With GenieBelt, construction small- and medium-sized businesses can now share construction documents quickly anywhere anytime, and it’s free.
Copenhagen, Denmark-based software developer GenieBelt has launched a mobile-based construction collaboration application that will help workers and managers access construction information, including drawings and schedules, online across any computer or mobile device. Unlike other providers which sometimes offer a free 30-day trial for a basic level of service, the fully-featured GenieBelt service is available from the outset and will be free forever.
GenieBelt is a Software-as-a-Service developed by a 16-strong Copenhagen-based software company founded in 2012 and led by a British CEO, Gari Nickson (a QS and project surveyor formerly at Davis Langdon, now AECOM, and COWI – who I first encountered in October 2013, around the time GenieBelt received €0.5m in funding), who identified various gaps in the market. He says:
“First, current widely-used collaboration platforms were designed primarily for desktop and laptop use, whereas GenieBelt has been expressly developed to work on mobile devices.
“Second, our competitors tend to target larger businesses and bigger projects. The simpler needs of the smaller contractor, subcontractor and tradespeople working on modest projects are often overlooked, and yet they make up the bulk of the construction industry’s workforce.
“Third, rival systems are not attractively priced to small- and medium-sized businesses. In an industry notorious for low margins, charging to use collaboration tools reduces profits. GenieBelt is free. It costs nothing to start using it and to keep using it, and the efficiency savings it enables will boost profits. And we are committed to keeping it free forever.”
GenieBelt allows users to create shared web-hosted spaces into which they can upload drawings, documents, specifications and project programmes so that teams working on a project can work off a single version of the truth. Project schedules can be imported from MS Project and Asta PowerProject, and, from the resulting Gannt chart, users can begin to monitor the progress of activities, linking to relevant documents or folders, and adding text, photographs and other information as necessary. The system also provides a searchable people directory, helping users identify every person that is working on their projects.
The platform supports multiple projects, and includes a dashboard view that provides an “at a glance” indication of task progress and issues on each project a user is working on. All interactions with the system are securely captured to provide an audit trail outlining who did what and when, while also showing the rate of progress on tasks within the schedule.
A feature which further differentiates GenieBelt from other systems is “Beats”. Instead of relying on email notifications, “Beats” provides a transparent, shared discussion space – similar to the conversation features on some social media platforms – so that authorised users are quickly notified and can easily join and track discussions about issues that are directly relevant to them.
GenieBelt provides a high level of functionality at no cost to the contractor or to subcontractors or end-users, which Nickson believes will encourage adoption. The web platform is supported across all common smartphones and tablets (there is also a native Apple iOS app, with an Android version coming soon). Accessing GenieBelt via a desktop or laptop will allow easy upload of project information from local hard-drives or network shared folders, so that the information is then available to all authorised project users. Information cannot be accidentally deleted or over-written, and GenieBelt has invested heavily in creating a user interface that is simple, logical and intuitive to use even if working out on-site wearing protective equipment (former Woobius founder, architect and SaaS and app user experience expert Bob Leung is part of the GenieBelt team).
Of course, GenieBelt has to make money some how. It is doing this by offering premium services on the GenieBelt platform including: long term archiving, analytical reports, access to its audit trail, admin users overview, bulk data extraction, and telephone support. These are available for companies at €190 per calendar month per admin user. As one admin user may be managing multiple projects concurrently, the costs of such premium services can therefore be spread, making the service economical to use.
My view *
The idea of a free construction collaboration app is not new. In the first breathless rush into the dot.com market in October 1999, Autodesk was a 40% shareholder in a spin-off business Buzzsaw.com, which launched an online project collaboration service, ProjectPoint, soon after, having raised around $90 million. This service was, for a time, offered as a free service as vendors sought to build large industry footprints. By mid 2000, Buzzsaw had 240 employees, 10,500 projects on-line and 50,000 registered users – and was “chewing up cash at a $10 million per quarter rate” (see 2008 post). After it posted an operating loss of over $50 million in 2000 and began laying people off in May 2001, Autodesk acquired the business in July 2001 and ProjectPoint was later re-branded as an Autodesk product, Buzzsaw, and it remains part of the Autodesk portfolio.
However, the market environment for launching new applications in the construction industry has changed enormously over the past 15 years. For example:
- Creating and launching a new web-based business is now much less expensive (hosting and storage costs have plummeted).
- In stark contrast to the early days of what we now call Software-as-a-Service or cloud computing, persuading people to use online software is easier, and adequate bandwidth is rarely an issue.
- Mobile software tools are now low or no-cost options that extend right down the supply chain, no longer requiring expensive devices and long-term contracts, and so only for larger businesses. There are also now hundreds, even 1000s, of construction related apps – many of them free or costing just a few dollars – across the different operating systems’ online app stores.
- There is also a rapidly growing AEC market for mobile solutions, particularly ones that might offer a better experience to some long-established solutions that were not designed expressly for the mobile worker (maybe a sole trader or small business owner – 95% of construction businesses are SMEs, after all).
- ‘Freemium’ business models are now better understood.
This is a bold step by GenieBelt but the company hasn’t taken it lightly. It’s looked at the industry and identified some shortcomings in existing vendors’ approaches which it thinks it can exploit commercially. As the UK market has also begun to polarise, it will also be watched carefully by some of the existing low-cost file collaboration service providers that have targeted SMEs (see post), and it will be monitored by US vendors such as Plangrid and FieldLens.
[* Disclosure: I have provided PR consultancy services to GenieBelt.]