Conject is not simply extending its document collaboration approach to embrace BIM. It is deploying key components from across its product portfolio to support the requirements of a BIM Common Data Environment.
“Expect to hear much more about what Conject is doing with respect to BIM,” says UK CEO Steve Cooper. The Munich, Germany-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider retains a strong UK customer base, but it didn’t immediately jump aboard the BIM bandwagon when the UK Government started to talk about SaaS-based common data environments in 2011.
Briefed by Conject’s BIM team in Woking, Surrey last week, I learned a lot about its BIM philosophy, and it’s not simply extending its document collaboration approach to embrace BIM collaboration. Instead, Conject has looked across its product portfolio and identified components that it can redeploy – if necessary in an improved form – to support the requirements of a BIM Common Data Environment (CDE).
Collaboration and control
‘Collaboration’ and ‘control’ are Conject’s watchwords, Steve told me. and to furnish its BIM toolkit it has methodically picked out and, if necessary, re-engineered core functionality that meets the need of asset owners and operators (staying true to its infrastructure lifecycle management, ILM, ethos), rather than designers. Its core elements include an object library focused on systems and spaces, FM processes, mobile data capture (Conject acquired mobile developer Wapp6 just over a year ago), and, of course, model viewing capability, but the project information model (PIM) is only part of the offering.
Model file management, collaboration, compliance and control are key to the asset’s owner’s requirements, Steve said, so Conject’s approach is geared more towards PAS1192:3 and the Asset Information Model (AIM), incorporating data from external sources, validating completeness, giving early visibility of end-user information (adopting Government Soft Landings approaches) and looking to be FM-ready.
While Conject’s project control application conjectPC is well-known in the UK, the group’s PM application is less well-known but is widely deployed in Conject’s mainland Europe markets, so I got a quick tour of conjectPM to understand the bigger picture
At first glance this looked like a step back in time to folders-based collaboration, but other aspects of the platform held out more promise. For example, the conjectPM user interface is highly configurable, with extensive use of widgets, strong cross-project search tools (including search into document content), file management regimes that rigorously reflect BS1192:2007 and support BIM execution plans and the CDE workflows of PAS1192:2 (work in progress, shared, approved, archive). Communication remains largely email-based, but ‘smartflows’ support over 25 common workflow processes, and the company is developing its support for common documents and forms like those used in NEC contracts.
There is also some convergence between PM modules and elements of conjectPC (the option to synchronise folders from the user’s desktop to Conject’s hosted environment was highlighted as a forthcoming function). Conject has also picked out other functionality which it thinks offer strong BIM relevance; for example, design standards management, time and cost management (Conject’s ‘Financial Control’ module was an option that differentiated its solution from other vendors), commissioning (its mobile capability plays here), and facilities management.
According to Conject’s team (sales director Duncan Kneller and BIM development lead Richard Moyle also presented), they are already getting positive reactions from customers when they explain their BIM philosophy.
Combined with the forthcoming UK BIM toolkit (Conject has been consulting with the NBS-led team) and third party tools that are strong on BIM authoring, validation and clash detection (Solibri, Navisworks), Conject believes its CDE can support the whole project process from early briefing, deliverables management, single model and later federated model management, validation and reporting, output to COBie and delivery of data drops to meet staged project gateway approvals.
Conject has lagged behind UK vendors (eg: 4Projects, Asite, Business Collaborator) and international competitors (Aconex, think project!) in marketing its BIM CDE capabilities. Some industry watchers were suggesting that this might be due to BIM not having the same impetus in Germany that it has in the UK, but it appears Conject was simply adopting a methodical approach to reusing, enhancing and combining much of the functionality it already had within its product portfolio (conjectPC, conjectCDE and Conject’s NEC contract management tool are now listed on the UK G-Cloud 6 Digital Marketplace – news release).
Of all the UK-based vendors Conject is also the one perhaps most strongly focused on owner-operators of built assets, and it’s sometimes forgotten that, as BIW Technologies, the company was also talking about intelligent components – ‘iComponents’ – 15 years ago (2001 Building article). The construction market wasn’t ready for this forerunner of BIM objects then, but it is now, and Conject is just starting to talk up its BIM capabilities again, but it is also underlining the depth of international capability and experience the group has to cover asset owners’ whole-life data management needs, and its BIM conversations have often focused on end-users’ data requirements (“Soft Landings” is repeatedly mentioned in Conject blog posts, for example).
It might be a little late in starting to promote its BIM capabilities, but Conject is focusing on its whole-life or ILM strengths and trusting that these prove attractive to asset owners at the top of construction supply chains.
[Disclosure: I worked for BIW Technologies, now Conject UK, from 2000 to 2009, and have since undertaken various consultancy projects for the company.]