A (rare) tweet from BIW Technologies* alerted me to a new article on the UK construction collaboration vendor’s website, reproduced from Architect Builder Contractor & Developer (ABC&D).
In Controlling Project Outcomes, BIW CEO Colin Smith warns potential collaboration customers about “low-cost suppliers who fail to include sufficient support for the solution that they provide”. He goes on: “it can be easy for small, poorly financed, poorly resourced vendors to create attractive, low-priced SaaS products“.
Having rubbished the low-cost solution vendors (I wonder just who he had in mind?), the article goes on to highlight the risks in adopting a DIY approach to project collaboration (SharePoint springs to mind here – I’ve written before about SharePoint-based solutions from Cadac and Bentley, among others, and there’s an interesting article in Cadalyst this week). Instead, Colin urges customers to use experienced specialist vendors; “The responsibility for researching requirements, building and delivering the solution and supporting it once it is up and running is completely taken off your shoulders“, he says.
Incidentally, this is a related argument about risk and trust to that recently put forward by Aconex‘s Rob Phillpot who blogged in July about the risks of one organisation controlling a collaboration platform:
“Can you imagine the time wasted, the potential for disputes and the lack of open information sharing between parties if all the project data was being stored behind ONE organization’s system? A recipe for disaster. Or at the very least, a highly inefficient project.”
Any way, back to Colin’s article…. I know BIW is not the only established vendor challenged by new kids on the block or by in-house offerings. As previously discussed on this blog, the recession has meant that the notoriously cost-conscious construction industry has been looking even more closely at how much they pay for all products, materials and services, and ICT is no exception.
Over the past couple of years I have talked about several start-ups who have opted to use low prices to gain a foothold in the collaboration market, including e-Grou, Incite Toolbox, ShowDocument, drop.io, Clouds UK, Woobius, Colaab, GlassCubes, Collabor8-online and FileGenius (and there are many more; just look at this Wikipedia list) – some focused on the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, others more generic. Their proliferation obviously suggests that their owners think there is a market opportunity, but it may be short-lived.
- Even in a recession, construction remains a risk-averse industry and Colin’s arguments will find a receptive audience in many organisations.
- A well-publicised example of a low-cost solution jeopardising a project could have a devastating impact on that end of the market (anyone know of a project hampered by the failure of its collaboration platform?).
- The AEC market will only support so many low-cost collaboration vendors, so there is likely to be some rationalisation in due course.
- That rationalisation might be hastened if longer-established providers develop competitive lower-cost solutions that leverage the parent brand (ideally, without cannibalising sales of the main platform).
- I think some of the newer technology providers will accept the commercial realities and look to build partnerships with or be acquired by established vendors. For example, Bob Leung explained to me recently how he thought Woobius could be used for early-stage projects, with more sophisticated systems used subsequently to manage actual project delivery (post).
- Finally (for now), some of the new startups have developed good solutions using state-of-the-art tools and techniques, not shackled by legacy systems or older technologies (not easy for established players to emulate unless they invest heavily – as Aconex did recently: post). What a great opportunity for some of the longer-established providers to learn from and, where appropriate, to adopt some of the approaches that have made these startups a threat?
A bloggy after-thought
After I re-tweeted BIW’s tweet, someone replied that Colin Smith’s article would have made a great blog post, so it’s a shame that it appears on a static web-page rather than somewhere that allows comments, sharing and feedback. In the meantime, feel free to comment here.
[* Disclosure: I worked for BIW Technologies from 2000 to May 2009; pwcom.co.uk Ltd has since undertaken PR and marketing consultancy projects for the company.]