Almost a year ago, I wrote about Dublin-based software developer SmartBuilder Software after managing director Peter Daly and I met up and discussed construction collaboration technologies and mobile solutions. At the time, he was developing his first iPhone application, but I later learned that he had decided not to continue developing on the Apple platform. Instead he switched to developing Software-as-a-Service based solutions on the Android mobile platform, and SmartBuilder1, a web-based mobile software system for the UK construction market, has just been launched (news release).
SmartBuilder1, which works on Android smartphones and tablets, is claimed to be:
“the first complete system of its type for the construction market… focused on saving contractors time and money and on helping them to bring in buildings with zero defects.”
SmartBuilder1’s initial three modules – Tracking Progress, Managing Quality and Sub-Contractor Close Out – allow managers on-site to update progress in-real time, to record reasons for delays, and alert people from site about issues that need their action. Conventionally, there have been slight delays as site-based staff have had to return to their site accommodation to go online, but by putting the tools literally at a user’s fingertips, SmartBuilder1 enables earlier issue identification and earlier alerts to fellow team members. SmartBuilder1 also apparently incorporates mobile web-based quality inspection tools (nothing new here: rival SaaS vendors have been marketing similar solutions since the mid 2000s), while the underlying SaaS architecture, hosted in the cloud by BT, provides a secure audit trail of all interactions with the system.
According to the release:
SmartBuilder1 has a desktop client as well as a mobile client and a database in a remote data centre accessed via the web where the data is stored and the application hosted. The mobile works off line while in-field and then syncs wirelessly when connected again to the web.
Obviously, the claim to be first will be contested by rival software developers. Smartphone access to SaaS-based construction collaboration applications has been around since at least 2005 when BIW first started field trials, and there has also been a steady stream of more recent announcements from both the major AEC platform vendors and from specialist mobile developers. For example, last month (May 2011) Aconex and Autodesk both launched iPhone/iPad apps, Aconex Mobile (post) and Buzzsaw Mobile (post) respectively, following on from earlier announcements from Business Collaborator (December 2009), Asite (May 2010) and Sword-CTSpace (October 2010); BIW sister company conject also has an iPhone app. In between, I’ve noted software releases from mobile specialists BuildItLive (December 2010), SnagR (March 2011) and Ennova (May 2011), among others.
I have been writing about the increasing importance of mobile data access and interaction for some years, and the continued advance of the smartphone has undoubtedly helped open people’s eyes to its potential. Globally, sales of smartphones (100m) overtook sales of laptops (94m) in the final quarter of 2010, and smartphones now constitute almost half of all mobile phone sales in Europe. The construction industry has long recognised the potential of mobile communications (it was one of the sectors that helped make mobile telephony a success in the 1980s and 1990s), and – in my opinion – widespread adoption of SaaS-based technologies accessed through such devices has been inevitable.
Clearly, the mobile collaboration space is becoming increasingly competitive, and SmartBuilder1 faces stiff competition from established vendors of SaaS construction collaboration applications with large user-bases. One might argue that it is easier for them to build out from their collaboration platform strongholds to offer mobile workflow functionality than it is for SmartBuilder1 to make inroads into their SaaS platform markets, but Peter’s products may, if competitively priced (there is no pricing information on SmartBuilder’s website), find favour with small contractors looking to accelerate their site management processes without needing the full-on file collaboration capabilities of, say, Aconex or BIW. There is also a possibility that market incumbents might look at SmartBuilder1 as a potential interface that might be adapted to allow users access to their platforms rather than having to develop their own Android tools from scratch.
Update (5pm BST, 28 June 2011) – Interested in other Android apps for construction? Read The Best Android Apps for Construction Management, a recent blog post by Derek Singleton at US site, SoftwareAdvice.com.