Los Angeles, US-based FluidCM (Fluid Contract Manager), which I wrote about in October 2013, is releasing several free cloud-based tools allowing companies to sample its mobile-first, intuitive-to-use construction software. The FluidCM Free Tool Campaign allows contractors, project owners, and architecture and engineering teams to store up to 1GB of data with unlimited users. This will give cloud newcomers a taste of what such applications can do for them (just last week, I highlighted how US AEC SaaS specialist Procore had instigated a similar free app programme).
FluidCM’s president Don Speedie says:
“The tools we are releasing not only save personnel time, but speed up your project by digitizing the workflow. Sending files like RFIs, Submittals and posting Daily Logs digitally can save weeks on a project timeline. The system helps users understand who is responsible for processing the information allowing managers to drill down to problem areas quickly.”
Update (22 July 2014) – As part of its free use campaign, FluidCM has released a complimentary cloud-based Daily Log tool, which allows users to automatically track the weather on their projects, track key site activities like crews on site, inspections, safety and delay issues, add photos and allow subcontractors to submit reports online.
Free construction Software-as-a-Service applications sets off some small alarm bells for me. In the early “landgrab” days of construction SaaS applications – c. 2000 – I recall some early vendors (notably Buzzsaw, which started as an Autodesk spin-off before, eventually, and after incurring substantial losses, being brought back into the Autodesk fold) offering free use of their platform to tempt early trial users (and to tempt them away from rival paid-for offerings).
Of course, the AEC SaaS market has changed hugely over the past 15 years, but – in my view – free, or very low-cost, software is not a sustainable long-term B2B proposition. That’s not to say that you can’t run a short-term campaign or promotion, but “free” applications cost the vendor, can set low/no cost expectations among users, and, in the volatile world of SaaS, open opportunities for customers to ‘churn’ across available, increasingly commoditised solutions rather than choosing the best application for their needs.
This tendency will be particularly strong in the cost-conscious, low-margin world of construction (sometimes rightly derided for cynically “knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing” – Oscar Wilde). If a product or service delivers real value, then the vendors should charge, and customers should pay, a realistic price that covers the supplier’s costs and reflects the user benefits delivered. Remember: as well as being a tool for driving customer behaviour, price also serves as a tool for managing capacity, as a quality indicator, and as a signal to competitors.