BIW pushes its low-risk message

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.”

Market pressures

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,, 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.

  1. Even in a recession, construction remains a risk-averse industry and Colin’s arguments will find a receptive audience in many organisations.
  2. 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?).
  3. The AEC market will only support so many low-cost collaboration vendors, so there is likely to be some rationalisation in due course.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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; Ltd has since undertaken PR and marketing consultancy projects for the company.]

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1 ping

    • Daniel Tenner on 23 September 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Very interesting and well spotted.
    From personal experience, both as a supplier and consumer of services provided by startups, I find that customer service is actually enormously better with a startup than with an established, larger company. Without the benefit of large and experienced sales forces ready to badger the customer until they finally buy, startups have to sing for their dinner, as Paul Graham puts it in one of his articles, and so they find themselves strongly compelled to provide what he calls “surprisingly good service”. Ultimately, a startup lives or dies by the merit of its product and services, and rather quickly too, without an ample mattress of cash accumulated over the years to cushion falls.
    It stands to reason. When you email, you can get straight through to me. There are no escalations or delays involved. As a founder of the company, I can make whatever decisions serve the customer best, rather than having to defer to some complicated support process. If that involves building and deploying a new feature, that can be done with a turnaround of days typically, and sometimes minutes. So it’s not very surprising that startups offer much better customer service than a company shackled with legacy technologies and large teams that require restrictive processes in order to function.
    What to make, then, of statements like “Too often the move to SaaS is made with low-cost suppliers who fail to include sufficient support for the solution that they provide” or “With a decent website that is incredibly cheap and easy to run, suppliers can present an impressive façade to clients, consultants and contractors. Customer testimonials and a projected image of trust, reputation and size can be easy to fake, unless you ask the right questions.” (worth noting those questions are never actually explained; I’d love to know what they are) or even of the label of “DIY approach” to low-cost collaboration solutions?
    I think the only thing to do is to take it for what it is – a piece of predictable FUD by a company that’s feeling under threat and is on the defensive. “Change is bad, mmkay?”

  1. I’m Keith Bumgarner, the founder and CEO of FileGenius. I read with great interest this article and found the information informative and representative of generalized concerns regarding the dynamics of “big” vs. “small”.
    Naturally I cannot be very objective about FileGenius as it specifically compares to some of the other smaller, newer solutions mentioned so I’ll stay away from stating comparative, buyer-research usable facts.
    My comments will address the implication that FileGenius (and other offerings from smaller firms) may lack resources necessary to properly support our application and customers. I have more than 30 years experience providing IT and technical services for AEC firms and a number of years of AEC software development (hydrology, cogo/land design), as well as logging almost 10 years working in construction, in the field. Given my age and experience it’s worth mentioning that I have grown up with AutoCAD and Autodesk’s other products as well as other solutions that got started as far back as the 80’s.
    Like many successful smaller organizations we are well-capitalized, debt-free, and offer the stability of FileGenius being developed and fully maintained and managed by the systems engineering firm I started over 25 years ago. Three years ago we threw 100% of the resources of my firm behind FileGenius and this will continue to be the case for some time to come.
    No principal or anyone working in any key position here has less than 11 years experience and the average is over 20. Having developed support and helpdesk systems for Fortune 500 organizations I can also say that our support is at least as good as other solutions; our customers routinely say our support and customer service is far better than other software or SaaS applications they’ve tried, use or have used, including major CAD solution providers and enterprise-level software developers. Over 20% of ENR’s 2009 Top 150 Global/Internation firms are customers of ours and use FileGenius (we sell and support firms of all sizes), with more than 18,000 individual users worldwide. Many of these have been customers for several years and a quarter of them engage our services via subscription lengths in excess of 2 years (we provide long-term agreements up to 5 years).
    At first glance the generalized argument that organizations like ours may not be able to fully support our application and therefore our customers sounds plausible. But facts and common sense suggest otherwise. At the very least this argument is only valid if you compare one organization to another. We would welcome any comparison like this, up to and including letting our customers weigh in, especially the ones that have dropped other, much larger organizations’ solutions for FileGenius.
    Having been in business for myself for over 36 years I know one thing – almost all organizations start as small ones, and being big or small in 2010 often has little to do with the organization’s ability to reliably support their customers with well-designed, very useful tools. I know of a number of “smaller” firms that are comparatively more capable, more stable, have been in business longer, and far more profitable. Profit is the lifeblood of business and therefore often the cornerstone of stability.
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this.

  1. […] commenter dubbed the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) card. BIW did it earlier this autumn (see BIW pushes its low-risk message) with an article in ABC&D, and it has repeated the message in a similar piece, bylined to CEO […]

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