2014 promises to be a busy year for Conject. It has acquired a mobile business, and has SaaS BIM and FM tools in the pipeline.
Conject CFO Cesar Flores no longer describes the SaaS company as a German or UK business: “We are a European technology business, focused on the plan, build operate sector,” he says. In a timely move in December 2010 the Munich-headquartered company acquired and later merged BIW Technologies (now Conject Ltd) into its organisation, and, with most European construction and real estate markets emerging from recession, it is seeing growing interest in its suite of collaborative products.
Flores views the company as the European leader in the SaaS construction collaboration or infrastructure lifecycle management (ILM) sector, delivering a premium product to customers wanting to make a step change in productivity. Reflecting on its recent acquisition of Wapp6 and impending launches of BIM and FM toolsets, he also says it is now well placed to capitalise upon the differing speeds of technology adoption across its core markets, and to cross-sell solutions proven in testing markets.
While BIM discussion is well advanced in the UK, in Scandinavia and in some Middle Eastern states with strong UK presence, he says BIM has less uptake in some of Conject’s other core markets, including France and Germany. “The focus of discussions is also variable,” he says. “In the UK, the initial focus was on BIM authoring and 3D visualization. Now we see a rapid shift to COBie and collaborative workflows, while consultations in other markets suggest it’s more about using BIM to manage time and costs – and project cost control and workflow have long been particular Conject strengths.” Conject’s BIM Design Review (post) is currently being showcased among existing customers. He believes that reacting to these differing perspectives will help the company deliver well-rounded solutions that reach across multiple national markets.
He uses the example of facilities management to illustrate the approach:
“Germany has a sophisticated FM market with many players offering CAFM solutions. Our SaaS FM solution is therefore very well specified, and we have now developed it for a multi-language platform. We have a partner that will lead a push into the FM market in Italy, and we will be launching our English language version in March, capitalising on the UK-based customers we already know from selling Project Control [Conject’s SaaS construction collaboration system].”
Returning to the Wapp6 mobile technology acquisition, Flores says the defects management application clearly shows the benefits of four years’ experience in the French market, meaning users of the English version could immediately benefit from the solution’s maturity (Conject has, again, already started marketing the solution, OPR6, to existing customers of its collaboration system). Functionality will be extended to cover other processes that currently remain largely paper-based or offline, with Conject delivering supporting apps across iOS, Android and Windows 8 operating systems.
“The UK market is recovering, Dubai is increasingly strong, we are winning some landmark projects in Singapore, and we have a strong presence in Russia, where we are one of the few firms with extensive experience of delivering technology for the construction space there.”
Flores believes new Conject CEO Ralf Haendl will deliver strong international leadership, drawing on years of experience on the boards of firms such as Bilfinger & Berger and Drees & Sommer, including time spent in Dubai, south-east Asia and north America. “Ralf has great understanding of global construction markets, and firmly believes the product richness of our ILM offering has international appeal.”
Construction and real estate are certainly attractive sectors, dwarfing all others in just about every economy, says Flores, but construction remains a comparitively low spender on IT. Flores believes this cost-conscious customer approach benefits SaaS vendors, and, aside from established players like Aconex and 4Projects/Viewpoint, thinks global operators such as Trimble and Oracle are taking increasing interest in construction SaaS (we also briefly discussed a ‘disruptive’ Google entry into the market). “It was a great market to be in when we launched in 2000, and interest from both investors and from customers is now as high, if not higher than it was then,” he says.
[Disclosure: An employee of BIW Technologies from 2000 to 2009, I have since undertaken various consultancy projects for Conject.]