Aconex upgrades BIM capabilities

Aconex has launched a ‘Connected BIM’ product, and a new Digital Manuals capability (but only if you are on Windows).

Aconex logo 2014Away from the continuing repercussions of the ‘tepid’ and therefore cancelled or postponed IPO (post), Melbourne, Australia-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology provider Aconex has launched Aconex Connected BIM, a new product extending the Aconex platform to manage building information modelling data and processes for project-wide collaboration between design and construction teams and handover to the owner.

According to the news release, Aconex co-founder Rob Phillpot (also senior vice president of product and engineering) says:

“BIM … [is] … transforming the way that capital projects are delivered. The industry is moving rapidly from 2D drawings and files to multidimensional models and data, as BIM adoption accelerates globally. On many projects today, its use is limited to designers with specialized modeling tools during the design phase of the project. While BIM improves design and constructability, the other 90% of the project team are disconnected from model data during the construction and handover phases.

“Aconex now connects all participants with BIM data and processes project-wide, enabling project teams to share, consume and enrich models on a single integrated collaboration platform in the cloud. From their web browsers and mobile devices, design and construction teams can resolve issues early and produce a fully documented visualization of the project that is ready for operation at handover. With a complete and accurate set of interconnected project data outside the model, owners can reduce operating costs, which account for up to 75% of total asset lifecycle costs. Aconex Connected BIM fulfills BIM’s true promise – improved efficiency, reduced risk, faster delivery, higher-quality built assets, and easier operability.”

With Aconex Connected BIM, designers can create and modify models in their native authoring tools and use simple software plug-ins to publish them in what it calls the ‘Aconex BIM Cloud’. Here, all members of the project team – other designers, engineers, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, and owners – can view, distribute, mark up, and contribute to model data at the object level, detecting clashes and optimising constructability.

As the project moves through design and into construction, team members can link each object in the model with relevant project documents, communications and workflows. Designers can continue using their native authoring tools for design updates via the software plug-ins. The Aconex platform apparently supports Open BIM, including IFC (Industry Foundation Classes). At practical completion, all project information – including the model, all of the documentation associated with each of its objects, and an audit trail – can be handed over to the owner for operation. Based purely on the news release, Aconex’s capabilities cover:

  • Open BIM standards
  • Secure, cloud-based platform – no software installation required
  • Fast viewing of large sets of merged models in web browsers – without specialised BIM tools or local software – and access on mobile devices
  • Version control to avoid errors based on out-of-date models
  • Real-time merging, collation and separation of component models for specific disciplines
  • Shared viewpoints and mark-ups for model review, feedback and resolution
  • Interrogation of models for clashes and coordination issues
  • Linkage of formal project communications such as RFIs with objects for resolution of clashes and issues
  • Handover of operation and maintenance (O&M) data within models.

Dynamic Manuals

On this final point, in a related announcement, Aconex also launched Dynamic Manuals, a mobile solution for owners and their facility management teams to manage digital operation and maintenance (O&M) manuals so long as they are using Windows tablets (no information has been provided about capabilities for iOS or Android users – which is strange, given that Windows is lagging a long way behind in terms of both consumer and corporate adoption).

This is regarded by Aconex as a logical extension of Smart Manuals (launched in February 2013), an online solution for contractors to build O&M manuals during the project for delivery to the owner at practical completion.

Aconex says Dynamic Manuals provides users with an intuitive graphical experience and the ability to view and update documents and technical files in the field. They can barcode or QR code each physical asset in a facility and then scan the code from a Windows tablet to access all information on that asset. They can also share asset information with subcontractors and other outside resources from the tablet desktop or via email. All document updates and communications are captured in a permanent audit trail.

Three views

Briefly, Aconex has been talking about its BIM capabilities for some years, but the functionality for a long time focused on extending its platform’s file-sharing capabilities to cover sharing of model files. ‘Connected BIM’ is a significant step forward. It delivers ‘federated’ model support – part of the UK government’s Level 2 BIM requirement (being carefully watched by other nations as they continue their own BIM journeys; see also post) – but I haven’t seen a demonstration of the platform’s capabilities so can’t compare it with, say, rival UK-based SaaS vendors 4Projects (post) or Asite’s functionalities (post). Without a briefing it is also unclear what the roadmap is for Aconex’s future BIM capabilities.

I am also bemused by the Aconex focus on MS Windows for its mobile Dynamic Manuals functionality. Why focus on a platform which is, by most surveys, the third choice (often by a long way) for corporate use? OK, Microsoft has substantial traction in the corporate construction market, but, on mobile devices, it lags a long, long way behind iOS and Android. Is Aconex going to soon release mobile tools for these platforms?

Finally, timing. These announcements could have helped push the IPO initiative forward, but they came two days after the IPO was shelved. The BIM announcement might have shown potential investors that Aconex was at the leading edge of web-based BIM and common data environments, but it’s too late for that. If I was an investor, I might also have been worried about the focus on mobile Microsoft when the rest of the world is focused on Apple iOS and Android.

(Aconex was approached for comment 12 hours before publication. No response was received.)

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3 pings

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