The collaboration back story
Well-known, of course, for its design authoring tools, Autodesk started to complement these with its own SaaS construction collaboration solutions over a decade ago. As I recently recounted, Autodesk was a 40% shareholder in a spin-off business Buzzsaw.com, which launched an online project collaboration service, ProjectPoint, at the turn of the century, after raising around $90 million. 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 – though increasingly overlooked, I think.
The second phase of Autodesk’s foray into cloud-based project collaboration was its February 2006 acquisition of Constructware. Autodesk spent $46 million to acquire this pioneer of on-demand collaboration, and at the time I expected the more sophisticated features of Constructware would be added to Buzzsaw. However, there was little (if any) convergence. The two brands were marketed as separate but complementary collaborative project management offerings: Buzzsaw positioned as a document and information management service (sold in the US and overseas); Constructware more of a process and budget control system (and largely focused on the US market). In May 2009, there were strong industry rumours that Autodesk was discontinuing Constructware, quickly denied, though the rumblings of uncertainty persisted, particularly when Autodesk laid off some 1200 employees and made other efficiency savings that year.
The newly announced services are not an expansion or extension of either of these existing SaaS file collaboration platforms. Instead, Autodesk is augmenting its building information modelling, BIM, tools (eg: Revit) with some cloud-based services to support model collaboration, delivering its own ‘common data environment’.
Previously code-named Project Skyscraper, Autodesk A360 Collaboration for Revit connects building project teams with centralised access to BIM project data (authored in Autodesk products, plus CATIA and Solidworks) in the cloud. The new service will be commercially available, initially just in North America it seems, from 8 December.
According to Autodesk, the service helps overcome the barriers of corporate firewalls and physical location, replacing “costly work-arounds for sharing models such as use of FTP sites, sharing software or inefficient use of email with attached PDFs” (note, no mention of sharing via SaaS solutions). How “costly” this service is, I don’t know (the website is mute on pricing; update [19 December 2014]: Daniel Davis’s Autodesk University review says it “costs a sizable $800 annually per user”) and I’ve asked Autodesk’s UK PR team about its availability outside north America.
Included in the subscription is access to:
- the Autodesk A360 Team cloud-based project collaboration platform – this provides a somewhat basic level of collaborative sharing, viewing and commenting (read Lachmi Khemlani’s September 2014 AECBytes review), allowing non-Revit project users to access project design data, and is accessible using desktop, web and mobile devices
- a Communicator for Revit in-context chat tool – this allows project team members to communicate directly with each other (rather than via email, telephone, or social media), in real-time while working on their project models in Autodesk Revit.
Project teams can extend the BIM collaboration process from Revit to the construction site with Autodesk BIM 360 Field. The BIM 360 suite was recently extended to include BIM 360 Layout – aiming to improve construction accuracy by connecting design intent from the digital model to the physical world using iOS devices (readers may recall that Trimble and Bentley announced similar construction modelling capabilities in early November).
BIM 360 Field also faces competition from other vendors of SaaS and mobile-based solutions. When I spoke to him this week, Viewpoint/4Projects’ Steve Spark was dismissive of BIM 360’s capabilities compared to what Viewpoint’s newly acquired MCS Priority1 toolset can already deliver. Various startups are also targetting this field, including, in the UK, Cadbeam, BaseStone and SiteDesk (see October 2014 post).