Last year, I made five ‘Extranet Evolution’ 2007 predictions. Were they correct?
1. Growing acceptance and use of web-based collaboration tools within the UK construction industry
It was something of a no-brainer. The continued revenue growth trends of the leading UK-based vendors shows there is a strong appetite for the applications. I was also encouraged by the receptiveness of Constructing Excellence to an approach from the collaboration vendors’ organisation, the NCCTP, to become a new forum within the pan-industry membership body (see post) – I have since heard chief executive Don Ward talk enthusiastically about the need for project teams to demonstrate their commitment to collaborative working at a technology level (also see post).
2. Growing AEC industry acceptance and use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) will increase demand for integration with back-office business systems.
Progress was a little slower than I anticipated, and much of the industry attention seemed to focus on email integration and management rather than delivering better construction project and company processes. Nonetheless, there is at least an appetite for managing AEC contract processes using web-based tools (I mentioned how MPS‘s CCM tool was used to manage NEC processes in January; and highlighted [my employer] BIW’s own efforts in this field in September), and I remain confident that some SaaS solution vendors will begin to extend the reach of their technologies to deliver richer business information to hard-pressed company executives and AEC project managers in 2008.
3. Further rationalisation and polarisation of the UK construction collaboration marketplace.
Like in 2006, the most significant change came right at the end of the year, this time Sword Group acquired CTSpace, perhaps throwing the ailing AEC collaboration vendor a much-need lifeline. Otherwise, the other major change was 4Projects’ MBO during the summer (see posts) – significant for its indication that there is a real appetite among private equity firms for SaaS companies. With some firms still to report more recent figures, we must wait to confirm if the sector is becoming more polarised.
4. Increased interest in online BIM-based collaboration.
I have written more about building information modelling (BIM) this year than ever before, and there certainly appears to be growing interest in the technologies’ potential on both sides of the Atlantic – albeit mingled with concerns about the people and process issues. My contacts at Asite say there is growing interest in their online collaborative BIM application, but we are still some way from seeing widespread adoption.
5. Growing demand for (and provision of) mobile collaborative applications
BIW’s sales and marketing team were all issued with new ‘smart-phones’ just before Christmas (my Palm Treo device gives access to email, Outlook contacts and calendar, a web browser, a camera, Office applications, music and video, etc), and with all these tools now incorporated on one pocket-sized device it is easy to imagine how certain collaborative processes might be facilitated by such tools. Connectivity – particularly on construction sites – remains something of an issue, but, as this BBC article suggests, there are combinations of technologies (mobile web applications, ultra-mobile PCs and Wimax, for example) that are blurring the distinction between the online and offline worlds.
I have now started thinking about some predictions for 2008.