Earlier this week, technical people representing several construction collaboration technology vendors (all members of the NCCTP) met at Constructing Excellence‘s offices in central London. The purpose of their meeting – as has just been described by Aconex‘s Rob Phillpot (see NCCTP: Flogging a dead standard?) – was to take the next steps towards creation of a technical standard to support data exchange between the different platforms.
BIW steps back from standard
BIW Technologies [my employer] deliberately stayed away, and I emailed the group the rationale behind our non-attendance – as follows:
As you will recall from the facilitated meeting last month [see post: Future of the NCCTP – update], I was one of the minority of NCCTP representatives present that was sceptical about the value of the NCCTP data exchange standard and who suggested dropping the standard altogether. Briefly, the arguments were as follows:
- We share the view … that the standard is a lowest common denominator that, in most instances, represents only about 10 per cent of the overall functionality of most NCCTP members’ systems and so requires substantial additional work to effect any data export/import process. It therefore makes little or no difference to our workload when we need to import documents and metadata from another system to the BIW platform, and its continued development is an onerous diversion from our own core software development activities.
- Moreover, no BIW customers have insisted on BIW being compliant with the NCCTP standard. On the rare occasions the standard is even discussed, we have had to frankly admit that the NCCTP standard defines only a relatively small proportion of the functionality of the various systems (in this respect, is perhaps the NCCTP over-promising and under-delivering?).
- A key rationale for the standard when the NCCTP was founded was the need to reassure potential customers that there was a “safety net” in place in case one of the vendors went bust. As BIW has continued to grow and become consistently profitable, that reassurance is no longer required by BIW customers.
We have therefore concluded that there is currently little to be gained by devoting BIW development resources to achieving such compliance.
In line with the other outcomes of the May meeting, we believe the NCCTP still has a valuable role to play in raising the profile of, and disseminating information about construction collaboration technologies, within Constructing Excellence and UCI, within the UK AEC sector as a whole, and – increasingly – internationally, but do not think that the standard should form part of marketing messages.
Shortly after sending that email, I and the rest of the NCCTP group received a supportive email from Rob that pretty much echoed the BIW reasoning, and which forms the basis for his latest post. I would like to add one further thought….
Standards for followers, not leaders?
For leading players like Aconex, BIW and 4projects (among a select few others), the ‘safety net’ argument no longer applies. As Rob says, we have mature relationships with customers who know our businesses, know enough about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to know that it is often a lower-risk approach to managing data than internally hosted solutions, and know that our companies are also financially resilient. But the same doesn’t apply across the board.
Several of the UK vendors remain comparatively small businessess – “small but perfectly formed” was how I think ePin‘s Robin Shipston referred to his business when he emailed me a couple of years ago – that have, in the main, sought to deliver good levels of service to their existing customers and win enough new business to replace the natural ‘churn’ of construction projects. Nothing wrong with this approach, of course (Cadweb, for example, makes a virtue of the fact that it “is privately funded and has not required any external (venture capital/bank) finance” to reach a profitable and cash-generative position; Sarcophagus, similarly, says it is “a solid business undergoing healthy organic growth, a growth not artificially inflated by early over funding“), but such businesses are not going to grow quickly and become industry-leaders. Asite (see Asite finally returns to growth) has some financial hurdles to overcome, and, turnover-wise, ought to be ranked alongside these other small providers, although its perspective is more in line with the sector’s leaders.
It could be argued, I think, that the ‘safety net’ rationale applies much more to the SME-scale providers than it does to the leading players. After all, it perhaps more likely that a customer might need to transfer from a niche system into one of the the more widely-used and functionally-rich systems than vice versa (Rob effectively makes the same point when he talks about data transfers that maintain as much of the richness and functional utility as possible of the leading systems).
So it may not be quite “Good night, over and out” for the NCCTP standard yet, but I think the end is nigh.