From talking to several of the overseas construction collaboration technology vendors targeting the US market, a familiar theme is emerging. It appears that home-grown solutions aren’t always attractive to US-based buyers – some of whom are happy to contemplate alternative solutions from, among others, the UK’s 4Projects, Asite or BIW, or Australia’s Aconex.
However, this may have a lot to do with the maturity of the US architecture, engineering and construction market so far as collaboration technologies are concerned. I have been browsing the 2011 ConstrucTech IT Playbook, and it seems that collaboration lags behind project management, bidding/estimating, and job cost/accounting software. Only 22% of the 315 respondents (295 contractors and 20 owners) to the survey gave collaboration technology a high level of importance. The report’s editorial suggested this was because:
“… the construction industry is still determining where and how this technology will work within their business processes. It takes tiime for a particular type of application to reach mainstream adoption. While the industry realizes the need to provide a greater level of accountability and transparency in realtime to all project participants, companies are still searching for the best solution with which to do so.
“Another reason … is because the industry still hasn’t defined the term collaboration. This could mean something vastly different from one person to the next. As this term begins to develop its footing in the industry, the technologies associated with collaboration will likely gain more momentum.” (p.4)
Looking at the technologies deployed by those who did rate collaboration as important, there was a strong tendency for companies to develop customised, locally hosted solutions, perhaps using SharePoint (p.9). But web-based solutions were gaining some traction as “an easier-to-use and cost-effective alternative to more traditional collaboration methods” (browsing the results, I noticed that SaaS-based Autodesk (Constructware) and e-Builder both figured in the commercial project management findings, while Aconex scraped into the document management category).
Given that the UK AEC has been developing collaborative approaches to construction projects for at least the past two decades (Sir Michael Latham’s 1994 landmark report was just part of a much longer drive to improve the industry’s efficiency, and the push continues today), it is not surprising that UK-based software businesses have taken – and, in the US, are taking – a leading role in promoting the technologies needed to support collaboration.
Since the late 1990s/early 2000s, the above-mentioned businesses have established strong domestic track records in collaboration, have successfully exported their platforms to other markets, including mainland Europe and the Middle East, and have done so by developing robust web-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that can be quickly mobilised among geographically dispersed project supply chains without the latter having to worry about installing software, imposing costs on subcontractors or adding implementation and training burdens.
The ConstrucTech document stresses that, overall, “US construction companies will be more collaborative,” using such technology to connect all project team members, and also integrating with mobile technologies and building information modelling (BIM) and related nD solutions. This presents a window of opportunity, particularly for firms like Asite and Aconex whose platforms are increasingly being used to support BIM-based project work as well as conventional 2D-based collaboration. Such businesses each have 10-plus years’ experience in delivering solutions capable of managing large, complex projects; the challenge will be in adapting their experience to the people, industry structures and working processes of the US market, while – at the same time – retaining and expanding their support for BIM-based project delivery.
[PS: I am contemplating undertaking a similar piece of research in the UK market, if I can find some partners to help fund the project. Email me if you might be able to help.]