After Reviewing 2007, I started thinking about some predictions or trends for 2008. My first instinct was simply to repeat last year’s five, but that would be too easy. Instead, I have decided to update two, and add three new ones. Here are the first two (the others will follow over the next couple of days).
1. Further polarisation of the UK construction collaboration marketplace.
As I said in my 2007 review, the Sword Group acquisition of CTSpace in December 2007 and the 4Projects‘ MBO in July (see posts) showed there is an appetite for SaaS businesses. These can be viewed either as investment opportunities or to fulfil strategic objectives (for example, to expand Software-as-a-Service expertise, to expand into new geographical or vertical markets, or – going back to Autodesk’s 2006 acquisition of Constructware – to broaden a product portfolio).
Some clear market leaders have begun to emerge in the UK. I would include 4Projects and [my employer] BIW Technologies in this category, based on their turnover, growth and commitment to SaaS, but I think key differences between these businesses are beginning to emerge. In the early 2000s, the focus was on project collaboration at the document and drawing level, and 4Projects remains very competitive in this space. In the last couple of years, BIW has been developing complementary services that appeal to owners and operators and their supply chains involved in complex programmes of work, often involving multiple projects and requiring detailed management of enterprise business processes. In 2008, it is likely that these paths will continue to diverge, and others may join them on these diverging paths.
Melbourne-based Aconex has grown rapidly, opening offices across numerous countries, and Autodesk Buzzsaw (helped by Autodesk’s substantial AEC footprint) is also very competitive in the drawing and document collaboration space. As part of Coda plc – already planning to launch a portfolio of SaaS-based financial applications (Coda2go) in conjunction with Salesforce.com – Business Collaborator could follow BIW’s direction, as could Asite (alongside its collaboration solutions it has some transaction tools) and Autodesk (if it can apply some of the Constructware solution to enterprise requirements). Time will tell whether Sword Group can transform the UK fortunes of CTSpace or perhaps it will focus on the US market; I expect Cadweb, Causeway, ePIN, Sarcophagus and TDOC will continue as specialist businesses focused on maintaining turnover from loyal customers, and – just outside the AEC ‘extranet’ space – Union Square‘s intranet business addresses many small organisations’ internal information management needs. At the document collaboration level, however, there remains a risk that existing AEC players could be unseated by new initiatives from vendors of more generic technologies (I see a lot of internet ‘chatter’ about Microsoft SharePoint, for instance – so Sword Group’s C2Share may be a beneficiary here too).
2. Increased interest in online BIM-based collaboration.
I expect the groundswell of interest in building information modelling (BIM) to continue into 2008 and beyond. However, as I have said before, this technological development will only succeed if concerns about the people and process issues can be resolved. Using BIM approaches to design and construct buildings raises lots of questions about intellectual property, liability/risk and professional education, to name but three.
(While on the topic, I had a look at the first issue of US architect/analyst Ed Goldberg’s online newsletter – Ed’s Independent Voice – where he talks about the BIM Schism. Ed talks about the increasingly common practice of “parallel modelling” where a constructor’s estimating and scheduling department finds it easier to create a new BIM model from scratch than modify an architect’s existing BIM model. To overcome this “huge disconnect between what architect’s draw and contractors build”, one firm advocates Integrated Project Delivery (see my post Integrated Project Delivery – US guide) – a project- rather than professional-focused approach whereby all participants meet at the beginning of the project to exchange information. However, Goldberg believes the IPD model is “presently only workable in situations where the project is proprietary, has been pre-negotiated, or is under the auspices of a design/build contract.” So still some people and process issues there then!)