San-Francisco-based Plangrid is targeting the simple mobile plan-sharing needs of site-based staff, but expanding functionality.
Another player in the mobile construction collaboration market in the US is San Francisco, California-based Plangrid. I received an email late last month from PlanGrid’s chief technology officer Ralph Gootee (a former Pixar Animation Studios software engineer) telling me about the application, and we had a long chat last week.
The company was founded by a group of four people – two with construction backgrounds, two, including Ralph, from software engineering – and in two years has grown to a 30-strong business, with adoption driven almost solely by customer word-of-mouth (the company only recently appointed its first sales person). Take-up of the company’s technology is strong in its home city (Ralph said that of the 30 cranes he could see in central San Francisco, 28 were on sites using Plangrid), but word had also spread to most other major US cities with enterprise users in them all.
The main Plangrid competition was seen as Bluebeam, Autodesk’s BIM360 application (formerly Vela) and the March 2014-launched and newly-$8m-funded FieldLens; I asked about Aconex – which has been establishing a strong US base in Silicon Valley (post) – but Ralph said they’d never met a single user.
Ralph told me Plangrid started out as a free iOS blueprint viewing application for iPad users, and is marketed as “the fastest plan viewer in the Milky Way” (“Life’s too short to be using slow PDF viewers”), but has since expanded to incorporate management of progress photographs, punchlists (aka defects management, snagging) and, most recently, tracking and management of requests for information (RFIs). A web-based view of users’ information is also provided. Pricing plans are based on the number of ‘sheets’ that users want to share – free accounts allow up to 50, $49.99/user/month gets you up to 5000, while $99.99 has unlimited storage; some document management capabilities are also provided through a partnership with BarkerBlue. Project management also features on the product roadmap.
Ease of use
Most recently, Plangrid launched its first Android application. This currently lacks some of the features of the iOS version, but the product will quickly catch up, and enable the wider sharing of site problems across supply chains using different devices. Asked about Windows devices, Ralph said they’d found IT professionals were keen on Microsoft devices within corporates, but this enthusiasm didn’t percolate out to job sites.
(Incidentally, on the same day I was contacted by Ralph, I received an email from someone keen to find an Android alternative to “the beauty that is SiteWorks for iOS”. Sir, Plangrid may be what you are looking for….)
A big factor in its adoption has been its simplicity – “it can be used by superintendents and foreman who have not used mobile IT before” – and its ability to function both online and offline. However, this doesn’t mean the company ignores customer service: Ralph said it provides good telephone and chat support, with face-to-face support for its west coast enterprise customers. Many of its users are Spanish speakers, so the product has already been translated, allowing its use in Mexico and Spain, and Portuguese users are also supported. Plangrid is winning work in Brazil, and is also eyeing project opportunities (and localisation challenges) in Japan and China.
Keep it simple
In the simplicity respect, Plangrid is clearly part of the growing movement of mobile-first, user-friendly application developers looking to disrupt the market, capitalise upon users’ growing shift away from desktop and laptop browser-based systems, and tempt customers away from the Software-as-a-Service collaboration products that have been at the forefront for much of the past 10-15 years. Copenhagen-based GenieBelt is another in this mould, I’ve also looked at some UK-based startups (eg: Basestone – which seemingly shares some characteristics with Plangrid – and Cadbeam) and the recently relaunched SmartBuilder/ Plan2Finish, who last month announced a push into the US market from a base in Texas.
It appears Plangrid has been targeting the file-sharing market first (providing a viewer with version control and annotation tools), adding further functionality to meet more sophisticated requirements; other vendors are launching applications with the more workflow capabilities built into their applications from the outset. The latter approach may satisfy users with previous experience of using browser-based SaaS AEC applications who want process support, while Plangrid’s strategy will plainly meet the needs of users who, to start with, simply want to share and collaborate upon drawing files.