emergence of ‘ConTech’ as a tech sector.

However, it is still emerging, and in Europe no one has really had a break-through to create a work-flow management solution that has the potential to challenge the status quo. In the U.S., on the other hand, there are a couple of companies that have received good money based on good traction at some scale, especially PlanGrid [Plangrid gets $18m funding, May 2015]. Now, we at GenieBelt are seeing traction from users and customers globally. As far as I can see, there is no other European ConTech company in the workflow category that has managed to get to this stage.”

According to its website, GenieBelt is now being used on more than 8000 projects in over 100 countries.

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Sep 14 2016

Construction mainly technology laggards

KPMG report coverA survey and report from management consultant KPMG International says less than one in 10 construction companies are at the sharp end of technology – most just follow, trying to keep up (survey also reported by Construction Enquirer and The Construction Index).

KPMG talked to 218 senior construction executives, most of them working for major international organisations (119 project owners, 99 in engineering and construction companies), and its report – Building a technology advantage – Global Construction Survey 2016 (PDF) – portrays the construction industry as struggling to employ the full benefits of technologies like advanced data and analytics, mobile telephony, automation and robotics.

Only 8% of surveyed companies could rank as ‘cutting edge technology visionaries’; 64% of contractors and 73% of project owners ranked as ‘industry followers’ or ‘behind the curve’ when it came to technology. Richard Threlfall, UK head of infrastructure, building and construction at KPMG, said:

“The survey responses reflect the industry’s innate conservatism towards technologies, with most businesses content to follow, rather than lead. Many lack a clear technology strategy, and either adopt it in a piecemeal fashion, or not at all.”

Innovation killer[Reminds me of an organogram which did the rounds on Twitter last week].

Two-thirds of survey respondents believe project risks are increasing, yet fewer than 20% of respondents said they were are ‘aggressively disrupting their business models’.

“Projects around the world are becoming bigger, bolder and more complex, and with complexity comes risk,” said Threlfall. “Innovations like remote monitoring, automation and visualisation have enormous potential to speed up project delivery, reduce costs and improve safety.”

According to the KPMG, engineering and construction firms, and project owners, are not exploiting available data. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed do not use advanced data analytics for project-related estimation and performance monitoring. Moreover, only a quarter of respondents said that they were able to ‘push one button’ to get all their project information. Even fewer claim to have a single, integrated project management information system across the enterprise. Threlfall says:

“Integrated, real-time project reporting is still a myth, rather than a reality for most. That’s largely because firms tend to use multiple software platforms that are manually monitored and disconnected, which severely compromises their effectiveness.”

KPMG report diagram

Mobile telephony is another technology with potential to analyse and track performance for construction projects. Most survey respondents were using remote monitoring for projects sites, and 61% claimed they were using BIM on the majority of their projects (to me, a surprisingly high figure!)*, but fewer than 30% said they routinely made use of mobile devices on all their projects, while a similar proportion do not use mobile platforms at all.

Similarly, only a third said they were using robotics and automation. Threlfall concluded:

“Harnessing the true potential of technology requires construction companies and project owners to get clearer about their technology vision and strategy. The rapidly evolving infrastructure challenges of the next decade demands both owners and engineering and construction firms embrace technology more strategically and at a far more rapid pace than in the past.”

* Update (18 September 2016) – I discussed this report with an industry colleague on Friday and we were both a bit sceptical about the apparently high take-up of some of the technologies. The methodology does not give much detail about how interviewees were selected, and we wondered if the 119 project owners were also clients of some, most or even all of the engineering and construction companies. If so, the figures might be double-counting practices on the same projects, rather than describing different experiences.

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Sep 12 2016

Conject deal boosts Aconex revenue growth

Aconex logo 2014Last month (23 August), Australia-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration software vendor Aconex announced its financial results for the year to 30 June 2016, revealing underlying organic revenue growth of 31%, with the acquisition of Conject (completed on 31 March 2016) boosting total revenue growth to 50%.

Total Aconex revenue was Au$123.4 million (c. US$93.3m, £70.1m, €82.8m), compared with Au$82.4 million for 2015. The revenue increase reflected strong organic growth and the contribution of Conject sales for the fourth quarter.

Aconex declared a pre-tax profit (EBITDA) of Au$13.6 million (c. US$10.2m, £7.7m, €9.3m), up 350% from 2015’s Au$3.0m, excluding acquisition and integration costs. Including costs of Au$4.1 million related to the acquisition and integration of Worksite (July 2015), the CIMIC Group’s INCITE Keystone collaboration platform (August 2015), and Conject, the EBITDA for 2016 was Au$9.5 million.

Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper said:

Leigh Jasper“Our financial results for FY16 demonstrated strong fundamental performance, driven by the consistent execution of our growth strategy. We continued to expand our global user network by winning new business from both new and existing customers, and to move existing customers from project engagements to enterprise agreements. We completed three acquisitions to further increase the value that we deliver to customers and consolidate our leading market position worldwide. With these acquisitions as well as organic sales momentum, we continued to scale the business for significant growth in profitability. The US$10 trillion construction industry is going digital, and we are at the centre of this digital transformation, connecting people and data to build the world’s infrastructure.”

International performance

Aconex reported profitable growth across all regions, with Australasia up 35% to Au$48.8m, compared with $36.2m in 2015. Revenues from the rest of the world were up 61% to Au$74.6m (2015: $46.2m). for FY15. Looking at specific regions, the acquisition of Conject had a significant impact on Aconex’s revenues, particularly from Europe and the Middle East, which were up 87% from Au$21.3m to Au$40.0m (excluding Conject, EMEA revenue growth was 31%). Revenues from the Americas were up 45% from Au$14.7m to Au$21.3m (excluding Conject, growth was 35%), while Asia revenues were up 30% (excluding Conject, 19%) from Au$10.2m to Au$13.3m.

In Aconex’s 2016 Annual Report, Jasper highlights opportunities arising from the increasing digitisation of construction, and talks about the company’s latest enterprise agreements (2016 saw deals with Fluor Corporation, ExxonMobil, and Burns & McDonnell – all strong US-based businesses – on top of similar deals done in 2015).

After Conject, more acquisitions

He also comments briefly about progress on the Conject acquisition (bought for a total cash consideration of Au$99.5m [c. US$75m, £56.5m, €66.8m), financed by a Au$120m institutional placement):

Conject the ILM group“The integration is tracking well. Staff and customers are engaged, and our key operational systems, processes and policies are aligned. The Conject and Aconex cultures are highly complementary, and we look forward to what we can achieve as one company.”

The Australian Financial Review reports (Aconex boss tips tech sector to become more dominant on the ASX)
Jasper said the company would probably make more of these sorts of acquisitions in 2016/17:

“There is a lot of work still to integrate Conject, but we are still in a range of discussions with companies, especially around technology bolt-ons. But in terms of large acquisitions, we’re focused on bedding down Conject and then we’ll look at what we want to do longer term.”

Smaller acquisitions could be financed from existing resources, he said, but another heavyweight takeover would be a different matter, The Australian reported. “Clearly if we were to do more acquisitions we’d need to go back to the markets, but we’ve got $50m on our balance sheet and we’re generating cash.”

Stock market analyst reaction to Aconex’s results varied from cautious to bullish (reported Motley Fool Australia). Credit Suisse analysts cut their recommendation on Aconex to ‘neutral’ from ‘buy’, citing concerns over the company’s guidance (Jasper’s medium term view is of revenue growth of 20% to 25%, and an EBITDA margin between 11% and 16%). Citi, on the other hand set a share price target of Au$8.91 (compared to a results day close of Au$7.78), believing there is still strong growth to come.

Product development

On product development, Jasper talked about Aconex’s cost management module (Aconex Connected Cost), added as a result of the Worksite acquisition: “The new module was rolled out to selected customers this year in preparation for full commercial availability in FY17. Feedback has been positive, and the inclusion of cost control in our platform has led to new collaboration business.”

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Sep 05 2016

Newforma gets connected

Silos (both company and IT) have long inhibited collaboration in construction. Newforma’s ‘Connector’ strategy seeks to break them down.

Newforma logo 2015I recently wrote (16 August: Newforma now playing cloud catch-up?) about Newforma’s Cloud Services initiative, which has seen the vendor expand its extranet-type capabilities, complementing its original core on-premise, behind-the-firewall application.

I spoke last Thursday to Newforma CEO Ian Howell, and he said the company’s vision is to provide “a footprint inside a company alongside a footprint in cloud collaboration – what we call a hybrid solution,” able to support three “legs of a stool” or three tiers of collaborative endeavour:

  1. collaboration between individuals, often via mobile applications
  2. collaboration within the enterprise firewall, perhaps subject to governance, regulatory and compliance constraints, and
  3. collaboration between teams in separate companies, often via private or public clouds

Ian Howell, Newforma CEOSilos have been a big part of the fragmentation which has been a major factor contributing to problems in the construction industry,” he said. “Some firms – Autodesk, for example, with its 365 platform – would be delighted if we could resolve this by all using the same suite of applications, but the reality is that project team members from different companies will alway be using a variety of distributed systems.”

He explained how Newforma Cloud Services complemented Newforma Project Center, which is used to manage all of the projects in an architect’s or engineer’s office that are in various stages of design for many months (or even years) before some subset of them eventually go to construction. Newforma Cloud Services was developed to enhance the core benefits of Project Center, adding functionality for better design collaboration with other design consultants and/or contractors that are part of the project team, allowing users to synchronise files between the hosted domain and the cloud, and providing web/mobile access and full audit trails as part of the design process.

Work in progress

This approach supports building information modelling design management principles associated with common data environments (CDEs), particularly as BIM is requiring more multi-company collaboration. UK BIM Level 2 practices, for example, require use of a CDE to manage “work in progress” on tasks before they are moved to a shared space for further design collaboration with the wider project team.

Other collaboration vendors (eg: Viewpoint) are increasingly finding their platforms being used for supply-chain collaboration by subcontractors – work that previously might have been Dropbox-ed, for example. However, as I discussed with Viewpoint’s John Adams in May (Viewpoint 2016 UK customer summit), connecting different CDEs (a supply chain CDE to a main contractor and/or client CDE, say) is still a challenge, still itself “work in progress” (Viewpoint is involved in an Innovate UK-funded project relating to ‘satellite’ or ‘Tier2Tier’ CDEs, due to finish this autumn).

Newforma Connector

To help overcome the challenge for teams using multiple collaboration platforms, Newforma has this week announced (1 September news release) its Newforma Cloud Services Connector strategy, an “open platform” initiative that integrates its Cloud Services with complimentary applications used by its customers. The first connectors to be published will integrate its platform with generic sharing tools Box and Dropbox, plus the AEC-specific mobile platform PlanGrid (incidentally, Plangrid followed up its $18m Series A funding in May 2015 with a $40m Series B funding round announced in November 2015).

In Newforma’s announcement, Vice President of Business Development and Co-Founder Jim Forester says:

Jim Forester (Newforma)“We recognize that our customers like to use certain specific point solutions that they’ve identified as critical to their business initiatives. Regardless of the application that creates or edits project information, Newforma Connectors to these solutions will give our customers confidence that those applications will not only remain an integral part of their project delivery process, but they will also be enhanced by being integrated with collaboration workflows to eliminate information silos and enable teams to work with the most up-to-date and correct information.”

Tracy Young, CEO of PlanGrid says:

Plangrid logo“Owners, architects, engineers, and contractors all leverage Newforma’s project information management solution to organize, find, communicate and share construction project information. We’re proud to partner with Newforma, allowing our joint customers to synchronize projects, teams, and documents between our industry-leading applications.”

Breaking down the IT silos

I talked to Jim Forester on the day of the Newforma Connector announcement. He reiterated Ian’s earlier point about silos hampering collaboration, and added the challenges of poor software interoperability (both executives were involved in the early days of the International Alliance for Interoperability, now buildingSMART). He continued:

“We now have an ecosystem which lets us connect to each other more easily. Within Newforma we have had an API [application programming interface] for our enterprise solution for quite some time, but now we’ve opened up our cloud services. Our Cloud Services Connector strategy formalizes our one-to-many systems approach. We do not want to force people into one stack, but allow them to continue to use their preferred solutions.”

He explained Newforma had a twin-track approach to its Connector integrations:

“Where we identify and start to work with a strategic partner, Newforma will build a Connector – this is what we did with PlanGrid. Other customers or partners may have enterprise tools that they want to connect to Newforma. We have built an open platform on top of our cloud services, providing an API and a soon-to-be-launched SDK [software development kit], so that businesses (or even some of our larger customers) that want to become part of our partner program can license the Cloud Services APIs and get support from Newforma in developing their own connectors.”

Newforma will be announcing more details about its Connector SDK at Newforma World 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia on 13-14 September 2016.

Making connections

The marketers in several construction software firms are emphasising their businesses’ abilities to connect. For example, as well as Newforma’s launch of its Connectors, Aconex launched its Connected BIM service in October 2014, the same month that Trimble Connect was launched.

Partnership and APIs are also recurring refrains. I have covered partnerships between various vendors including ones, for example, between Viewpoint (4Projects) and Solibri in January 2014, Asite and Nemetschek Vectorworks in July 2014, and, in May 2015, Trimble and Nemetschek announced they were collaborating “to promote openness and interoperability across their solution portfolios.”

In 2009, Aconex was one of several AEC SaaS vendors providing web services APIs to enable integration between their system and other software products used by clients (Incite, Asite and Business Collaborator were doing the same). Germany-based think project! launched its RESTful API in May 2014, and Viewpoint has also spoken publicly about its API capabilities, utilised to help integration with its Field View toolset and with customer’s ERP systems (November 2015).

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Aug 18 2016

COMIT: “Digitally building Britain”

COMITI have been involved with the UK-based construction technology membership organisation COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT) for some years, and as mobile hardware and software become ever more important in the planning, design, construction, commissioning, handover and future operation and maintenance of built assets, so it has seen growing interest from its two main audiences: mobile technology providers and mobile technology consumers.

In recent years, COMIT’s autumn conferences have been organised in partnership with US-based technology organisation Fiatech (2014, 2015 posts), but this year it is flying solo. It has also brought its event forward a little to avoid clashing with other technology-oriented events in a busy October and November such as the annual ICE BIM conference, Digital Construction Week, Bentley Year in Infrastructure, and Autodesk University. The two-day 2016 COMIT conference is being held at CH2M’s Hammersmith offices in London on 28-29 September, and online booking is now open.


The title – Digitally Building Britain – is a deliberate reference to the Digital Built Britain strategy which was published in February 2015 and which remains a strong guide on the future direction not just of Britain’s building information modelling drive but of wider industry digitalisation (“For Level 3 BIM, read Digital Built Britain“). The theme is about delivering value through innovation, and, within that, the two days of the conference have also been themed: day one will be broadly about CAPEX, while the second day will have an OPEX theme. Attendees only able to attend one day can therefore chose the day most appropriate to their interests (but, of course, attending both days will give you the TOTEX experience!).

Speakers on the first day include Alex Lubbock of the Cabinet Office giving a keynote about Digitally Building Britain, while there will be new perspectives on innovation by speakers from Volkswagen and BT, plus a teaser of Fran Rabuck’s always insightful “Toys for Techies” talk. Day two features talks on drones, virtual reality, collaboration, ecological analysis and visualisation using GIS, and more “Toys for Techies”. Should be good!

Update (19 August 2016) – For those in the southwest of England who can’t get to London for the COMIT event, there is another BIM event on 28 September at the University of Bristol. The one-day conference and workshop on collaboration and construction is being co-organised by Behaviours for Collaboration (December 2014 post) and the Southwest BIM Hub. More details and registration. [Disclosure: I am an active supporter of the Behaviours for Collaboration initiative.]

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