‘Extranet Evolution’ 2007 predictions

New Year is traditionally a time for looking back at the significant developments of the year just gone and for looking forward at what may happen in the coming year.

For example, there was a lot of activity in the latter respect regarding Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). SaaS analyst Phil Wainewright wrote a series of three SaaS in 2007 articles:

He then followed these up with SaaS predictions from around the Web, summarising the predictions of other analysts (including Microsoft’s Gianpaolo Carraro, IDC, Jeff Nolan, and Saugatuck Technology). Overall, it presents an optimistic picture for vendors in the SaaS space.

I have also looked at other IT predictions (for example, from Microsoft’s Don Dodge, and Read/WriteWeb‘s Richard McManus, etc), and there is lots of talk about shifts in mobile working, RSS, Wikis, online Office applications, etc.

My view? Well, so far as the construction collaboration technology market is concerned, I have limited myself to five predictions for 2007 ….

1. Growing acceptance and use of web-based collaboration tools within the UK construction industry

A bit of a no-brainer this one. Web-based tools are increasingly common-place on most major UK construction projects and their use now features as a standard item in the company profiles created by UK trade paper Contract Journal (see here for example). For most medium to large schemes, it is no longer a question of “Should we?” but “Which one?”, and this is now extending to many smaller-scale construction projects. Once they have used a collaboration system, few if any users want to go back to rely on paper, fax or email-based communication processes.

2. Growing AEC industry acceptance and use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) will increase demand for integration with back-office business systems.

For many UK AEC organisations, use of web-based tools for project collaboration has been their first experience of using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. Many start using them first on a single project, then (perhaps after trials of competing products) settle on a system to use across more projects. This in turn drives demand for the chosen application to start delivering greater functionality – perhaps in terms of cross-project reporting and the provision of management dashboards – and then to interface with other applications or processes – anything from simple Office applications to e-commerce and financial management systems. At this level, compliance with new audit requirements (driven in part by the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act) may also increase the integration demands; firms will not want to rely on numerous, out-dated manual processes (expensive to audit) when these can be de-duplicated, rationalised and automated by systems which also provide complete electronic audit trails of all information exchanges.

3. Further rationalisation and polarisation of the UK construction collaboration marketplace.

2006 witnessed two major changes: Autodesk’s acquisition of US rival Constructware, and the merger of BuildOnline and Citadon to form CTSpace. Of the two, the latter had most significance for the UK, indicating that some collaboration businesses have been struggling to compete in the UK market (note: Asite‘s annual turnover has also been in gradual decline since 2003).

In a presentation I gave at the Construction Computing Show in November (see post), I divided the UK market players into two divisions (Premiership and Championship – like the English football leagues), and reviewed the ‘promotion’ and ‘relegation’ issues.

  • In the Premiership, I placed (in alphabetical order): 4Projects, Aconex, Asite, Autodesk Buzzsaw, my employer BIW Technologies, BuildOnline (now CTSpace) and Business Collaborator;
  • the Championship comprised: Cadweb, Causeway, Citadon, ePIN, Bentley ProjectWise, Sarcophagus and Union Square.

This split was fairly arbitrary (one factor was the availability of some financial information), and I stressed that some movement between the two was possible. For example, I argued:

  • growing interest in SaaS (see 2 above) might boost those vendors offering their services on a pure on-demand basis;
  • as collaboration becomes more commoditised, the thrivers will be those that move beyond simple collaboration (document management with a little workflow bolted on) to offer robust business applications supporting their customers’ key business processes (see 2 above); and
  • (taking the football analogy a stage further) if Abramovich-size budgets were applied, existing vendors could buy their way to market dominance, while new ‘franchises’ might emerge – perhaps from vendors active in other more generic markets (eg: ECM, PDM) trying their hand in the AEC space.

4. Increased interest in online BIM-based collaboration.

Building information modelling (BIM) has become a recurring tag in my posts over the past few months, but the AEC industry interest in BIM has yet to translate itself into significant demand for online collaborative BIMs. This may be because most AEC firms are treading cautiously before they make the transition from CAD-based design towards full BIM. However, Asite has already chosen to announce its own prototype collaborative
BIM product
(see post), and I am sure its competitors will be watching with interest to see if this gives Asite any marketing edge.

(Incidentally, being the ‘first mover’ is an interesting and brave move by Asite. From marketing lectures, I recall that if a first-mover product is successful, it will help build the firm’s reputation for innovation; it will command high loyalty from first-time buyers (as there will be no or few competing products in the market); and the challenge of breaking any early market domination may deter existing or potential competitors from entering the market with their own products. However, there are also downsides. Asite may well have incurred substantial R&D costs in developing a product that nobody wants (at least not yet, or not in sufficient quantities); it can be difficult to educate the market-place about an innovative new development; technology advances may allow followers to imitate or even leapfrog the pioneer more cheaply, with lower market education costs; and, particularly in a conservative AEC market, potential users may prefer to wait for a de facto standard to emerge before committing to the technology.)

5. Growing demand for (and provision of) mobile collaborative applications

The Wilkinson household saw various mobile electronic devices exchanged as gifts over Christmas, and another wireless network added to the neighbouring proliferation in southeast London. And when I am out and about, I am increasingly able to access information wirelessly through wi-fi networks in bars, coffee shops, offices, railway stations, airports, hotels, etc. Similarly, my nextdoor neighbour, a London lawyer, is becoming increasingly reliant on his Blackberry email device to keep in touch.

Such developments will extend into the construction site, and I predict users will increasingly want to be able update and receive updates of key information in real-time out on-site, perhaps on a PDA or a rugged-ised laptop. The browser interface, being supported on mobile devices as well as PCs, etc, is the ideal platform for such communications, and I wrote in QS News last year about how, for example, site quality inspections and condition surveys might be carried out more efficiently and then seamlessly integrated with back-office processes (and vice versa) via collaboration platforms.

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2 pings

  1. […] The Butler Group has also been talking about the impact of SaaS solutions, in relation to the document collaboration field. In a December 2006 report, Document Collaboration: Linking People, Process, and Content, it says the time has come for document collaboration to move beyond simple collaborative exchanges to sophisticated collaborative experiences, particularly with compliance issues requiring complete auditability of the lifecycles of documents (something I talked about last week in my second Prediction). […]

  2. […] ‘extranet’ predictions post earlier this week, I had a think about  Asite‘s Collaborative BIM product, and whether the […]

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