Already highly configurable, think project! functionality is set to expand over the next year, with BIM and mobile access high on the agenda.
When I profiled Munich-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology vendor think project! last month, I said I would be taking a closer look at the platform. In fact, I was invited out to Germany last week and was given a detailed insight into the platform. I also attended the company’s internal developers conference, held amid stunning Bavarian scenery overlooking the icy Lake Tegernsee, where I learned more about the company, its product and its future plans (not all of which I can share, of course).
the think project! platform
While think project! is a relatively unfamiliar name in the UK, it has been deployed on this side of the North Sea. At a meeting at the company’s Munich head office, head of product management Jochen Maurer (like his fellow co-founder, CEO Thomas Backmaier, a former Nemetschek employee) told me of his trips to UK power station projects for E-on. He also spoke of the Second Forth Crossing project near Edinburgh, where technology from the group’s Eplass subsidiary (acquired in 2011) is being used. Mainly across Europe, some 5,000 currently active projects are managed by the think project! system.
The overall look and feel of the platform is similar to most of its rivals in the construction collaboration sector, being inspired (if that’s the right word) by the layout of Excel spreadsheets commonly used for document control. Jochen stressed the platform was devised as a centralised communication platform capable of handling a wide range of different types of messages, correspondence and file types. The core of the system is a SQL relational database, while drawing viewing and mark-up duties are managed using Oracle Autovue (formerly Cimmetry; also used by Aconex and Maclaren/CTSpace, among others). Hosting is managed from two data-centres, one of them in Munich, and projects to date have generated some 350 terabytes of data, Jochen told me.
Like other platforms in this sector, the core think project! technology is deployed from a common code base across multiple projects for multiple clients, but project teams can configure the solution to match their particular project requirements. Jochen demonstrated some of the configuration capabilities to me, and they are extensive, allowing teams (or, more usually, think project! consultants) to finely tune how different forms and workflows are delivered, so that electronic communications almost exactly emulate the disciplined paper-based processes that teams previously used.
We also talked about the German market for construction collaboration. It sounds as though it is a mature market, with most projects using some kind of electronic collaboration platform. think project! and conject are the leading players, both offering enterprise-class solutions, but facing competition from CTSpace, Frankfurt’s Cadac Organice (post) and a handful of smaller businesses (including Awaro, Conclude, Conetics and Poolarserver), some of which charge less for their solutions.
Das Tegernsee Hotel hosted the two-day think project! international meeting, an annual gathering conducted in English and attended by over 40 of the group’s consultants, sales, development and management staff.
The 2012 meeting included personnel from recent acquisitions: the afore-mentioned Eplass (formerly SEIB ITC) and Dresden-based planConnect (a document control service provider); both of these will be retained as brands within the group, said CEO Thomas Bachmaier. The company’s focus remains central Europe and Benelux, plus Spain, but its clients often deploy the solution in other locations such as Russia and the Middle East.
After reviewing some of the functionality added to the company’s October 2011 release, version 6.0 (which included a multi-upload tool, a drag-and-drop ‘desktop connect’ and integration with Microsoft’s Outlook email client), Jochen outlined some of the future product strategy. This included some familiar aspirations, such as development of mobile solutions and support for building information modelling (BIM); he also talked about integration of Adobe PDF Connect into the solution, instant file-sharing for more spontaneous or temporary file-sharing, and some social media-type functionality (my session keynote at the event focused on this area and its potential to support collaboration – it caused ‘ripples’ according to one attendee who tweeted me later!).
For obvious reasons, I cannot share the details of what I saw and heard about the product pipeline, but some of the new capabilities are very imminent. A more streamlined development process will see new functionality released more quickly, said R&D chief Dirk Lutzeback, with some scheduled to appear before the end of 2012.
Over coffee before and after the opening session, I spoke to several individuals – from Poland, Switzerland, Austria and the UK, as well as Germany. Most of them enthused about the value of the event in sharing information and helping build the company’s strong team culture and sense of direction. In addition, think project! also runs various events for its customers and its super-users, tapping into the experiences and ideas of its user-base. I know some UK-based vendors hold user conferences, but I don’t think many would invest in doing such an impressive internal event. It gave me a brief but striking insight into the culture and running of the company.
(Disclosure: I received a fee for my presentation at the conference; my travel and accommodation expenses were also paid by think project!)