Earlier this month, Hugh Hofmeister, director of construction technology and services at Brisbane, Australia-based technology start-up Ennova contacted me to talk about Envision, its Software-as-a-Service construction management tool. He told me that a launch customer, Australian engineering and infrastructure contractor Downer EDi, had been using the product for the past year, and Ennova was now launching Envision into the wider market, with a new website, Twitter account and YouTube videos all part of the promotional mix.
I talked via Skype with Hugh and he gave some background to the product, which has drawn on experience in lean thinking, aerospace engineering, construction and digital web media to guide its development.
Essentially, Envision provides an application readily accessed via mobile devices (iPhone and iPad), that uses 3D Google Sketchup and project schedules (eg from Primavera or MS Project) to help users visualise the project they are working on and validate the sequence of activities, providing 4D (3D + time) schedule simulation and status high-lighting. If on-site users notice there is a problem that might cause a delay, they can take a photograph on their phone and then immediately share this with project colleagues. Issues may be flagged as technical queries or notices of delay, and their resolution can be tracked from wherever the individual is working.
Hugh also stressed the product’s novel use of the Kanban (Wikipedia definition) approach, where boards – in this case, screen-based – are used to plan what is going to be done, when and by whom (Envision has a white paper talking about use of Kanban to manage construction work packages). This is linked to the Envision timesheet module so that the impacts of any changes on labour resources are immediately clear. The application is also applying techniques that are common in social media applications – Hugh described how the conversations that might take place about a delay can be presented as a Facebook-style “wall”, encouraging openness and collaboration (though we did discuss how prepared some adversarially-oriented construction project members might be for such transparency and co-operation!).
Envision has been developed using Ruby on Rails (Ennova’s website also talks about the company’s expertise in agile/lean and software development consulting), and Hugh said he had already registered as a developer, and completed the first iteration of integration with construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex‘s SaaS platform. Ennova’s strength, he says, is in developing cloud-based mobile tools for construction contractors in the field, not in document collaboration (though Envision does provide some tools to manage correspondence, photographs and contract-related workflows), and he is keen to find existing players in the collaboration market that want to add new functionality to their systems.
From the brief online demonstration that Hugh gave to me, Envision lives up to its strapline of “Simplifying construction management” (echoes of UK SaaS vendor’s Woobius’s branding – post). It is also a timely launch insofar as interest in mobile collaboration has been escalating in recent months (I have talked several times previously about AEC-focused smartphone apps), growing attention is also being paid to building information modelling where a major benefit is visualisation of the construction process, and the application of some social media-style communications may also be prescient.
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