Conject CEO Ralf Händl regards his company as the European market leader and is anticipating further consolidation in the SaaS collaboration market as a result of BIM adoption.
After Anglo/German SaaS technology provider Conject finally entered the BIM race last month, I got chance this week to meet Conject Group CEO Ralf Händl face to face. Ralf officially took over as Conject CEO at the beginning of 2014 after Colin Smith stepped down from the role (later taking up a new position at Textura).
Besides being leader of a German-owned company, Ralf has extensive knowledge of the global construction and real estate industries, having served in overseas roles for Stuttgart-based consultancy Drees & Sommer, and holding international executive board and management positions in German construction companies Bauer, Walter Bau and Bilfinger & Berger. A long-time Conject shareholder, he has also worked as a Conject consultant assisting with its international expansion.
SaaS and mobile trends
This has not always been easy; Ralf believes the drive for greater SaaS adoption in construction and real estate was hampered by the global financial crisis in the late 2000s, but now the global economy is growing again, he feels construction is beginning to catch up with SaaS and mobile trends evident in other sectors. In his view, larger businesses were initially more comfortable with SaaS solutions than small or medium-sized companies, but now the rest of the sector is beginning to change.
Following Conject’s acquisition of mobile construction solutions developer Wapp6 (announced in January 2014), the business has been focused on assimilating its mobile expertise into existing solutions and markets, Ralf said. Rebranded as ConjectMI, this was launched in the UK in May 2014, and the mobile capability is now available in English, French, German and Russian language editions, with consultancy support also being extended. Integration of ConjectMI into the group’s solutions had, however, briefly delayed development of the company’s SaaS FM solution and its BIM capabilities, Ralf explained.
BIM and beyond
We briefly reviewed Conject’s BIM initiative (covered more extensively in my March post). Interest in BIM is growing rapidly in Germany and France, Ralf said. Some companies (Hochtief was mentioned) were pushing ahead of the rest, and BIM adoption was further advanced in sectors such as civil engineering. However, he sees the UK as two to three years ahead of mainland Europe countries, so Conject’s UK team will be leading the company’s BIM developments. He sees this as critical to the company’s future success.
“BIM requires significant investment in R&D by collaboration vendors. There may only be five, maybe 10, SaaS businesses with strong BIM capabilities as a result of consolidation in the market, and clients will want one-stop shops for their data. At the moment, there are too many breaks in the chain from delivery to FM.”
Ralf sees Conject as “the market leader and major player in SaaS collaboration” in Europe, with strong adoption in all major regions. He said Conject UK sales had been booming since mid 2014; adoption in France was also growing and the business had identified significant opportunities to grow further there; and the German market was strong, with Conject’s position strengthened by some consolidation among major customers [the Group will be announcing its results soon – to be covered in a future post]. Austria, Poland and Russia were also strongholds for Conject, he said, although currency fluctuations had affected margins in their Russian business. The company had also won projects in Italy and Switzerland, and its Duisberg office was well placed to help it serve customers in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.
Outside Europe, Conject claims strong growth in the Middle East and Asia/Pacific, winning substantial projects in these regions. Ralf had recently visited Conject’s offices in Dubai (“now in complete recovery – it’s as though there had never been a financial crisis – and we are winning work across the whole Middle East”) and Singapore. Despite having some projects in the United States, this is not a priority market for Conject:
“We’ve watched Aconex and Asite try their hand in America, and it’s clear that you can’t compete in that market by organic growth. It needs a substantial acquisition of a business with operations across several states to have an impact there.”
We talked briefly about Aconex’s IPO, Viewpoint’s 2013 acquisition of 4Projects and other deals in the sector – including Trimble’s acquisition of Gehry Technologies, Bentley’s purchase of EADOC, RIB’s ProjectCentre and Docia deals and Business Collaborator’s MBO – plus the closure of some smaller players such as Cadweb and Woobius, confirming Ralf’s view of market consolidation. He regards Conject as an attractive partner to customers with strong operations in Europe, or who want to add strong SaaS technologies that complement their existing solutions, but also said Conject were looking at some acquisitions of their own.