RIB rhetoric is focused on combining ERP and collaboration, but it’s not the only vendor eyeing this AEC opportunity.
Talking with Milton Walters of 4Projects‘ Australian partner, ProjectCollaboration last week, I noted that things appeared to have gone quiet at its Sydney-based competitor ProjectCentre following the acquisition of this cloud-based construction collaboration provider by Germany-based RIB Software AG last October. Apart from a little rebranding of the website (“RIB ProjectCentre”), little had changed, but behind the scenes it seems the company was gearing up to launch a new solution which it claims will deliver a “world-class solution for construction”.
Essentially, it is offering a solution combining RIB’s iTWO 5D enterprise platform and a new iteration of ProjectCentre, branded iTWO Collaboration Exchange (iTWOcx), designed to offer tools covering pre-contract and design through to construction cost control (ie: enterprise resource planning – ERP – capabilities) and progress reporting. The release I received says:
“By streamlining the location and delivery of construction-specific information, RIB iTWO 5D technology is connecting the virtual to the physical, improving productivity and reducing risk on profit margins. The iTWOcx capability delivers integrated project document control, collaboration, contract administration, tender management, defects and quality management and dashboard capability via the cloud and mobile devices.
“… iTWOcx combines the best features of ProjectCentre and leverages the iTWO 5D Enterprise platform to create a solution that uses a single source of truth and Building Information Modelling (BIM) data to move information throughout the design, engineering and construction process, using the cloud.”
Paul Butterworth, appointed CEO of RIB Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) six months ago (he was previously general manager of Primavera Australia), says:
“Document control and collaboration tools on their own are not enough anymore. Engineering and construction projects don’t want more email-based correspondence tools. Clients want innovation and thought leadership, they want platforms that connect the core information and documents for design, scope, cost, schedule, change and contract. You can only achieve this with real collaboration at the data level, and with a platform that understands how to connect, visualise and report across the project lifecycle.”
This reiterates a view I expressed after talking to ProjectCentre founders Paul Hemmings and Tim Clare (both still part of the R&D team at RIB Software ANZ, I believe – updated [25 June 2013]: Paul is now a Global Director inside the Global R&D team, and Tim is a leader in RIB Software as Director for the Centre of Excellence) in October 2011: document collaboration had become an easily replicated, commoditised product, and ProjectCentre differentiated itself by delivering detailed business-critical ERP-type functionality to its customers. It seems that they have now developed this differentiation further to incorporate more of the know-how embedded in the parent company’s solution.
However, the RIB news release includes some provocative statements. For example, it states:
“The construction industry has been largely overlooked by ERP solution providers. … most companies still spend a lot of money trying to create in-house solutions or integrate multi-vendor tools in an effort to make use of disconnected information.”
Of course, some generalist ERP vendors already deliver solutions into construction businesses, and vendors such as Unit4 have identified an opportunity in this sector (post); there are also several construction-specific ERP providers (the UK’s Coins springs to mind, of course), but the idea of joined-up construction-focused ERP and collaboration is not new.
The convergence of SaaS-based construction collaboration and construction ERP is something I have been discussing for a while. The afore-mentioned 4Projects, of course, is now a wholly-owned UK subsidiary of Portland, Oregon, US-based construction ERP vendor Viewpoint (coincidentally, I met with Viewpoint CEO Jay Haladay in London today); its strategy already envisages closer integration between its on-premise and cloud-based tools to deliver a combined collaboration, BIM and financial management platform to its global customers (post). And Munich’s Conject has also had project cost control capabilities in its system, dating back to its early UK engagement, as BIW, with contractor Bovis Lend Lease (now Lend Lease), and more recently Mace, though it currently has less to shout about on the BIM front – which, in my view, will be a key battleground.
[Disclosure: I am a former employee of BIW (2000-09), now Conject, and have since undertaken paid consultancy projects for them and for Coins.]